Thursday, July 29, 2010

Art and High School and a Sweet Bitch of the Week

Once, I was told that I didn't seem like I went to a private girls' school. I took it as a compliment, kind of. I think that quite often, as a generally rage filled person, people expect me to talk about my school with feelings of hatred and regret and thank-God-I'm-Out-Of-There. And like, I am glad I'm out of there. When I think about it I'm glad I no longer have to wear a veil to go to a chapel service and that I can wear any colour of hair accessory and that I never have to see any of my PE teachers again. If you ever read this, Ms Chong or Miss Townsend, you are fucking bitches and it actually is your fault that I broke my leg. Thanks for the lifetime of trust issues and I hope you have a fulfilling career in your snap pants. But if I can put aside these embarrassingly-raw-after-six-years emotional issues about my broken bone, some parts of my school were really great. There were no hair gelled teenage boys with the mental capacity of a YouTube commenter, for example. Now that I am sitting at the kitchen table wistfully thinking about being at school; vaguely stoned and drinking tea and while my girlfriend is listening to The Books, I also can't seem to get past how good the satay sandwiches were in the school cafe, but there is a high possibility that I may be romanticizing these in my brain. Or maybe it is some kind of You-Don't-Know-What-You've-Got-Til-It's-Gone situation, and that I have finally realised I will never eat this sandwich, that I haven't thought about for at least four years, again. Or maybe I'm just stoned. But, smokable substances aside, what was best at my school was my teachers. I remember always getting taught whatever the women were doing in the Vietnam War or in Ancient Greece or in the Restoration period or in Othello, and it was provocative and interesting and relevant and about nine hundred times more stimulating than any paper I took in first or second or probably even third year. I remember once telling my friends about how we learnt a lot about the ladies at my school, during one of those conversations you have quite often during your twenties where you make up your mind about controversially thorny moral and ethical issues you haven't yet had to face, while eating whatever round of brie was on special at Patels. Or New World. But never Moore Wilsons. But during this conversation, my friend R asked me if I ever felt I had missed out on learning anything because of my female focused education. I was vaguely outraged. No R, I said. It's not like by learning about the female soldiers that I never found out who Ho Chi Minh was, and I definitely don't feel like by learning about what HALF OF THE WORLD was doing at any one time I was missing out on anything.

One of these lady projects was in Art History in Seventh Form with a teacher called Ms. Newman. Ms. Newman had grown up in communist Czechoslovakia and if we spent an entire lesson listening to her talk about foreshortening she would tell us stories about how everybody had to wear the same coloured track suit but that they got free dental care and we would sit there, enthralled white girls, fascinated by the idea of a place that wasn't Christchurch. The project that Ms Newman cannily assigned was for us each to study four different female self portraits, and it was actually the perfect thing for a group of restless and emotional and hysterical and intelligent and frustrated teenage girls to think about. It was an awakening through the brush strokes of Artemisia Gentileschi and Paula Modersohn-Becker and Jenny Saville and Frida Kahlo and Alice Neel and Judith Leyster. It was an assignment about the importance of feminism and the female nude and the male dominated art world and self expression, without it actually having to be. I discovered the Guerrilla Girls, and I at once felt furious, included and empowered to make a change. But, most importantly, I discovered this photo:

Nan One Month After Being Battered

It is called Nan After Being Battered and Nan Goldin took the photo in 1984 to remind herself how badly her boyfriend had beaten her. I think Nan is amazing, and she took heaps of photos of her relationship with Brian in her collection of photographs The Ballad of Sexual Dependency as well as looking at heaps of sweet gender stuff and drag queens and abuse and relationships. Some of her work looks almost tired now because the fashion industry took her aesthetic and ran a heroin chic soaked marathon with it, but this blog isn't about that and it also isn't about what I can quote from Nan's Wikipedia. This blog is about this photo and what it means to me. This photo taught me about the ugliness of domestic abuse. It taught me about bravery and about private and public moments. It taught me about feminism and how make-up can be used as a weapon and as a crutch and as a declaration. It taught me why some women can't leave and why relationships are really complicated. It taught me about self expression and catharsis. Maybe it didn't teach me this stuff when I first saw it, but it definitely made me really, truly, properly think.

Thanks for the photo, Nan. It meant a lot to me when I was seventeen, and maybe it means even more to me now.

