Category Archives: Journal
“Words matter. Art matters”. – Derrick Jensen
In reviewing it now, my statement for 2014 Celebration of the Female Form seems a somewhat naive and optimistic treatise on the virtues of the community, issued in good faith.
On this day, given recent months, I do not feel so sanguine.
At least 600 artists, volunteers, and members of the community attended celebration night in June, and we received overwhelmingly positive feedback and great suggestions for our next event. However, there have been certain developments that I have come to recognise as inevitable. There are those who have never attended the event who perceive some of the art used to promote the show as illustrations of the very same mechanisms that perpetuate the hostility toward women in our current culture. Photographs are criticised for for being photoshopped, as if a painter’s brush does not commit the same sins of addition and subtraction. Images by female artists are criticised for depicting women in poses of submission. Works by male artists are criticised for being included in the exhibition at all.
Importantly, these interpretations of the images are legitimate, as are the many other interpretations of these same works. Art is not “above it all” and can certainly not be excused from critique. However, these works must be distinguished from marketing, popular culture, and all other forms of propaganda. Art, and here I use the term to include performance, visual art, music, the spoken and written word, and all disciplines in which a person creates and expresses, is an invitation to engage. It must be remembered that artists are not evangelists, it is not the purpose of art to instruct the public, or to represent a moral stance. Art is also not literal, if it invokes a reaction, honour that reaction, but do not presume that yours is the only interpretation. Art must must allow breathing room, so that each individual can welcome in their individual associations and experiences, to feel and react, whether it is indifference, contempt, grief, engagement, pleasure.
If an image, or performance, or written work evokes a reaction in you, congratulations, you are a member of the human race. Do not lash out at the artist for bringing you back to a poignant place, be grateful that you still have the ability to feel. We have entered an era where art is “supposed” to be an adornment, but that’s commercialism, not art. Get mad at an artist for being crap, get mad at an artist for being forgettable, get mad at an artist for being safe. If the work makes you angry or sad, be angry or sad, but be discerning enough to know that these feelings are yours.
Furthermore, with over a hundred artists exhibited, no single artist will represent the event. We aim to provide a spotlight on each artist in the lead-up to the exhibition. We do not expect every artist to appeal to everyone, and I consider this diversity to be the very thesis of the celebration.
I propose that equality for female artists is for each to able engage in her process without apology. As Vanessa Swift states, “I offend a certain kind of people. I am too dark or too sexual or I objectify women. I don’t paint for other people. I paint for myself. I do not push the boundaries, I have none and won’t have any placed upon me. I just paint what’s inside me, for me. To release.” In addition, in instances where the artists use models for these works, their creative subjects are collaborators, not passive objects for scopophilic consumption, and any critique needs to take this into consideration.
The event strives to be inclusive, but can by no means cater to everyone’s preferences. In bringing the community together, we seek to create opportunities to discuss these subjects openly and to raise funds for organisations that support abused and hurting women, and represent the causes close to our own experiences.
This year, the organisations we have chosen are: Brisbane Domestic Violence Service, Mental Health Carers Arafmi Queensland, Brisbane Youth Service and proceeds from our raffle will support QuAC’s Clinic30.
In embarking on this steep learning curve, I have had to face my own naivety. Prior to this project, I had never before heard of women who were against feminism. I had never previously encountered women who are Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) or Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists (SWERFS). I also encountered individuals who felt that men had no role to play in this Celebration, who claimed that we were simply reaffirming the patriarchal structure, not subverting it.
Above all, I have encountered countless men and women who consider feminism to be a dirty word. Feminism should not be confused with misandry. Simply, Feminism is the belief in equality, and a recognition that gender equality does not yet exist. Ironically, Feminism has its own history of exclusion and power imbalance. Historically, caucasian, upper-class, cis-gendered women have set the agenda for the women’s rights movement. Nowadays, those seeking to determine the dialogue may change, but the fundamental issue remains: exclusion is the result of privilege, as exclusion is enacted by those who feel entitled.
