Like Anastasia.

When I first stepped into the world of feminism; from what was a very antifeminist stance, I was stunned by the sense of community that I had entered. Women who were not only encouraged to find their own tribe and their own voice, but who had a responsibility to listen to those who, for so many reason, experienced the world in a way they never would. To form; from near or far, a deep sense of solidarity with each other no matter how different our, inequitable, oppressive experience of the world were. We had each other’s back and made decisions, especially in regards to the words we chose to speak about each other, that would let others know we’ve got this.

Of course this utopian nirvana I thought I had found has lost its shine over the last decade. Feminism is imperfect, complicated, diverse and sometimes down and out infuriating. But it is, and will always be, the one choice I will always make. To not only be a feminist but to deliberately use my space in this world to smash the status quo. 

But, to me, the almost universal premise that brings feminism from the world of theory and academia and into the ways that women, right here right now, make and experience their bodies in this patriarchal world is the curiosity and respect for each other’s voice. And right at the heart of this idea (or is that ideal) is that no other person, feminist or not, is not in any position to tell women what they should or shouldn’t do. While this new vouge feminism centred in choice is deeply problematic; choice, not just the ability but the permission to, engage or disengage with the world in informed ways, has to mean something.

One of the things I’m learning about being a submissive woman, is that I now exist in this cultural paradox. Within BDSM, when a woman tells her story and she says that her experiences of submission are negative, that she has been harmed. That she is living with trauma. She is called a liar. She is shamed. She is blamed. Outside of BDSM, when a woman tells her story and she says that her experiences of submission are positive, that she feels safe, that she is experiencing pleasure. She is called a liar. She is shamed. She is blamed.

It doesn’t matter what we are saying; our voice is ignored, ridiculed and rejected.

I’m not arrogant enough to tell women what they should be doing. So it was no surprise that Caitlin Roper’s latest account of her angst surrounding the newest Fifty Shades release was something that I was going to find hard to read. To me it is deeply paternalistic, her words and those like her are founded in the genuine belief that they know what is best. Rejecting the experiences of women who genuinely enjoy the franchise and intentionally subjugating the dozens if not hundreds of reasons why they are going to see the movie.

So when I see women like Caitlin Roper jumping from the clichéd volley of platitudes usually directed at the franchise (I’m surprised that the condescending mummy porn portrayal wasn’t front and centre in her piece) into the position that tells the readers of the Sydney Morning Herald that “these are the services where women like Anastasia end up” I have to stop and really think hard about what the overall intention of this piece was.

Did Caitlin want to add something to the numerous conversations about the structural and cultural barriers to women freely engaging with frontline services? Was she writing this because she has a genuine concern for women “like Anastasia” and a desire to make sure that we too have access to relevant interventions and services?

Call me sceptical, but I’m going to say it’s a sure bet that neither of these were part of the reason why she wrote this piece. Nor why the Sydney Morning Herald chose to take it to publication.

Because the reality is that women like Caitlin Roper have little to no concern about women like me. The women that they choose to cast as presumptive victims while choosing to ignore our voices and our stories. Women like me, who are safe in our intimate spaces even though the behaviours, language, attitudes and community commonly associated with BDSM and dominance and submission are at the core of our relationships. While people will jump to read the narratives of our sexploits when it is all about the whips and chains and orgasms; it’s getting harder and harder to get others to actually take the time to sit down, shut up and listen to us. Well they have no reason to right?

For all of the pieces about “women like Anastasia” I have not yet encountered one which actively seeks out what we need in frontline services; especially with regard to mental health care. And from the hour or so of searching on the website of those organisations behind this campaign, I can safely assume that not one of them has any dedicated service or counsellor informed about or directed to meeting the needs of submissive women.

But beyond “these services” that she has so carefully promoted in her piece not actually being services that would be responsive to who I am and what I would need if in fact I did ever need to access their services; I want to question the dominant narrative of her piece.

There are lots of things wrong with the character of Christian Grey. He is materialistic and status driven. He believes that his philanthropic endeavours account for the business choices he makes. He has acquired so many unhealthy and dysfunctional approaches to and behaviours within both his relationships with women and in his sex life (it’s interesting that, of all the pieces written about his behaviours not one piece has tried to explore the correlation between child abuse and the attachment disorder that Christian so clearly has). He has unresolved trauma. And most importantly connected to BDSM his sexual identity has stalled in its infancy stage, the only way he can feel safe engaging with sex in a mutually satisfying way is my having a signed piece of paper kept in the bedside table; or wherever a billionaire would keep his important documents. Christian Grey also embodies a lot of the fragile yet toxic masculinity that has created the realm of the pickup artist; and, unfortunately, has begun to infect BDSM. It’s egocentric, entitled and dangerous for women, because, amongst other problems it schedules women as passive in their own bodies and as characters that men create through their own sexual prowess. So I am not defending the character that is Christian Grey. And let’s be honest he and the world that he commands is one walking, talking product placement.