(Somehow, for a second, this almost turned into some kind of photo blog where I posted a whole lot of moody photographs from an artist that I like without crediting any of them properly, because obviously as a lofty art appreciator I would expect all of my friends to know the precise and exact history of each photograph. But no, I am obviously far more meaningful than that, so just look at Google images.)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Gay Bars, Pies and Hookers

The other weekend I was offended on my way home from a two pie night at the gay bar. When I say it was a two pie night I mean that the level of drunkenness required everyone to eat two pies on the way home; stopping at a second dairy on Cuba Street as soon as the first round of pies had been eaten. I had been thinking strategically though, and had gotten a bag of chips at City Stop, along with my Kumara and Cashew. I walked home, feeling safe and sassy in a posse of gay men and licking salt off my fingers; talking about how my friend M really should have scored and bemoaning how the Wellington gay scene could fit on a pin head. I felt safe, that is, until I felt offended. Actually, I still felt really safe but now just with an extra dosage of rage.

When we were walking home, just as I was finishing my chips, we saw a girl walking by herself near the bypass. She was blonde and she was wearing a short skirt and it was really late. When we saw her, a new acquaintance of mine who probably by now has crossed the line from my acquaintance to my friend, my charming and lovely and well dressed and will-bring-me-a-diet-coke-when-I-am-having-a-nervous-breakdown acquaintance friend, exclaimed that he was going to yell out at her that she was a whore. At first, I couldn't even really believe it. Surely, I thought, people know by now that I am a highly irrational, hyper-sensitive, bleeding heart blogger who will REACT BADLY to these kind of comments, most likely by writing an overly-wordy post about it and plastering your shame ALL OVER THE INTERNET? But I looked at my acquaintance slash friend, a guy who will bring over mushrooms when I need them for a pasta sauce and who has excellent taste in outer-wear, and he wasn't joking.

I feel like this is a red onion of offensive behaviour, an action that for every layer of offense there is another snuggled beneath it, tighter and more intricate. I think that my metaphor is beginning to fall apart, as I almost just wrote that "the insidious offence nuggets become more 'stinky' as the layers are removed", and like, IT'S JUST AN ONION ALLY, chill out. You like red onion, especially in a Greek salad. But the first layer of offense I felt was how incredibly stupid it is to insult someone by yelling out their occupation at them. How would you feel, dear reader, if I screamed out 'Bank Teller' in the street at you? Or 'Waitress'? Or 'Lawyer' or 'Podiatrist' or 'Telemarketer'? Regardless of what you think about prostitution, and whether or not it should be legal and whichever side of the feminist fence you fall on, I just don't see how it is alright to ever use somebody's job as an insult. There are a whole lot of people who have jobs that I really don't like, but I still don't think that it is okay to accost them in the street.

But I guess that this is where the second layer of the onion of offence comes in, because the thing is that while I haven't ever really liked anyone who has worked at Dick Smith Electronics, apart from this guy Shannon who was really polite about my broken laptop over the weekend, our culture isn't constructed around the lack of privilege held by rude and sweaty computer store employees. But while it wouldn't be acceptable for me to yell out 'DICK SMITH FRONT DESK EMPLOYEE', I feel it would be way more okay for me to yell out 'WHORE'. I did a little bit of Internet research for this blog post, and a really important piece of writing on this subject seems to be an article called Whorephobia Affects All Women, written by Thierry Shaffauser in The Guardian. Thierry writes:

"Women are brought up to think of sex workers as "bad women". It prevents them from copying and taking advantage of the freedoms sex workers fight for, like the occupation of nocturnal and public spaces, or how to impose a sexual contract in which conditions have to be negotiated and respected. Whorephobia operates as a way of controlling and policing women's behaviour, just as homophobia does for men."

And while I have a major problem with his sentiment that homophobia only affects men, and I am currently wondering if Thierry has ever met a lesbian or even heard of Kiana Firouz, I am really liking what he is saying here. Because another papery layer of onion offence that I first thought through was 'Why does a woman out late at night wearing less than a ski suit automatically have to automatically be equated with a prostitute?' Because even though my friend called the blonde girl on Abel Smith Street a whore, I actually have no fucking clue what she does for a living. And neither did he. And then I thought a little bit more, and asked myself 'Why does being equated with a prostitute have to be such a bad thing?' I think that Schaffauser's article touched on some of this stigma, and I really like how Anna North unpacked some of his comments in the aptly titled Jezebel article Sex Worker's Rights Are Rights For All Women, saying:

"Of course, not all women are raised to morally judge sex workers. But Schaffauser's points about public spaces and sexual contracts are spot-on. Too often, women are told not to walk alone, especially at night or while scantily clad. But sex workers often do all these things as part of their jobs — and they still deserve freedom from sexual assault. Unfortunately, the fact that being in public spaces alone at night is something stigmatized groups — not just sex workers, but also those who can't afford transportation or happen to live in the kind of dangerous neighborhoods middle-class people get told not to walk through — have to do makes it harder to claim this simple freedom as a right for everyone."