Exclusionary Radical Feminists argue that individual choice must play a backseat to feminist aims. However this affirms our bodies as political minefields – every action, every adornment, every utterance that is associated with our Selves must be interrogated as to what statement it will contribute to the feminine discourse. We must police ourselves and submit to being policed by others. Our desires, values, or pragmatic considerations are subverted. Most importantly our identities must remain fixed within this paradigm. In many ways I agree with the argument that individuals must acknowledge that their “personal is political”. However when women are told to “tow the line”, to forgo what brings them actualisation in deference to another’s criteria, are we not simply trading one oppressive system for another?
As Germaine Greer states “it’s harder being a woman in the 21st century than it was 40 or so years ago”.
Self-determination is a hallmark of any movement dedicated to equality. It is therefore not true self-determination when rights are meted out as if to a homogenised group, and denies the diversity of individuals contained therein. To do so is to establish a norm, from which anything else is divergent. This form of “othering” refers to the act of emphasizing the perceived weaknesses of marginalized groups as a way of stressing the alleged strength of those in positions of power.
As celebrators of the female form, we are autonomous individuals who share a common trait, who unite in respect for ourselves and each other. We recognise that the bodies of those who identify with the feminine become battlefields on which Politicians, Health Professionals, Beauty Professionals, Marketers, and many others stage their invasions. We see the myriad of individual experiences of domination and oppression as part of the greater intersecting mechanisms of misogyny and abuse, and instead of letting this awareness isolate us, we make it a rallying cry for creative expression and gather in celebration as a radical act of defiance.
Part of the TWERF argument, as it has been made to me, is that to accept a transwomen as “legitimate” women would be to capitulate that women are simply a “cut out” men. Such an argument is another version of the misogynistic view that women are walking vaginas. My mother remembers a time when her biology textbooks described female genitalia as male genitalia turned inside out. Such an obsession with what is between a person’s legs misses the beautiful complexity of identity. It also alienates cisgendered women who are born with non-average genitalia, those who choose to surgically augment or change their bodies, those who will never engage in the forms of sexual intercourse typically ascribed to female genitalia, those who will never reproduce, or those who lose body parts due to injury or illness. What makes a woman? Gender lies in the mind, not the uterus.
It strikes me as counter to the aims of feminism to refuse to include self-identified men. There was a time when feminists were required to rely on men because men were the gatekeepers – they controlled what laws were reformed and enforced, who was admitted and educated at university, and how people were hired and promoted. We do not need to have men advocate for us any longer, but to discount all men strikes me as counterproductive. Men need to have a place at the table in order to understand the politics of gendered privilege, in order to be held accountable. Furthermore, when we alienate men we alienate women as well, the mothers, sisters, and lovers of men. We alienate the men who have held us and listened to our experiences of abuse. We alienate the men who should be calling out their friends on problematic behaviours. This is part of the problem of abuse. Whilst women know that “not all men” rape, we cannot easily differentiate between those who are supporters and those who are predators.
Here is what we know: women face an oppressive system that enables violence, abuse, and systemic social, cultural, religious, economic, and political inequalities.
To be a female means that you are more likely to die. “These deaths are estimated at about 3.9 million women and girls under the age of 60 each year”. This is a rough estimate because many women are killed before they are born, are undocumented, or disappear. About two-fifths of them are never born, one-sixth die in early childhood, and over one-third die in their reproductive years.This is widely documented, such as the fact that in the majority of countries, women’s wages represent between 70 and 90 per cent of men’s, with even lower ratios in some Asian and Latin American countries. Despite the fact that it is acknowledged, it has failed to have been addressed, even in our most forward-thinking of nations.
Sexual abuse results in a myriad of consequences such as unintended pregnancies, induced abortions, gynaecological problems, sexually transmitted infections, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep difficulties, eating disorders, emotional distress, suicide attempts, and substance abuse. Gender inequality operates in many subtle ways. Studies have shown that when women perceive their bodies as under male scrutiny, the experience has a muzzling effect on women and that benevolent sexism is another mechanism which justifies women’s subordinate status to men.
As I write this, Abbott is Minister for Women, the very man who stated, “What if men are by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?” and other members of his party suggest a link between abortion and breast cancer. This is the country where domestic violence kills at least one woman a week, a statistic the Police largely attribute to Australia’s culture.