Christian is not the absolute everything of FSOG. And while he clearly exhibits problematic behaviours he is a fictional character that is a cluster of everything unlikable and unacceptable. And women are allowed to like him.

And this, as far as I’m concerned, brings to a head the idea that the franchise is glamourising intimate partner violence.

Finding something alluring about a fictional character; even one as dysfunctional as Christian Grey. Finding points of reference in fiction that you connect to, that resemble the story of your own sexual realities. Does not, in anyway, negate the way you perceive intimate partner violence! And to consider the audience of Fifty Shades Darker as ignorant about the realities of intimate partner violence., is quite arrogant!

And that is just not how I choose to approach the millions of women, throughout the world who have gone and will go and see Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed. I see them, as I see myself as women entitled to make their own decisions regarding how they spend their disposable incomes. But more than that, I am not so isolated from the community of women who either enjoy the Fifty Shades franchise or who choose to bring behaviours commonly associated with dominance and submission into their erotic space, to see these women as ignorant about the realities of intimate partner violence. We see the same news headlines as you. We read the same reports that tell us the attitudes regarding women, violence and sexual behaviours is repulsive. We know that intimate partner violence kills at least 1 woman a week in Australia and costs our economy billions of dollars in lost wages, first responders, health care and our legal system We see the same shallow and pathetic attempts at awareness, band aid solutions, funding cuts and inadequate structural and institutional action as every other woman. We see the casual and often inadequate ways that the media engage with the complexity of gendered violence. We understand that domestic and family violence has, over generations, has been relegated to behind closed doors, assigned to the too hard or not our problem basket. We may enjoy a movie that some see as problematic, be we, as individuals and a collective group of women are neither the cause of intimate partner violence not blatantly ignorant of it.

I think that there is a lot wrong with infantilising women’s consumer choices. The women who are seeing this movie found something interesting to see; and dare I say it something that turned them on. I know I did! And I will unapologetically, defend the right for a woman to watch a movie and, when well informed by complete understanding, motivated by mutual satisfaction and framed by affirmative consent, defend the choice to be “like Anastasia” in her boudoir. 

So while I have to agree with her proposition that we (although I have no doubt that her “we” does not include women like myself) need to begin to really interrogate the way that intimate partner violence is discussed and represented I will not be actively supporting anything that intentionally creates and us and them divide. As a woman “like Anastasia” I will let other women just like her make their own choices about what they watch at the cinema and how they come to understand what intimate partner violence is.

And if that contribution to creating a better understanding of women’s experiences of intimate partner violence involves actively boycotting one book/movie franchise than, by all means, actively boycott Fifty Shades Darker; and in a years’ time when Fifty Shades Freed is released, make the same choice. But the choice to watch the movie is no more or less a choice.

But please, understand the services and the political/social ideology that you are really supporting. Spend 5 minutes Googling the individuals and organisations behind it and where exactly your money will go. Because, as a feminist, I unequivocally stand behind the idea that it is only through education; both as a social institution and self-driven, that women will be able to make the best choices for themselves.

I’m not asking you to change your opinions about the FSOG franchise; love it, hate it, it’s your decision. But what I am asking of you is that, before advocating for a particular campaign or position, you choose to understand the realities of those women “like Anastasia”. The women like me, like dozens of friends of mine – women and men alike. To stop and listen to our voices and our stories.

Being able to write and to write well is a privilege. Being given a public platform is an entitlement. Those who are gifted this public space are entitled to their own words and their own agendas. But doesn’t someone with this privilege have a responsibility to, at least consider, their potential audience? The Sydney Morning Herald is not some niche blog or sub forum. It is a mainstream media platform, and one that has a diverse audience; an audience that includes women “like Anastasia”.


Do not validate my feminism.

By now we’ve all had the pleasure of reading David Hon’s piece explaining (or is that mansplaining) why he won’t date a feminist.

At first I was like most of the commenters, I read his words, laughed and thought ‘thank god men like him will never want to date me’ and reminded myself to remember that I’m supposed to hate men. But then I looked beyond his simplistic rewording, straw-man positions and an intentional rejection of women’s subjective realities and tried to (I really did) understand what his objecting to dating women who are feminists really is all about.

But I couldn’t!

He states that he couldn’t date someone who saw his genitals as giving him advantage that he doesn’t actually have, because believing in privilege takes romance from a partnership to a power struggle. Which I’m assuming creates one of the complex advantages for women that don’t exist for men – because rape culture doesn’t exist. These advantages are “deeply personal” as opposed to political issues. I think he’s trying to play the “personal is political” mantra of feminism but using in it create the illusion that, what he calls “anti-male or anti-female”, are not as we claim the complex result of social inequity and oppression, but rhetoric rooted in a previous bad experience that are also cultural opinions that reflect our own world views.