"Sex workers do all the things women are told not to do — going out at night, wearing "sexy" clothing, talking openly and assertively about sex, sleeping with multiple partners. These behaviors — and sex workers themselves — are likely stigmatized in part to keep women from gaining too much control over their sexuality. But all women deserve such control — and supporting sex workers' rights may be one way to achieve it."

Reading these truly excellent quotes made me gutted that I didn't write the article, but they also really helped me to understand why I felt so offended by my friend. Because it is that thing again, that using a describing, identifying, logical word to mean something really negative thing. The fat thing. The gay thing. And now the whore thing. Is it such an insult because of how our culture feels about women, that they either must be Madonnas or Whore, and we all know which one is supposedly better? Is it because sex workers are naughty, over-sexualised women, who are tempting fate through their dangerous profession? Is it because all sex workers must be desperate, sad, scared women and this association makes us so uncomfortable? I think that these are all really crap justifications, and they should never be a reason to yell at someone in the street. Especially because if whorephobia really is a result of societal pearl clutching, how is heckling going to help? Especially when it is right, smack bang-ingly, blindingly obviously there on the continuum of sexual violence?

When I was bashing around on the Internet looking at this stuff I found a really interesting blog post entitled Whorephobia 101, written by Jane Brazen. I seriously encourage you to go and read this, because I can't quote the whole thing, because I feel like I have already tip toed around enough plagiarism enough in this blog. She writes about her experiences as a mentally ill sex worker, and she is startlingly brilliant and honest. Jane says:

"Sex work is not a simple set of dichotomies. There are not pimp-battered victims and happy hookers purely. It is neither exploitation nor empowerment purely. I have become so weary of the dialogue about sex work falling into these dichotomies. Feminists are so busy arguing about whose side in the sex wars to take to talk about the flesh and blood real lives of actual sex workers.


If you want to know how to help sex workers, you should just ask them. For once, I’d love to have a conversation about what it means to be a mentally ill sex worker. I’d love to talk about how those of us with more “choice” can help those with less of it. I want to talk about why it’s so difficult to get out of sex work. I want to have a discussion about the nuances of consent within a sex work encounter. But I can’t do that if all we talk about is whether or not all sex work is rape. I can’t do that if we just talk about how exciting and empowering sex work is."

I thought that this was a really great idea. I was so struck by it that I had to go and have a cup of peppermint tea and talk to my flatmate Dan in the kitchen. All of the feminist discussion I hear and occasionally partake in is actually missing the point. All of the heckling and the whorephobia and hooker jokes are definitely missing the fucking point, especially when they are screeched into the night by an already marginalised-because-of-his-sexual-preference gay man who also happens to be walking down the street at stupid o'clock in the morning. Sex workers are people. Just like lawyers, and podiatrists and people who work at Dick Smith Electronics. They don't have the same experiences and opinions and thoughts. But unlike a whole screed of other professions, prostitutes already face enough daily stigma and I just don't think that yelling at them while you eat a pie is really going to help.

(Upon proofreading this, I can't believe that I wrote this entire post without making a joke about somebody needing to shut their pie hole. Or humble pie. Or something. I am putting these terrible puns in these weird post-script like brackets so it doesn't seem like I wasted the jokes.)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Sweet Bitch of the Week, from Closer to Home: An Ode to My Friend Scarlett.

My friend Scarlett is moving to Japan tomorrow and I'm going to miss her. Actually, she is going to hang out with her family for a bit in Auckland and then she is going move to Japan, but why would I let the truth get in the way of a good story?

