February 1, 2012
I keep wondering lately, where have all our heroines gone?
As a child growing up in the 1980s, it felt like there was an air of hope for girls and women. There were ‘girls can do anything’ ad campaigns. Teachers were careful to include all kinds of career choices for all of their students, even if they secretly expected us to follow gendered pathways. I could see women driving the big machinery in the rural area where I lived; and my sister was a whirlwind of inspirational and controversial ideas. While the world was not perfect, it felt as if it would continue to improve for girls and women.
I grew up carrying passionate visions of what women could achieve, and great plans for my life and career. Yet I now live in a world where there is a heavy bias towards boys’ success in schools and a focus on their expectations in life. There is no acknowledgement that we may be educating girls very well, or reward or praise for our high achieving girls.
After this disappointing realisation; a late night conversation with friends led laughingly to a place where we pondered the appeal of two iconic poster boys – Che Guevara and Bob Marley. I was a little startled when we found that there were no equivalent women who are so instantly recognisable and famous – barring perhaps the virgin Mary.
So where are our heroines? We don’t all aspire to immaculate conception.. While I had a mother who could organise an army, a feisty sister who was passionate about education, and that remarkable woman who drove the pea harvester each giving me different pictures of what I could become; not everyone is so lucky. We need our poster girls and women on t-shirts, on the sides of buildings, on pavements where we are waiting to cross the street to remind us of our vision, to remind us that we are smart, free, independent and belong to ourselves.
The need for heroines whose acts are remembered and retold, who we can dream of emulating, is recognised in Revolutionary Women: A book of stencils – edited by queen of the neighbourhood (a feminist collective) and published by PM press. Revolutionary Women contains fascinating biographies of well and lesser known women whose power, courage and spirit shine like a good deed in this world of ours. From Harriet Tubman to Phoolan Devi, queen of the neighbourhood recognises communists, trade unionists, freedom fighters, abortionists and environmentalists – all women and all “instrumental in exposing the flaws and injustices in our current paradigms and forcing humankind to question our assumptions about how things stand” (p.9).
The book is enthralling in part because so much of the information is new. We don’t hear much about revolutionary women, they don’t become pin ups like Che or inspire books, songs and festivals like Te Whiti. Queen of the neighbourhood seeks to redress this imbalance by providing a stencil image to accompany each woman’s biography. Readers are encouraged to transform the book into a street-level resource, to cut and paint and reclaim public space with a slick revolutionary aesthetic.
Both the stencils and prose in Revolutionary Women are clear, crisp and economical. Careful research and an engaging balance of facts, dates and vignettes make it a rare delight for readers of subversive politics.
If you are woman, a feminist, an adventurer, or just need a bit of hope that individuals can change the world then read it and get busy with your spray can!
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to get a copy of Revolutionary Women: A Book of Stencils.
May 9, 2010
I was reading this article in the Sunday Star Times today: http://www.stuff.co.nz/sunday-star-times/features/3670518/Beyond-the-call-of-duty
It’s a pretty amazing story of a dedicated cop who tracked down a serial rapist. The following article http://www.stuff.co.nz/sunday-star-times/features/3670516/How-Junior-Pillai-became-one-of-our-worst-serial-rapists almost reads like an instruction manual for would be rapists. It also contains this snippet:
A clue to Pillai’s behaviour lies in his childhood. Born in Fiji (the family name was originally spelled Pillay), the third of five siblings, he was sexually abused regularly by an adult male cousin when he was only 10. The man bought Pillai’s silence with cash and said he would beat him if he talked.
People’s experiences definitely shape the person they become. However I argue vehemently that while abuse as a child may affect a person’s self esteem, body image, and sexual function as an adult; it does not force the survivor to rape or abuse others. It could be argued that people with a history of sexual abuse or rape understand exactly the damage they are causing in a way that a non-survivor never can.
I worry about the way male-male sexual abuse is clearly specified in this article. I feel that there is an unspoken message in the media that male-female sexual abuse is somehow more ‘natural’, but that male-male sexual abuse is an abomination that men never recover from, that they can’t be responsible for their actions after such an experience.