He concludes by stating that “Maybe one day, men and women will stop trying to eliminate the lines between us and realize it’s the differences between the sexes that make romance, family and love an enjoyable experience”.

And I have no idea what on earth his actual complaint against dating a feminist actually is. If we take his premise that feminism (anti-male rhetoric) is just a consequence of bad experiences, then don’t we have to apply the same to his anti-feminism (anti-female rhetoric) is just a consequence of his own bad experiences?

But the more I sat with this and stopped laughing at what I see as a pathetic argument from a man who can’t date women who are feminists because they create bad experiences for him, I realised what was a much larger issue for me.

I’m not concerned by his choice not to date feminists (although I do have an issue with him being given such a public platform to share this), there wouldn’t be many women who are feminists who would want to date men with his world view.

My problem with the way that this piece comes across is that his rejection of feminism is important.

The assumption that feminists need their feminism validated by outsiders; especially men. I can’t quite put my finger on why this one piece made me connect to this, but something in the way he positions feminism as an obstacle to authentic and functioning romantic relationships between men and women. An obstacle to be overcome or used as a means to reject women. If we are wanting to be seen as desirable/datable/fuckable then we have to accept that our feminism – however that may manifest itself must be put up to interrogation.

Here’s the thing. I don’t need my feminism and the perspectives of the world it gives me validated by any man. Be that my husband. My father. My brother. My boss. A total stranger writing a poorly thought out, click bait opinion piece.

I know that there is a wage gap. Not just because statistics tell me. But because women tell me they experience a wage gap. And I believe them. I know there is a culture in which the complexity and criminality of sexual assault is routinely minimised – on campus and elsewhere. Not just because research and anecdotal evidence tells me. But because women tell me of their own experiences of rape culture. And I believe them. I know that the systematic and structural expectations, assumptions and rules that come together; created by and for a very particular demographic – men, is real. Not because I’ve read generations of sociological theory and quantitative data that demonstrates a difference between the ways in which males and females experience and/or are punished by the world. Not because I’ve listen and responded to the experiences of other women in this system. But because I’ve experienced it myself!

My personal and my political are one in the same. My political position influences almost all of my everyday decisions. And yes, my feminism has and does influence the decisions I make in my intimate and domestic spaces which will disqualify me from a male gaze centred ideal of desirability. I understand that.

But what I do not understand is this need for men to be seen as some kind of  gatekeepers of our feminism. That if they accept and respect what it is that creates our feminist worldview then we are more valid and valued than others – especially when it comes to sex.

You can slut shame me all you like …

But your slut shaming tells me more about you and the culture you exist in than you could ever imagine!

Before today I hadn’t directly experienced slut shaming. I’ve encountered it through traditional and social media (I doubt there is a woman who hasn’t), but to have a man explicitly shame my sexuality wasn’t something I’d had to process before today.

This man not only chose to outwardly reject my position and shame me for it but he mansplain me into tomorrow. I’m not going to lie, it was confronting to read. I’ve received abusive messages which have been quite confronting, but this was something else. I’m not even sure I can adequately describe it. One of the things we know is that we don’t passively engage with our online spaces; they can be just as real as our face to face experiences. We are often in a very relaxed mental state – In bed drinking coffee, lazy Sunday morning and we aren’t physiologically prepared for a confrontation; so it can become quite overwhelming. As this was for me.

His words were not threatening, quite laughable actually. Chest thumping ‘me dom, you sub’ quintessential kinky mansplaining. It’s not as if I hadn’t read it (or heard it) before, you can’t get far on Fetlife without meeting it. But this time it was a direct attack on me and mine. I’m quite confident in my sexuality, it took me a long time and a lot of hard work to get to a space where I can own my self as a sexual being without hesitation or the need to defend it.

But I didn’t realise there was this point of vulnerability, this fragile edge to me self. Until today.

I don’t usually respond to these people. I usually don’t extend any more emotional or mental energy than what it takes to delete and block. It’s one of the consequences of being a female bodied human being who engages with and puts forward positions and opinions online. But today I had this, what I can only describe as niggling feeling that just wouldn’t go away. I’d walked away from the computer, made the decision not to engage (my positive coping strategies) and yet I couldn’t remove myself from this. Why?

So I sat down and got thinking.

And boy, was I surprised where that took me!

I began to question why something that is presented as alternative or ‘other’ is founded in this absolute appropriation of heteronormative femininity. How can “submissive” be queered if the essence of the identity is a performative, constructed armour worn to conform to a culturally constructed and prescribed set of normative behaviours? I began wondering what on earth motivates a man (a total stranger) to reject outright the proposition that centring the physical sexual pleasure from all of this is legitimate. And what made him think he has the right to demand justification and apology.

And that’s when I realised this was nothing more than slut shaming!