I'm not sure if it is a growing-up-in-New-Zealand thing or a studying-in-New-Zealand-thing or a living-in-this-safe-and-comfortable-but-sometimes-suffocating-country-thing, but the constant merry-go-round that takes friends away, and returns them a few years later, soaked in culture and having truly seen poverty (usually in India), gets tiring. The feeling of being left, or possibly getting left behind, gets tired. Those who linger are tired of being left for people that the leaving friends do not yet know and for paintings they have not yet seen. The left behind are tired of their own hunger for somewhere else, a hunger that is experienced most acutely when bored at work and looking through the Facebook photos of pals in Egypt and Turkey and Amsterdam and Laos. Even a picture of a primary school friend drinking a beer in a pub that probably could be Birmingham or Cork or Nottingham or Wales or possibly Melbourne and looks a bit like the booths in J.J Murphy's can be painful to those experiencing the feelings of wanderlust. Oh New Zealand, I have two questions: Why do we all want to leave you and how soon can I go?

I think the merry-go-round is really lucky to be getting my friend Scarlett. She has been my friend since the first year of university, and when we spend time together it is as if we are also sitting with who we used to be, as well as well as a vague pencil sketch of who we might hope to become. We used to walk to English lectures together, and her barbed words hooked their way into my teenage heart. Scarlett, my friend Di and I; we were a trio. Once, in first year, drunk on both freedom and pre-mixed vodka, we obnoxiously stole a mop and threw it into a fountain on Courtenay Place. Once when we were wearing black and mediocre Irish accents, a tourist at a back packers told us that we were obviously either sisters or an up and coming indie band. I think it was maybe the Magic Numbers. Once, sitting on the edge of a bath tub in Aro Valley, Scarlett found out that her mum had cancer and it was really fucking sad.

I'm going to miss drinking dessert wine and eating fondue with her, and looking at the people on Cuba Street. I'm going to miss always liking the old couples best with her. I'm going to miss the way, with a total lack of fuss and fanfare, that she accepted my girlfriend. I'm going to miss talking about our complicated relationships and taboo sexual practises. I'm going to miss the scrutinising way that Scarlett looks at me through her fringe with her brown eyes, weighing up whatever most-likely-quite-ridiculous thing that I just said, before smiling. I'll miss the way she can't cook, apart from really quite great roast potatoes and meringues, and the way that her complete lack of geographical knowledge means that she gets mixed up between Nelson and Napier. I'm going to miss Vodka and Lady Gaga and headbands and lipsticks. I'm going to miss having the funniest and sharpest conversations, carried out over 93 text messages, and I'm going to miss how much she loves her sisters. I'm going to miss talking about Marian Keyes and talking her through getting a tattoo and also just talking and then not agreeing with her and it not even mattering. I'll miss her frighteningly good time management skills, and the way she does summer school all the time and how now she has a law degree. I'm going to miss the way neither of us can drive and I'm going to miss how much she loves tomatoes. I'll miss how her high school boyfriend dressed up as a pineapple for a Seventh Form dress up party. I am going to miss the complete and total ease of our friendship, where there is always wine to drink and never any judgement, but actually just total acceptance and heaps of snacks.

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Bon Voyage Scarlett, you Sweet Bitch of the Week. See you somewhere, sometime, soon.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Some thoughts about being honest, and some thoughts about taking actions on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

Last night while I was drinking a glass of red wine and my friend Sylvie was having a beer we started talking about how I am writing this blog. We talked about other things too, like how she had been on a writing retreat and she hadn't spoken to anyone in ages and how sometimes when something really good happens in your life, even like making a delicious dinner, you have to be able to talk to someone about it or it doesn't seem like it happened. My friend Scarlett was there as well, and she is moving to Japan in less-than-a-handful-of-sleeps-time, and her and I sat in the seats we have always sat in, talking about what is going to happen next. We were contemplative.

Sylvie asked me if I ever felt burdened, in a way, by trying to constantly subscribe to the moral high ground that this blog often navigates. I thought it was a really interesting question. I mean, I agree with her that some of the stuff I write about probably comes off as hiking up the most sanctimonious, altitude sickness inducing, head-in-the-clouds high ground. I don't know how I feel about that. I said to Sylvie that I hoped it came through in what I write here that I know I am not perfect, and that maybe this blog is ultimately about my quest to be a better person, and a morally higher person, and a more feminist person; probably with a significant dash of wanting to be a more interesting person. I don't want reading this blog to feel like you have accidentally got stuck in a corner at a terrible incense filled party talking to an hysterical harpy (although to be honest, I think I really like talking to hysterical harpies). Or for reading this to feel like you are being told off by your mum. Or for reading this to feel like a chore.