The Gamergate culture war is taking place, showcasing the shocking misogyny that is permissible in gamer culture. The New York wing of Hollaback made headlines when it showed a video of a Caucasian Cisgendered women in jeans and a t-shirt receiving a hundred instances of street harassment and cat calling. More column space has been spent on Renee Zellweger’s new face than on the increased violence experienced by women due to the instances of violence on the people of the Levant. Twitter hashtags such as #yesallwomen, #youoksis, and #beenrapedneverreported create a virtual communities accessed by some women in order to share their stories of abuse and the incidences of street harassment they have witnessed when “real” spaces and official channels have failed.
Reflecting on these instances, I recognise that there are imbedded inequalities within developed nations, where racialised, queer, or disabled women are assigned a lesser value than caucasian, educated, middle class, cisgendered women. Non Indigenous Australian women have a life expectancy of 83.1 years. Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have a life expectancy of 73.7 years. Transgendered women have a life expectancy of 30-32 years. The RCMP reported that in Canada, Indigenous women are four times more likely to be murdered than non-Indigenous women, in fact 1,017 Indigenous women and girls were murdered between 1980 and 2012. When Mayang Prasetyo was murdered and dismembered by her husband in Queensland, the media devoted its coverage to depicting her in transphobic and sensationalised terminology, rather than exploring the issues of domestic violence and abuse that underpinned Prasetyo’s death, and impacts so many transwomen.
This is nothing less than a human rights crisis.
Women in developing countries face forms of persecution permitted by their culture and sustained by their government, entrenched by an international framework that requires inequality and poverty to enable profit. It is well documented that abuse against women correlates with poverty, conflict, and displacement. In Gaza City, following the Israeli-Imposed economic blockade of 2007, Palestinian women have endured increased instances of abuse at the hands of their husbands, choosing silence rather than face the stigma of reporting that abuse. A South African women is raped every four minutes yet only 66,196 incidents were reported to police last year, and the investigations of these reports resulted in 4,500 convictions. A woman is killed by an intimate partner every eight hours in South Africa, but this is considered an underestimate because in 20 percent of these killings no perpetrator is determined. When Brazil hosted the World Cup, it became well-documented that underage girls would sleep with Europeans and Americans in order to avoid a night on the streets. In India, women face barbaric gang rapes and honour killings decreed by all-male khap panchayats. In Tokyo, Japan, 60-70% of women experience at least one incidence of molestation in a crowded train, yet only 5% of women report this form of attack to the police. In rural Peru, 24% of women reported their first sexual experience as forced.
The list continues, and it astounds me that it is still a question as to wether or not sexual inequality exists. Make no
mistake, globally and locally, women are accorded less value, less dignity, less autonomy than men. Different forms of discrimination, oppression, and domination intersect to impact women differently, but all are complicit in this system. The feminist rallying cry from the 60’s is still true: “The personal is political”, and this is why feminism is still relevant in our contemporary culture. However, in order for feminism to achieve its aim, it must have an inclusive definition of female identity.
I remain naive however, because I still have hope because this is what we know: successfully addressing the oppression of women has dramatic benefits for everyone. Providing one additional year of education for women of reproductive age decreases child mortality by 9.5 per cent. Eliminating all forms of discrimination against female workers and managers boosts productivity per worker by up to 40 per cent. We must address discrimination against women, promote gender equality, support all women, and help to move all societies towards more peaceful cultural norms.
Whilst the 2014 Celebration of the Female Form was a time for optimism, perhaps as we work toward the 2015 Celebration Night, it is time for a stronger, more dynamic voice. We can no longer put up and shut up, it is time for a real and measurable change.
Celebration of the Female Form
The Brisbane Table Tennis Centre 86 Green Tce Windsor.
Exhibition weekend is the 19th – 21st June, 2015 with two night shows Friday and Saturday, open to the public through the day Saturday and Sunday.
Please contact Vanessa at firstname.lastname@example.org
It was during high school when I first learned the statistic that one in three women is sexually assaulted. I had two best friends, Ria and Sanja, stunning individuals, who are now brilliant and beautiful women, and I wondered…
I have been fairly open about my experiences with being in two abusive relationships when I was in my late teens & early 20’s. Working with my incredibly resilient and visionary friend Vanessa on her Celebration of the Female Form exhibition truly brought that to a head this year. These relationships involved a lot of doubt, fear, running, and hiding behind locked doors. When there were no more barriers, I hid some part of my Self deep within, taking my mind far away, and rolling over to sleep in the foetal position, my body convulsing in anger and grief.