This man, so encased in heteronormative assumptions about female sexuality, so finite in his assumptions about acceptable and punishable female/feminie sexuality, believes he has the right to govern my sexual choices and expressions.

I get overwhelming sexual pleasure out of submitting. Dominance for me is first and foremost a kink. Bossy pants make my ladybits all hot and tingly and my orgasm wave after wave of explosive pleasure. I own this, unapologetically. I love my body and am committed to ensuring that I keep it functioning in a way that works for me and my sexual partner. I am his slave, but a slave who is a sexual being.

Since I began exploring this side of my sexuality I’ve encountered so many self and culturally imposed road blocks. I grew up being constantly conditioned that “good girls” should never expect attention, never expect too much of a man, should submit passively to her biological fate and to never ever feel sexual desire. I can’t remember how many times I’d encountered the idea of a woman’s “lot” and lectured about subjugating pleasure for permanence.  Then there is this ever existing tension between owning my autonomy and serving the greater good of women. The toing and froing between embracing choice and dismantling the oppressive patriarchal structures that police every move I make; including the ones in my bedroom.

I read a quote once (I have a feeling it could have been a Cosmo or Cleo article) that said “there is a fine line between sexy and slutty”. I can’t tell you what came next, I think it was another one of their how to please a man pieces, but this one line has stuck with me for years. This idea that there is obvious permitted relationship between women and sex; it’s so normalised and idolised (dare I say it, even a fetishised) line we women walk just as easy as we breath. It’s innate, maybe biological, and always present. It is always our fault when we cross the line and when we do we must accept punishment – slut shamming.

Dominance and submission are characterised by these oversimplified caricatures, which are often grotesque, stereotypical, common and harmful! Sure, we may laugh off ‘one true wayism”, we snark it and ridicule the ideas. But that’s just not enough anymore! We need to stand up and start challenging them, the language and the assumptions! – I mean isn’t this what feminism is all about?

But first we need to better understand where they come from.

The dominant paradigm of dominance (male) and submission (female) is sold to us as the legitimate representation. It’s ascribes performative ethics to the roles – dominant = active, submissive = passive. Please don’t dictionary definition me! Using the dictionary to present and argument is immature, it rejects the nuance and complexity of humanness. I’m not interested in definition, I’m interested in the way one experiences themselves as a submissive women.

I’m going to make some big claims here, but here goes.

Five common assumption caused by this active/passive dichotomy and why they are grotesque and harmful:

  1. It is an absolute double standard!

When a dominant steps out of the assumptions of heteronormative masculinity he is hero-worshiped! If he brings in emotions, if he is reactive and empathetically responsive to his partner or if he conceded weakness then he is respected. When I as a submissive step outside of the assumptions of heteronormative femininity I am judged and compelled to apologies! If I am displaying desire as opposed to being desirable I am shamed.

  1. It rejects women’s creative power and denigrates our sexual labour!

When one is cast as passive she is without real and present personhood. She is an object within her own sexuality rather than an autonomous being who is eligible for recompense for the physical and emotional labour she exerts

  1. She must be chaste.

To be chaste is not simply to be without sex. It is the rejection of any form of sexual nature and intention. To be passive is to be without intention and meaning. Why do have to be meaningless to be submissive?

Further it positions my sexuality as absolutely symmetrical with his; allowing no deviation. It positions his sexuality – needs and performance as the image that I need to be reactively mirroring if I want my sexuality legitimised.

  1. It rejects a “whole body” approach to sexuality.

When I am compelled to accept that the mental is of more importance that the physical I am being asked to accept a version of me that limits, if not destroys, the intimate and social essence and expression of my self as a sexual being and instead, conform to a prescribed set of normative behaviours. You cannot disconnect the mind from the body and the emotional fulfilment I get from submission is satisfying. But it does not come at the expense of the physical pleasure I receive.

  1. The notion of a coherent submissive self rejects the fabrication of any identification of submissive woman that exists within an in-between space, outside of heteronormative assumptions.

Which brings me back to me question: How can “submissive” be queered if the essence of the identity is a performative, constructed armour worn to conform to a culturally constructed and prescribed set of normative behaviours?

When my behaviours and the core of my identity as a submissive woman are not functionally feminine must I subjugate myself to the approved cultural and linguistic codes? Present myself not as a creation of desires, physiological capacities and emotional needs but as an imitation of harmful and dominant heteronormative norms?

We cannot create identity without the culture around us. There is a deep interrelationship between the self and culture. But we must reject this oversimplified and externally ratified cultural caricature and codification of our experiences as submissive women if we are to ever be free to express ourselves as sexual beings when we do not toe this fine line between sexy and slut.

So you can slut shame me all you like – it’s not going to challenge or change anything that I know about myself. But it will cement my focus on rebelling against the status quo and my feminism every time you do.