Lately I have been thinking quite a lot about Lesley Kinzel's writing over on Fatshionista, and how in this article here she says she doesn't identify as a feminist, but that actually she is a really big fan of feminist actions. And while I get really pissed off when women don't use the word feminist, because so many people are scared of it and not using the words perpetuates the fear, I really like the sentiment of what Lesley is saying. The sentiment that it is what you do that counts. Sarah at Feministe wrote about this recently; this idea of action and this sense of purpose. She said:

"It’s what makes me like bell hooks’s statement that instead of saying “I am a feminist,” one should say “I advocate feminism.” It changes it from an identity to an action. Otherwise anyone can declare themselves a feminist and then have to do nothing to help women. One can say “I’m not racist” and then get angry when called out on a racist action. It becomes not all that much different from claiming to help women simply by being a woman in the race. Maybe on some level it helps to have more women calling themselves feminist, more women in office, but we need more than just words and presences. We need action."

And I think that is a really important thing to think about. Dressing up as a Nazi or making a joke about a fat woman doesn't mean that you have to spend the rest of your festering away in a special, segregated hut for racists and sexists and sizeists. Putting on the swastika was a racist action. Making the joke about a family of Japanese people eyeing up the fat black woman for dinner because she looked like a whale was a sizeist and racist and possibly anti-feminist action. Calling your friend a faggot and heckling the lesbians and and saying that your marketing lecture was gay are all insipidly homophobic actions. By writing about this I don't want people to be forever branded as racist, whorephobic, sizeist, homophobic, misogynist, xenophobic, ableist, classist, transphobic, shit for brains assholes until the end of time. Because if nothing and nobody could ever change, what would be the point of talking to anyone, ever, in the world? Why would anyone ever write a blog or a book, or stage a protest, or make a film or sign a petition? The reason that some people do is because sometimes some people change.

Possibly the most significant and magnanimous thing that I have done for my own feminism has been making the decision that I will try to no longer say anything negative about other women's bodies. For a whole pile of reasons, but mainly just because I didn't see how saying this stuff was helping anyone and FYI, I really like how Ragen Chastain talks about this in her article Things I've Heard about Thin Women. Sometimes, this body snark elimination has been hard. It is hard to resist rating the contestants on America's Next Top Model, or to choose not to engage in a debate about whether Lady Gaga really is a butter face, and if Kelly Osbourne said that, what does it make her? Just the other day, I looked at a girl in a tiny pair of shorts and told my friend that I thought she had a good body for them. And I was horrified with myself, because I didn't even really know where this comment had come from, and what did I mean that she had a good body? Did that mean that someone out there had a bad body? I rationalised with myself that nobody has bad legs because legs are something that we use to walk around on and swim through water with and dance in the gay bar on, and then I realised that my inner monologue had independently taken on some ableist train of thought, and did I really think that someone in a wheelchair had a bad body? God, I thought, I am meant to be a feminist, how does this shit just permeate into my brain? Then I felt sick, because I felt like I couldn't win. But maybe, nobody can ever win. We just have to keep trying to say good things and making good choices and when we slip up, we can just talk about it and why we might have said that thing and then we can just move on. Move on to something better.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My New Favourite Person, who probably deserves to be a Sweet Bitch of the Week.

I have a new favourite person. Her name is Chantal Biya, and she is the First Lady of Cameroon. Apparently Michael K writes about her all the time at Dlisted, but this is the first I have heard of her. I don't think I have seen a more sassy person in my entire life. I have a new self confidence idol, and I wish I could have a thimble of her pizazz. Wikipedia also helpfully informs me she has established several charitable initiatives.

Look at the subtle outfit she wore to visit the Pope:<span class=

Look at her, raising her eyebrow like a celestial being at the African First Ladies Health Summit:

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Look at her, with the Obamas:

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Just look at her:

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I love her. I love her hair, I love that she is a first lady, I love her performance of femininity in the cruel world of politics and I love that she doesn't give a damn. And I know that she is walking around dripping diamonds and trailing labels, and that while she does this children are starving and that black women everywhere are subject to white lady beauty standards, but I have fallen in love with her eyebrows. And I have a new bible. Chantal Biya, you sure are a Sweet Bitch of the Week.