I am concerned about the way our society focuses on ‘why’ when someone has committed a crime. ’Why’ is not necessarily helpful, illuminating, or progressive. ’Why’ asks for sympathy and understanding from victims to rapists. It undermines the sense that rape is ALWAYS unacceptable.
Asking ‘why’ of survivors who don’t rape or abuse might be more useful. Such articles would provide role models in the media of survivors who are not criminals, and could bring about better rehabilitation programmes for other survivors.
Thanks Maureen Glassey for focusing on what happened and to whom. Thanks for seeing the victims of Junior Pillai as vulnerable people rather scheming minxes. I’m sorry that the article about you is entitled Beyond the call of duty. I think you were probably just doing your duty as a cop, it’s a shame your colleagues weren’t helping. I’m also sorry that the article goes into your personal appearance and popularity at work; though maybe your male colleagues are jealous that their ‘sharp cheekbones’ are not noted in the national press. I’m glad that there are cops like you out there; now we just need objective journalists to report the facts and a receptive public looking for truth rather than excuses.
March 11, 2010
I grew up loving the ‘adventure’ books by Willard Price. Partly because I read absolutely everything with no regard for quality, and also because, just as I inherited school stories from my Mother, Trixie Belden’s from my sister and antiquated encyclopedias from my Father; I hoarded and gloated over my brother’s ‘boy’ books too.
If you haven’t read them, they are amazing. Two brothers, one Dad, not a woman in sight. They catch wild animals for zoos, fight wicked hunters and outwit native practitioners of heathenish beliefs and witchcraft.
As a girl, living mostly in my beautiful and egocentric imagination, I was the younger sister of Hal and Roger, accompanying them on their adventures, riding elephants, and hiding when they inevitably got kidnapped by white hunters only to rescue them from being burned at the stake. I was the smart one, who could smell a villain miles off and had an instant rapport with the local people and animals.
While I now realise that Price’s novels were fiction, I also know that there is something seriously wrong with the world when I can’t think of a single novel or series with such flamboyant and exciting adventures for girls or women. We get domesticity, relationships, intellect if we’re lucky. Adventure stories for women often lie in deeply serious biographies (e.g. Joy Adamson), or in travel narratives which focus on interior dialog and development rather than experiences in novel environments.
It would bring me great joy to relax in my armchair with a glass of wine and a wild romp replete with snakes, heathens, tropical disease, danger, and a heroine to sort it all out. So if you are writing one, can you send it to me? I promise to read it.
November 10, 2009
I have always mercilessly mocked jocks who love their sport, sneered over the cover of my literary novel at their enthusiasm for the game, and despised fan culture with its branded merchandise and passionate devotion to the team.
Which puts me in a tricky dilemma now because on Saturday night at our derby season final I heard this aggressive, competitive screaming girl-jock hurling abuse at the opposing team. And it was me. And when I say abuse, it went like this: “Kill her! Kill that jammer! Fuck her up! Kill her!”
I see stickers on my league-mate’s helmets that say “Roller Derby saved my soul”, but I fear that derby has damned me to hell for all eternity.
The only explanation I can give is that maybe sport is like love – it’s not rational, it makes you say and do crazy things. And you can’t help falling in love – it just creeps up and snatches you sometimes and then you are in its power till it lets you go. Every now and again something big happens in the rest of my life which puts derby in its place. I like that.
Another thing I have been learning is that those noises men make at the gym are not just for show. If you have to grunt then you’re doing it right. You sound most uncouth though.
I think I have been a spectator at a sport event perhaps twice ever. I didn’t realise how much goes on behind the scenes to make a big game happen, or how hard players work so they get to play. I have been finding out and am constantly amazed by the people who come and help for the love of it, with no hope or wish or intention of ever playing or being in the limelight. It is humbling and would make me a bit teary if I wasn’t so tough.
I now fetishise derby paraphernalia, get jittery over logo mockups, and can pick where derby girls and fans are from by their tshirts. I own sport clothes, drink sport drinks and eat vast amounts of protein.
Basically, I’ve sold out. I don’t read as many fancy books as I used to because I am either training, at a meeting, tired from training, eating after training, or gossiping about derby. (Gossip is a very important part of playing sport). I am a jock and that is fine.
And by gosh - WINNING! It’s like coming really fucking hard! Yeah Smash Malice. That was real good.