Humanising the rapist: Destroying the myths of rape culture one at a time.

I really don’t like reactive pieces and I certainly didn’t ever think I’d go down the path of writing from a point of physical/emotional reaction rather than considered position. It took me weeks to sit down with the aftermath of the Ghomeshi trial. I needed to sit with what had happened, clarify my thoughts and write what I thought needed to be said rather than what I wanted to say. But I’ve bitten the bullet tonight. I’ve spent the last few days, like so many, in tears and utter disbelief at the reality that has been the rape and subsequent trial of Ms Doe. I’ve read (and cried over) her victim impact statement and I’ve read all about the sentencing, his fathers’ and friends defence and of course his statement. I’m choosing not to name him here; we all know who I’m talking about. His name and his all American yearbook photo is everywhere. He doesn’t need me to name him, he doesn’t care what women like me think. To him women like me are part of the problem that got him thrown in prison. Women like me are the ones who need his mansplaining – sorry education, that he begged the sentencing judge let him go forward with, as punishment for his crime.

What I felt the need to sit down and write has confused me. It’s not anger it’s not surprise its resignation; not something I desire but something that I feel is genuinely inevitable. Inevitable because it needs to be done and done now.

Rape is something that not only can happen to anyone but is something that can be done by anyone. But more often than not this message is not being heard. We see rapists as something of an other, a monster lurking in the darkness. A myth that has stood the test of time. It’s something that we use to place rape and rapists as something away from me. It makes us feel safer. I get that. No one wants to believe that the man I know can do something as abhorrent as rape.  The man who raped Jane Doe is not a monster. While he was a stranger to his victim he was not a stranger to his family, his friends and his community. He is just like men I know – except for the fact that he chose to and was convicted of rape.

A lot has been written over the last few days, nothing I could put here can come close to the eloquent well constructive pieces that have been published so far. But I feel the need to contribute, after all I made this space to add myself into the conversations I feel relevant to how we think about and have sex. And, for me, rape culture is a part of this. One of the ways that rape culture and its assumptions, minimising and victim blaming, is central to this particular rape is through the character references offer up to the court as a means of supporting the rapist.

The character references offered by his father, grandparents, coaches, classmates and friend are not something out of the ordinary, as far as I’m aware (keeping in mind that I am not a lawyer) statements such as these and the content of them are normal. Just as victims of crime are entitled to place before the court accounts of the crime perpetrated upon them and the impact that the crime has had on themselves and their lives, so too can the convicted. The rights and wrongs of this are many and complex. Should we really be seeing those who have committed crimes away from what they have been convicted of? Should judges be able to consider them as influential in their sentencing decision? I just don’t know, and I don’t think it would do anything is I pretended that I did. There are others who are much more educated about the legitimacy and need of such character references, and I will leave it up to those to find these answers.

Let me be very clear here – the rape apologies, the minimisation, the excuses and the victim blaming are not, JUST NOT what I am talking about here. I can’t begin to get my head around this part of their statements. It’s frustrating and nauseating. The best I can come up with is “it’s just plan fucked up” which would neither do justice to the reality of these words nor offer anything new to the conversation.

This is not what I want to take away from these character references. It’s not actually the first thing that I noticed about them. Nor do I want to make a post about his lack of recognition or remorse in his own statement. I want to take the character references and remove the rape culture that has saturated them and reframe them in a way that I think (and I could be totally wrong here) could bring about some kind of change.

Character references are given to humanise those awaiting sentencing, to present a picture of the defendant not as the prosecution portrayed him as during trial, but that of a young man who, because of “20 minutes of action” has been irreversibly changed. These references are a collection of facts and opinions, they revolve around all of the everyday things; what we eat, how we walk, we live and work, our accomplishments and our dreams who come together to make us who we are as individual humans. He is a son, a swimmer, a classmate and a friend. We need to start recognise these facts in rapists, not to glorify them but to acknowledge that these parts of us, are part of what makes up a rapist too. Rapists are humans who make the choice to commit crimes.

The person who ate the steak – is a rapist.

The son who ate his dad’s snacks – is a rapist.

The budding swim star – is a rapist.

The man who had dreams and accomplishments – is a rapist.

The people who fall into this drinking culture – are rapists.

Men who have never been in trouble before – can rape.

Awkward teenagers trying to fit in – can rape.

People who are mild mannered – have raped women.

People who are happy drunks around friends, who keep control and act rationally – do rape.

Great kids – rape.

Teenagers, intelligent enough to be admitted to Stanford – can be rapists.

I absolutely understand the reaction to the release of these references. They, in context, are horrifying to read. I sat here on Monday reading the statement given by his father and it floored me. I asked my husband ‘what type of person thinks about steak when he’s writing what is a plea to the judge sentencing their son’? But neither of us could come up with an answer, is there one? I’ve read the words written by those that know this man and can only wonder what they think rape is.