A Fat and Punchy Post

I thought that the next blog post I write should be relatively short, so that perhaps I could start occasionally tapping out something short and maybe even funny while I am procrastinating at work. My urge to actually write this short and witty post eventuated into action, or as much action as it really takes to open a new tab on my Internet browser, when my work blocked my usual procrastination hive of, Jezebel. To some add some colour to this description of the puritanical regime of the modern office environment let me tell you that my work also just blocked a bra website:

Access to this URL is currently restricted because of its classification.
Content classification: Intimate Apparel/Swimsuit

Thank heavens for that. I might have accidentally stumbled upon a pair of togs; the obscenity of which I surely would never have recovered from. Lace and Lycra, the smoking guns of office Internet censorship. I hate to think about what would happen to this Internet blocking system if it were actually a person and they were accidentally to go to a beach or a lingerie shop, and to suddenly be accosted with a smorgasboard of strips of breast covering fabric. And so because my work finds feminist blogging and boulder holders so offensive, I am here to write a post about being offended. A post that I hope to be several onomatopoeic words, all describing things that are short and yet effective, like 'zippy' and 'zappy' and possibly 'punchy', although I am not really sure if that meets the onomatopoeic criteria.

And so in the spirit of keeping things punchy, in every possible sense of the word, I thought that maybe I would post something else from my "All Of The Negative Things That My Facebook Friends Have Said About Fat People and Bodies In The Last Couple of Months (Unless They Said It In The Period Of Time Where I Went To Ohakune Or To Christchurch Or When I Went To See Lady Gaga In Auckland AKA The Best Weekend Of My Life) File". And so, here is snippet from my stash:

fat IT guy

And I think this post is interesting, because it taps into the whole thing of 'fat' automatically being a derogatory word, rather than just a describing word, like I talked about a bit in my second blog post and also written about by the Messiah of Fat Acceptance, Kate Harding. Just because the fat guy behind the IT desk appears to be an asshole, it seems that Anonymous Facebook Commenter thinks it is sweet to make snide remarks about his body. And even though it may seem that way, AFC is not just describing the appearance of the IT guy. Words mean things. Saying "Go see Brown Hair Guy another day" or "Go see Red T-Shirt Guy another day" would not mean the same thing. AFC describing the IT Guy as Fat Guy means she already has a joke, because I'm not sure if you've realised but our culture seems to find fat hatred hysterically funny. And this stuff seems to be okay. I am sort of loathe to compare fat othering to racism, because it is the easiest thing to do and I think there is already some kind of Godwin's Law type deal that whenever any kind of privilege is discussed on the Internet it will inevitably boil down to being compared to racism, which usually ends up weakening the essence of the argument in the first place. But in the interests of keeping this post zippy, zappy and punchy I am going to play the race card:

Would it be okay for AFC to say "That has happened to me soooo many times. It's something to do with logging in campus, or whatever. Bleh. Go see Black Guy another day"?

And in response to my card playing, I think the answer might be no. And I don't really want to compare the legacy of slavery and racial oppression to a fat joke on the Internet, but the words do make for an interesting comparison. And often, sizeism is more than a fat joke. Kate Harding has written an article here about anti-fat hate crimes. And I know that race is a construct. And I know that a lot of people get their knickers in a twist when sizeism is compared to racism, because obviously every fat person in the world has chosen to be fat and if they just put in a little bit more effort into not being so lazy they wouldn't be such a drain on the health system. (Which is a fucking stupid argument by the way, if you exist you are inherently a drain on the system. We all pay tax and that is what society is, we are all just leeching off each other and if you expect to shit in a pipe and have it flushed away or to be able to catch a bus ever you can't complain about somebody HYPOTHETICALLY needing more medical care than you.) And I know that nobody in any kind of official position can decide whether sizeism is hate speech yet, and Jezebel wrote a kind of interesting article about it the other day. (An article which, by the by, I had to read ON MY OWN TIME, when I wasn't even getting paid, thanks a lot to my corporate office censorship lifestyle.) But the answer to the race card is no, it wouldn't be okay to be so blatantly racist, but it is totally okay to be hell for leather sizeist. Why couldn't AFC just have told the Facebook-User-Who-Has-Problems-With-Uni-Computers to go and see Smug Asshole Guy another day? Shouldn't being a total and complete dickwad be a bigger insult than being reminded of your own body shape?