However, I have never spoken openly about the “bad date” in 2011. I successfully repressed a lot of it, reducing it to hazy “before” and “after” snapshots that I honestly never thought about – or rather refused to think about whenever something surfaced. Recent events and reflections have brought it racing back.
Anyone who thinks that women report assault does not understand how people cope and try protect themselves. I honestly do not believe that most people truly understand consent and I would like understanding ongoing consent to comprise of a main component of sexual education.
Shame is a powerful influencer of behaviour. I told myself I should have known better, that I was ridiculous to think someone so gorgeous and charming would be interested in romancing me. I mistakenly took the fact that he had a female housemate and expressed great love for his mother in Iran as protective indicators. I told myself that the outcome could have been much worse, no one knew where I was going and few would notice if I did not return. Everything seemed so surreal.
I didn’t know him.
I didn’t have anyone to turn to to help me process my experience.
I said nothing.
I did nothing.
I feel a lot of emotions about it now. It’s difficult to breathe, to feel centered.
I don’t feel shame anymore, and that is the worst part. I don’t feel shame because I know how common my experience is.
I clearly remember going to his house – feeling desirable, sexy, excited.
He cooked me a delicious dinner – which is a very impressive first-date activity for a gluten-free vegan.
Repeated and clear “No’s” were not effective, an invitation to try another tactic. Abusers can use all kinds of excuses. His were “I’m just really missing my ex”, and “I recently had my driver’s license suspended” (yes, these were the reasons he gave me).
Afterward, he offered to pay for my cab home, leafing through a stack of $50 bills in a final display for my benefit.
On the way home, I told myself that I had been so stupid – that dinner is never free.
I clearly remember the final insult – arriving home to find the power was off in my neighbourhood. My housemate had found someplace elsewhere to stay. I curled up in my frigid bedroom in the dark, angry and shaken, resolving to forget this man. It is easier to erase a phone number from a phone than to erase memories ingrained in the body.
Do I consider myself broken? Yes. Do I doubt that I will ever build a long term loving relationship with a partner? Yes. Do I know that no one will ever desire that type long-term loving relationship with me? Yes – and that’s the toughest truth to accept.
In the meantime, there is much important work to do. To remove the stigma and shame around being the recipient of abuse. To facilitate ongoing dialogue about consent. To speak clearly and truthfully when there is so much “noise” out there and a complete lack of understanding about the mechanisms of power and abuse. To bring beauty and healing to those in need.
Many of us in Brisbane are exhausted, still reeling from Mayang Prasetyo’s monstrous death and subsequent slander by the media, and heightened emotions surrounding the organisation of her vigil. It is unsurprising that there is a significant amount of dialogue using the term “cisgendered”.
Today a friend asked,
“This is probably going to open a big can of worms but when did “Cis” become an insult?”
What resulted was a Facebook storm of ideas, jokes, and a lot of anger. Jade, a person I have immense repeat for, wrote this thoughtful reply, and I asked if I could post it here as I want to preserve it so that it will remain here for reference, as part of an ongoing dialogue and a touchstone in my own exploration into community, identify, shame, and the body. I have edited together a reply over several posts, but have messed with it as little as possible as this is Jade’s voice. Over to you Jade:
Okay, I’m going to try and explain this a bit. Entirely from my own perspective. Please take the time to read this if you’re wondering the same thing. This is very generalised and coming from the experience of a trans masculine person who has never faced oppression as a trans woman and cannot speak on their behalf […]
People aren’t equal. In a social way, in an economical way, in a safety way, in a life-style way. There is a constant hierarchy where certain people, because of the circumstances of their birth- are given a level on which they sit either above or below other people. It’s intersectional (which means it incorporates lots of different groups facing different issues) which makes it all the more complicated.
The basics of this is being aware of your own level granted by birth and by lifestyle and being aware of those who are on a level that is positioned lower than you are.
The best example I’ve seen is to relate it to playing video games. If we are talking trans experiences (because I’m trans so can relate to it) without including sexuality or race or finances-
Being born cisgender (your gender identity matches your unchanged birth certificate) is playing the game on the easiest level. You get to use the toilet without fear, and everyone uses the right pronoun automatically, you don’t need to get your identity validated by a psych and you don’t have to pay lots of money to get documentation changed, you don’t get killed for being cisgender (and lots of other things).