But they gave me insight into who this man is. The man behind the rape. The man who chose to get drunk at a collage party and make the deliberate decision to take an unconscious woman away and out of sight and rape her. He is the person that is outlined in those character references AND he is a rapist.

We need to humanise these men. We need to see them as part of the swim team and kids who sit at the dinner table eating steak with their fathers. Because that is who they are. These men, these people who choose to commit sexual assaults are men who dream of being doctors, who look like the men we love and socialise with, the ones sitting next to us in class and who we see on the station platform on the way home from work. These are the men who rape and we need to start seeing them as such.

Dismantling rape culture can only be done by removing, one by one, the myths and erroneous assumptions about rape. Not just the myths and assumptions about rape victims but the ones that surround and create our myths and assumptions of rapists.

The confusion I am feeling having written this is uncomfortable. I feel as if every word I’ve just written is wrong and that the best thing I could do is hit delete and forget everything that I’ve thought over the last few days which has cumulated in this post. I feel like I’m ignoring one of the core elements of my feminism and my reasoning for this space. The centring of the needs and experiences of females. To take away from her and make it all about him feels counter to what I see is crucial to the advancement of a feminist rebellion. But there is this part of me that feels this is important and needs to be said. Humanising the rapist, taking him from the shadows, the dark alleyways, removing the stranger and putting him in our swim teams and classrooms putting a face in the picture can and will challenge some of the most prevailing and frustrating myths and assumptions about rape.

But I’m going to give the last word to Jane Doe. I want these words to, once these overwhelming emotions settle a bit, be the thing that I take away from her.

And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you.

To girls everywhere, I am with you.

What the Ghomeshi trial has taught me: Or how rape culture really looks.

I’m not a lawyer. I am not Canadian. I am coming at this from a limited understanding of law. None of this is “expert” advice. While watching the trial and acquitting of Ghomeshi as well as participating in some of the social media associated with it. I noticed that there are a number of elements that constitute the case that have been playing around in my mind a bit.

It’s not that they are specifically relevant to this one particular trial, it’s just that they seem to be ideas and arguments that I found myself being confronted with more and more during this one case. So I thought I’d write them down and add my, not asked for 2 cents worth of opinion and characterisation on this trial.

Opinion 1

When it comes to the crime of sexual assault it is the peripheral issues rather than the central story that matters.

A sexual assault trial should revolve around a central statement of fact. That is what the prosecution claim that on this day this happened, presented as a sequence of events. Events that are explained further through evidence and witness testimony. What seems to be happening though is that the central statement become irrelevant and the peripheral issues like what came before and after becomes the focal point. Reasonable doubt – the keystone of modern day criminal defence, comes from discrediting the witness testimony & character than from disproving the events of the sexual assault.

Opinion 2

In his defences closing Ghomeshi’s lawyer made a very particular and telling statement.

“The truth is between the lines”.

I take this to mean that there is something of truth in what is not being said; I could have totally misread this of course but I am pretty sure that this statement has been offered up as some kind of direction to read between the line.

If you consider that (as far as I can tell) the defence never offered up an alternative statement of facts/events and never claimed anything beyond ‘what she said didn’t happen’ then you can only assume that not only is there is no defensive claim that ‘it didn’t happen’ but there is no evidence to prove that it didn’t happen. I understand that the burden of proof is placed solely in the hands of the prosecution. But if you are going to make a definitive claim then shouldn’t you do so with some kind of evidence to back this up? That “reasonable” doubt must be in fact reasonable: something that comes from a sound judgment.

What we seem to have is a reasonable doubt caused by the victims themselves. It’s not his actions on those nights in 2002, 2003 and 2008 that shows the prosecutions statement of facts is wrong but the actions of his victims after those nights up to and including their individual performances on the witness stand.


Opinion 3

He said/she said is a lie

Discussions of sexual assault allegations are often framed as case of he said/she said until the point a jury (or judge) casts their vote and decides who was right. What happens is more along the lines of she (the victim) says he (accused) gets his lawyer to present a section of questions and statements that will bring about reasonable doubt. While victims do not lay charges or prosecute and become a witness offering up testimony in the same way that a police officer or forensic scientist does. It is her and her alone that more often than not win or lose a case. She recounts her version of events as she understands them, and then answers to questions put forward to her by a defence team paid to ensure that their client gets what he wants. He actually says nothing – his defence team does all the talking.

Opinion 4

We are a generation of know it all women – how can a man take advantage of that?

This doesn’t necessarily pertain to the trial itself but the narrative that surrounds it. We, as in modern Gen X Y & Millennial women are cast as being the most knowledgeable, independent, confident, educated women who are given this “gift” of walking through life in ever encounter we happen to come across in absolute perfection. That somehow those of us who happened to have been assigned a certain chromosomal structure at the moment of our conception have this innate, maybe even evolutionary, attribute or instinct that makes us aware of harm and directs us in another direction. We are so controlled by this innate perfection that if we do (choose to) walk into a “grey area” situation then it is of our own free will and we alone should be held accountable for any adverse or illegal consequences. In other words we really should just know beter!