(And to the Facebook-User-Who-Has-Problems-With-Uni-Computers, I am impressed that you didn't take the easy fat joke bait, but maybe if you ever want someone to actually put your dick in their mouth, you should possibly stop using it as put down. Maybe My.Victoria actually truly wants to eat all the dicks? Bodies, they're anatomy, not an insult. And this post, it might be punchy, but I guess it's not so short after all.)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Boobs, Cheese and Bad Advertising

Lately, I have gotten quite into sending emails to complain about things. As well as being the professionally offended, I have always aspired to be the kind of business suit wearing woman that can send meals back in restaurants in a resolute, but yet polite fashion, and whose meal then arrives back, exactly as she asked for. When I imagine this woman Brass in Pocket immediately begins to play in my head, and I have realised that I have perhaps internalised every woman from every 90's movie ever made. And while I have internalised every wise and cloyingly scripted word that Meg Ryan has ever said on film, before In the Cut at least, I am yet to become this assertive woman. Come to think of it, Meg Ryan is a really shitty example of an assertive woman, particularly in You've Got Mail when Tom Hanks is an asshole and buys out her little book shop. Or does something to her book shop, and therefore her freedom, I forget what exactly. Miranda from Sex and the City would have been a better example. Those movies are dead to me, but I will forever love Miranda-from-the-TV-series for complaining about not having time to schedule her abortion. Now that's assertive.

But failing to be that assertive, and working at an office that really is barely business casual even on a day when the CEO is visiting and therefore having no need to own a business suit, I have been using the Internet. Probably wearing bike shorts. I have been signing a few petitions here; sending some emails there; leaving self-righteous and idealistic comments on news websites everywhere. After my inbox began to fill with sanctimonious replies to my complaints, and after I received about 789 Facebook notifications over a fight on the Internet about International No Diet Day, I thought that perhaps I could start some kind of stand up comedy show where I re-enacted these fights from the Internet. Similar, and only slightly different, to slandering all the Facebook fat shamers in a feminist play. I have just realised that I am possibly in a creative rut. My design propositions for the show were elementary at best, and classist at worst, revolving around having a hat stand with different hats which I would put on to represent each of my opponents. When I realised that this possibly wasn't dramaturgy at its finest I thought that instead I might use this on the blog.

A couple of weeks ago I sent at email to Michael Hightsead, who did the advertising for the vaguely recent Wellington Musical Theatre production of Miss Saigon. And, how surprising, I found the Miss Saigon advertising really offensive. And so I complained about it, feeling virtuous as I clicked send, because I really was fighting the apathy that permeates my generation, and doing far more for the good of the world than joining one of those irritating but also guilt inflicting CLICK TO GIVE EVERYONE FREE RICE AND A MAMMOGRAM websites.

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Unfortunately, this is the biggest picture that I could find of one of their insipid billboards. Even though their website has animated helicopters with spinning wings, they don't appear to have uploaded any of their shitty promotional material. I tried to blow it up for you, but I failed. Anyway, the words say "Guys, buy her a ticket. Call it an investment". They have another equally boring billboard which says something like "Take a hankie... You too ladies". Yawn. I sent this to Michael:

To Whom It May Concern,
As a regular theatre goer I am contacting you about your Miss Saigon advertising. I think it is a terrible shame that you could not advertise the show to men without objectifying, demeaning and offending women. Saying a ticket to the show is an investment is offensive, and it implies that a circumstance could arise where a woman would owe a man sex. The other adverts, such as the one about hankies, were equally offensive in their banal perpetuation of gender stereotypes. Disappointing, and I have not attended the show based on these reasons.
Ally Garrett

Even though I actually really wouldn't have gone and seen the show, because Miss Saigon is filed under a special folder in my brain, that folder being The Musicals That I Hate. Michael emailed me back by saying:

Hi Ally
I apologise for the delay in responding to your e-mail - I have been out of Wellington since 29/4
Thanks for taking the time to convey your views on our MS advertising campaign - Certainly it was never our intention to offend anyone with the content of our billboard advertising, rather it was an attempt to add a little humour into the campaign and I have to say we have had an incredible amount of positive feedback in this regard.
It is acknowledged that there will always be a conflicting viewpoint and I am sorry you were offended by the 'scripting' in this regard especially as it resulted in you missing what could and was often described as a production of international quality.
Michael Highsted
Business Manager
Wellington Musical Theatre

And then I emailed back:

Hello Michael,
How incredibly patronising.