Being born a trans man gives you a harder setting to play the game with.
Being born a trans woman, is pretty much the most difficult setting in terms of discrimination and abuse and that’s using binary trans identities
Being born gender queer/fluid/non-binary has a lot of other difficulties within the trans community as well as everywhere else (erasure of identity etc). Which makes it a really hard level of the game to play as well.
As a cisgender person- playing the game of life on easy mode in terms of gender identity. If you then say or do things that hurt trans people as a community (not individuals) then you’re participating in oppression. e.g. If you have a trans friend who doesn’t mind you using their old name- but you do that to any other trans person who hasn’t given you permission. You’re contributing to the oppression of trans people. You might be the nicest person in the world- but if you say something that contributes to oppression, then you’re still hurting people- no matter how good you’ve been in the past.
Cis is not an insult, it’s an identity.
If a child gets bitten by a dog/s, sometimes they will develop a distrust of dogs.
If a trans person gets abused by cis people then they might develop a distrust of cis people.
If you are a cis person and you hurt a trans person- generally it’s /because/ you’re cis that you didn’t know that it hurts or you didn’t need to know. The same way that a lawyer might not know about plumbing, and vice versa. You haven’t experienced it, so you don’t know how it feels. Therefore, when a trans person tells you ‘stop.’ ‘That hurts’ ‘Don’t say that’. If you continue to do so it’s like a lawyer trying to fix the sink, even though the plumber is telling them they’re not doing it right.
Eventually, the sink is going to break because the lawyer wasn’t listening.
Trans people know more about the trans experience than a cis person does. Full stop. Always.
That isn’t an insult, or a jibe at peoples intelligence. It’s about experience.
So when a trans person calls you cis, in a way that hurts you- it’s because you have hurt them /because/ you are cis.
It is never “You hurt me, therefore you are cis.” It is “You are cis, which is why you’ve hurt me.”
What can we do about it though?
– Listen to trans people when they talk about trans issues
– If a trans person tells you to stop, you’re doing something wrong.
– Show respect for trans people and more often than not you’ll be respected in return.
– Don’t force trans people to educate you*
– Show you support trans people by giving them the space to speak freely
Trans peoples lives are under the microscope of the media all the time. Look at all the interviews of trans people on TV. They ask about surgery, hormones, their past name and genitals and experiences. It is very, very, intimate.
Imagine having to tell people every day what your genitals looked like in order for them to accept you as a real person.
That’s a trans experience.
If you want to know about trans people, try and google some of the questions you have. It won’t be the best education, but it’s a start. Contact some of the advocacy groups (Many Genders One Voice and ATSAQ in Brisbane. There are heaps in other states too), see if they have resources on your questions. Even QUAC has resources on trans info.
If you’re still confused, then check out Tumblr. There are hundreds of thousands of trans people on there who are writing out answers to the same questions every single day who enjoy it!
Finally, if you are lucky enough to have a trans friend who is happy to educate you, ask them politely and be respectful if they choose to say no. Demanding trans people to educate you is disrespectful, as that is not their job. Unless the trans person is a trans educator by profession or choice- then you’re invading their intimate lives. Not on purpose- you’re just curious- but you’re still asking people personal questions that are invasive and often hurtful.
So please be careful and look after your trans friends. If they’re calling you names. You’ve said something hurtful and offensive.
You’re playing the game on cis mode. Suddenly you encounter someone playing on trans mode. You need to beat each other in order to get to the next level. Problem is, you have 5 weapons and they only have 1 because they’re on trans mode. So you hit them with your magic fire balls, and they hit you with their sword of might. But because you have better stats (because you’re on cis mode) the trans person KO’s and you leave with -3 points from full health.
That is the difference. Because when you say something to hurt a trans person. It is /extremely/ damaging. Because of their experiences as being trans. If they insult you, it hurts, yeah- but it doesn’t KO you the same way. You can leave the situation feeling hurt, but they can leave it feeling suicidal.
I was just talking about cis and trans. Intersectionality means that there is so much more out there to consider. (race, sexuality, socio-economic standing, job, disability etc).