Opinion 5

We also have this other subset of women who are “fuckable”. She is the imagined ideal of sexual perfection (although being one who is not this I cannot tell you what it is, maybe it’s a secret passed down to you once you are deemed worthy). She is all of those things we modern woman are but she has this additional innate attribute that dissolves her sexual prey, I mean predators, man I don’t know what they are! From any and all responsibility. Something like the mythological succubus; but this modern version doesn’t kill her conquests she frees them back into the wild. But the point is these women cannot be raped! If you are a woman who is fuckable and who chooses to flirt, kiss, have sex or enjoy the company of men then you are the problem here – not the criminal actions of another.

Opinion 6

It’s not Ghomeshi or men like him that are the problem. It’s that *we* women just aren’t using our innate ability to effectively predict or react to others behaviour. It doesn’t really matter that I really can’t tell if the man I am finding attractive and kissing in this moment is going to wrap his hands around my throat and choke me in a few minutes’ time. It’s unimportant that I have no idea of predicting if in half an hour the man I’m having sex with & wanting to have sex with is going to change his game plan and do something else. It’s irrelevant that I’m not this physical being that is able to drop a portcullis across my vulva when I sense an imminent invasion. And just not good enough that I don’t become coated in some toxic goo to fend off any further touch or attempts to touch when uninvited.

That fact that I have no way of reacting to fear and confusion in a way that does not take me into the flight, fight or freeze automatic responses. Case and Statute law across the Western world recognise the variations in trauma reactions. Medical, psychological, social and legal discourse constantly recognises the inconsistency and factual errors in the assumption that women will without hesitation adequately react in these situations.

But none of this matters! These facts are irrelevant. Men are men and as such need are to void of the realities and the consequences of their choices because we cannot or just do not effectively predict and react in the way that we are supposed to.

Opinion 7

Consent is still the word no!

Opinion 8

This is just so fucked up!






Well, can she?

Can I and still be …

How many times have you caught yourself wondering if you can still be a feminist and engage with something you enjoy?

I know I have!

Last year I had the pleasure of seeing the fabulous Roxanne Gay while she was here in Sydney. Her Bad Feminist talk inspired so much within me. But the biggest thing that I came away with was the understanding that I am a woman who is a feminist. A feminist yes but a woman first. A woman who is just a person, a person who likes and needs things that others may consider unfeminist – by their standards & their standards don’t have to be mine!

The other thing I’ve learned over the last few months is that this “can I” question is nothing more than an imposed expectation that we justify ourselves and our choices.

I’m still up in the air about the idea of choice feminism. One the one hand, I’ve made choices about my life that directly create the way that I experience the world and I want them, and the millions of different choices that other women make to become a significant part of the overall feminist discourse. I think the way that women come to the decisions we make is important in both a personal and political level. We, as humans, are social creatures and we do look to others to find identity and validate who we are. I see the push to silence “choice” as nothing more than a case of imposing some imagined feminist hierarchy upon us; that tells us when, why, how and what we can claim and discuss as a part of feminism.

At the same time I understand that choice, for many, is a privilege and one that for so many doesn’t exist. I try to be mindful of the benefits that I have for being nothing more than me. I am, in many areas of my life, privileged. From having accessed an education that has allowed me to become literate to gaining tertiary qualifications that have enable to express myself articulately and with confidence. I am straight; so in my country that allowed me the privilege to marry the man I love. I have access to technology, the internet, private health insurance, healthy food and clean water. There is a lot that just exists for me that doesn’t for many; and truth be told some days I am totally blind to all that I really have!

So while I understand the hesitancy of the word choice being used in feminist discourse I believe that we need to start engaging with the, I guess you could call it social commentary, that revolves around the choices that are being made. In particular this incessant pestering women to discuss and justify the choices that they are making – in ways we don’t for men.

For me, having engaged with this both with the choices I have made and through the media (both traditional and social) constantly asking the ‘well can she’ questions, I’m coming to see this as nothing more than a carefully executed distraction technique. A way of controlling and containing the way that women are engaging with outward social spaces to discuss their experiences. It’s another way that the outside is able to define women rather than addressing the issues and expectations (that may not necessarily be being meet) of women.

It’s nothing more that incessant casual sexism.

It has nothing to do with me as an individual making the situations I live with as positive, meaningful and as healthy as possible with the resources at hand and within the applied limitations. It has nothing to do with asking women real questions in order to find real solutions to real problems. It’s got nothing to do with placing the experiences and expectations of women into the forefront of conversations and decisions about the experiences and expectations of women. It’s nothing more than a way to force women to justify themselves.