If you want to be centred then stick a compass in your heart (actually a very sharing post with lots of lovely links)
October 18, 2009
I have written so many posts in my head lately, conspicuously one linking to this http://lettersfromwetville.blogspot.com/2009/06/community-education-stories-and-how-to.html which for some reason failed to upload.
I also LOVED this http://vimeo.com/6410278 so much and urge you to watch it without judgement or protest – it is a daily bittersweet reality and I am happy that it is positively portrayed on film.
I just read a heated arguement about whether female ejaculation is really just piss – further research found a most scholarly article on wikipedia but I am left curious about what other people think.
And lastly – I can’t stop thinking about The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt and will write about it here when my thoughts are ordered.
June 4, 2009
I have been in love with this new thing for a while. It’s not a person, no nothing as normal as that. I’ve been enamoured of/with roller derby, a contact sport for girls on roller skates. It was great for a while, I fantasised about where we could go together and gushed about it to uninterested parties. I thought about it lovingly before I went slept and rearranged my life around its needs.
And maybe the initial crush is over. It is so demanding! It makes me tired and grumpy sometimes. It’s hard. It never listens when I have a problem and need to talk. I feel like I’ll never meet its unrealistic standards.
I am a bit of a quitter. I head out of relationships pretty quickly and always feel like I should have got out even quicker. I havn’t played sport since I was ten and I was incompetent even then. I don’t know whether this derby crush will be that one thing that I stick at – like in those made for tv american movies – or whether it will be like the flute, the piano, ballet, rock climbing, study, reading foucalt’s pendulum…
I like the skating, and I like that this sport is just for girls. I like getting to hit people. But I l don’t know whether I like it enough to keep pushing through trainings where I am slow and clumsy and frustrated. I guess time will tell; like in all yucky, sickening, love related things.
January 7, 2009
I haven’t written for a bit, I’m on holiday and all. But I just read this and I think it’s the best piece of writing I’ve read in ages. Give it a read eh?
December 9, 2008
December 8, 2008
I have been reading trash lately. And I love it. It’s not new, I was reading Enid Blyton, Dorita Fairlie Bruce and Noel Streatfeild for so long that I used to pretend that I was doing a children’s literature project when actually I just loved those predicatable plots, relentless school girl dramas and improbable adventures.
It is a sneaky joy reading junk – I have lots of degrees, a couple in literature, and I really should know better.
But the other day I was reading this particularly bad book (which I won’t name because someone must love it) and thinking about how naff it was, how awkward the characters were and how it didn’t go anywhere or say anything. What struck me was that life is actually like that- it’s gawky, a bit unsettled but not in the styley modern way that Don DeLilo protrays, nor in the un-understood way of Janet Frame. Life is just a bit dicky, it doesn’t quite fit and it works out mildly different to how you expect it will.
Other secret pleasures have been Dinner Doesn’t Matter and The White Elephant by Mary Scott. Scott’s characterisation is charming and I am a sucker for tangible people in novels.
This extract did make me scream though – rather bold for NZ in 1959
“‘A good show altogether’ said a masculine young woman to her friend. ‘I liked that pretty girl, though she was a bit clueless at times, and the little one who seemed to live in the kitchens really cooked quite well”… “Well her meals were what mattered” her practical friend replied. (p. 71)
And my final confession – Ngaio Marsh – murder mysteries, gentry, colonial flavour – who could ask for more?
November 24, 2008
I watered it, and admired its red flowers – the things it had to offer to the world. I never reproached it that it was not nourishing, nor was it scented.
I watered it when it was dry – but it’s summer, you kind of expect even a plant to have some built in endurance for the ups and downs in warmth and cold.
It’s strange to give up on a living thing, to say it doesn’t matter anymore.
I wondered whether I should maybe keep watering the pot, maybe the roots were living and would resprout if I had enough hope. But I didn’t want to. The plant is dead for me. It’s not going in the compost, I don’t want to absorb its matter through eating the lettuces or spinach.
The shell of a pot and few stringy roots are leaving. If someone else fancies them then that’s their journey – theirs and the plant’s.
And in the space on my window sill I can put something that I actually always wanted: jasmine, or purple pansies, or tall chive flowers. Texture and colour and smell. Not show.