I’m not sure why this exists. Maybe there isn’t one particular reason for it. But having sat back and thought about the way that I am experiencing this I keep coming back to one of the most poignant elements of misogyny; the need to lump women into this monolithic caricature rather than seeing women as a collective of individuals – who identify with the gendered label of women.

Woman. It’s something that I love being. But what I am getting well sick and tired of having to exist within is this inability – or is it just straight up unwillingness to understand that women find genuine comfort, desire and satisfaction in an infinite number of ways.

My feminism

*I’ve written this post in a very cis gendered way. I am a cis gendered woman and experience the world as such and while I am mindful of my privileged and language choices I decided that for this piece the male/female man/woman masculine/feminine binary pairing that I’ve used were best.*

So I thought I’d sit down and write (well at least try to) something about what feminism is for me. I’ve had this post in the back of my mind since I began this The Other Normal project but became somewhat afraid of actually getting into the F wordness of all of this.

I came to feminism in my late 20’s and did so quite accidentally. I’d been one of those women who enjoyed the gains of past generations but didn’t ever feel an affinity for the people who created the change. It wasn’t until I started uni that I became aware of how feminism actually works and eventually gave myself permission to call myself feminism.

  • To me feminism is first and foremost about creating safe and open social and political spaces that encourage real conversation about the things that are important to women. Through the collective experience we create identity and momentum.
  • Feminism is not just about women in something; in politics in business in media in law in medicine, it’s about allowing women to use those spaces in politics and business, media, law, business (and really any industry) in a way that works rather than allowing women to just fill the place of men.
  • Feminism is about understanding the social hierarchy we exist in. A hierarchy of masculine and feminine. What we assume to be a masculine is valued over that which is assumed feminine. So as examples, the masculine identity man is seen as more than the feminine identity women. The masculine sexuality straight is seen as more than the feminine sexuality gay. Masculine traits such as intellectualising and strength are seen as something of a better than applying emotional content and vulnerability. Medicine is a masculine profession, nursing feminine so we revere doctors more.
  • My feminism is all about having a consciousness and understanding of the decisions I make. I don’t exist outside of my outside world, I live with the consequences of government and social institutions every day and while I may not have much active choice in decisions of governance (beyond my ability to vote and actively engage with and criticise government) I am in a little bit more control of the decisions I make; where I shop, the language I use, the media and pop culture I consume, the way I’m raising my daughter. All of these decisions; some made daily, are done so with my understanding of the world gained through feminism.
  • Feminism is about bringing women’s narratives to light. In order to create meaningful change we need to be aware of what is really going on; how you and I are experiencing life; the good and the bad. Through sharing ourselves and our stories and through conversation about who we are we can create action.
  • Feminism is about challenging and changing the way women and men are represented and expected to be. Removing stereotypes and assumptions that harm and limit genuine participation and authentic experiences.
  • Feminism is media and digital literacy. Understanding the ways that industries work and how the ways women and men are represented is the only way to create meaningful change.
  • Feminism removes this idea that there is a “good” way and a “bad” way to be a woman – and expecting every woman to be good without really defining what good is.
  • Feminism is a way to become conscious of our own internalised misogyny. Refusing to acknowledge the way that misogyny can and does influence us all in some way is refusing to accept that misogyny exists; it’s not just men who can be misogynistic.

Feminism and sex/sexuality is for me:

Recognising the need for a medical/biological perspective of female sexuality but allocating similar value to a social model. A social model of sexuality that recognises that we experience of sexuality (both identity and the physical performance of sex) beyond our physical bodies. For example:

  • Removing absolutes from sexuality and gender. This includes understanding and addressing transmisogyny and transphobia as real and as social thoughts and actions that influence and limit individual’s identities and ability to live not just authentically but authentically while being safe.
  • Is about creating safe spaces for women to critically discuss the complexity of human sexuality.
  • Is about reframing the sexual experiences.
  • Understanding the position that male dominated sexual constructs have in creating women’s sexuality; especially with regards to the male gaze.
  • Creating sexual agency for women; while protecting all from harm.
  • Understands that there are women (and men) who like sex and there are those who don’t.
  • Positions women’s sexuality as just that sexuality of women and not as sexuality for men performed by women.
  • Understands that he nuance and complexity of human sexuality and the need to be able to create and experience authentic sexual expressions does not diminish or condone intimate partner violence. Nor does it condone in anyway rape, incest paedophilia or any non-consensual acts including bestiality.
  • Acknowledges and accepts lived reality of sex trafficking victims while respecting the legitimacy of sex workers as individuals who have the right to have their needs meet and voices heard.
  • Centers on consent being the free agreement and free will of both parties within the sexual interaction. Rejects any and all cultural assumptions and language that minimises the place of consent in all relationships and which sees consent as a defense of action rather than a means of respect.