Which at least gave me some sort of satisfaction, especially as Michael declined to stoop to my embarrassing level of communication, that level of communication being the exchange of insults. And as I got the last word, at least I can smugly assume that I won. I had a better time recently complaining about cheese.

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There is perhaps nothing that I love more than cheese, and I have said upon more than one occasion that I would be perfectly happy to have my wedding cake made out of haloumi. Perhaps with a thin spread of chutney, or Cheese Sidekick as I like to call it, to masquerade as icing. But Kaimai Cheese Company do really lovely cheeses, and I really liked going to the Chaffers Markets in Wellington on a Sunday and buying some of their red cheddar. When I found out that it had been discontinued I became so distraught that it inspired the following flowery and melodramatic email:

Hello to the good people at Kaimai Cheeses,
It is with extreme sadness that I write to you on this Sunday afternoon. I have just been to the Chaffers vegetable and farmers markets in Wellington. For the past few months every Sunday I have bought a block of your red cheddar and tried to make it last throughout the week. This morning I was told, much to by dismay, that the red cheddar was no more. The lovely gentleman at the stall was also perplexed, as he said that it had been his best selling hard cheese. I am writing this email to heartily encourage you to bring back the red cheddar because it was delicious, and now I have nothing to put on crackers or in my mashed kumara.
Many thanks,
Ally Garrett.
P.S I tried the mature cheddar and it is nowhere near as good.

The cheese people responded with this:

Hi there Ally,
I'm afraid this batch of Red Cheddar is actually very well aged, almost 4 years old. So it is not so much that we are no longer making it, as it has been a very long time since we have done so, but Kaimai does not currently have their own hard cheese making plant.
We used to have a very good relationship with another cheese making plant, who actually made this cheese for us to our recipe, but they can no longer do this for us.
We are currently in the process of planning and building our own hard cheese plant, and have had many queries such as your own, in regards to the red cheddar, so it is definately something we will consider manufacturing in the future, but unfortunately this will most likely not be until 2011 at the earliest.
Although we have a product called 'Mature Cheddar' it is no where near as well aged as our Red Cheddar, so does not have the sharp tangy flavour that our Red Cheddar possesses. There is no other close alternative to this flavour profile currently under the Kaimai brand.
We thank you for your kind comments about our cheese, and are sorry to disappoint you in regards to this product, but do keep an eye on our website in the future as this is where we keep people informed about changes, and being a company on the 'grow' there should be many new and exciting products in the future for the Kaimai Cheese Company.
Jenna Russell
Sales Representative
Kaimai Cheese Company

I felt better about this response. I like Jenna a lot more than I like Michael. I still am heart broken about the cheese though.

Speaking of my heart, there is something other than cheese that is close to my heart. My boobs. And yes, I reserve the right to blog about my boobs. The personal is the political and other pertinent slogans. Here is a picture of them, trying to escape when I was dressed as a wench at my friend Phylli's birthday.


They are huge, and they are a huge part of my life. I love them. I love how they look in a deep V neck t-shirt, I love thrusting them baout when I walk around, whenever a show calls for a corset they are the main reason that I am cast and I was once told on the balcony of San Francisco Bathhouse that I have the best cleavage in the world. I often have difficulty wrangling them into bras, and currently Fayreform is the only brand they, and I, really like. They like Fayreform because it fits quite well, and I like Fayreform because sometimes they make a tit sling that doesn't look like a safety net or a bandage or a pressure device. And yes, blah blah, bras are a social construct and I know about the beauty myth and I don't necessarily need to wear one. But actually, I want to wear one because when I don't I can't walk to Patels to get a Samosa without my tits hurting. As well as the personal being the political, what I choose is my choice. nd so, when I first heard about new-ish lingerie brand DimitySO I was pretty excited, because the entire thrust of their marketing slogan is 'SIZES D-J ONLY'.


See? And their bras are pretty beautiful. That is one of them up there at the start of the post. (Although the pictures of the bras on their website are a bit weird, why you gotta crop your model's heads off DimitySO?) But, when I went into Farmers or Kirks or something to look at the DimitySO bras I was pissed off. Probably would actually go so far to say that I was offended. Because they only make the bras up to size to 16. I read that Jezebel article recently about how most lingerie designers don't make bigger bras, because they require bigger effort. I think this is kind of a shitty excuse, and think that maybe these designers need to aim a little higher. Especially because I feel like every week I read the same recycled article about how the average bra size is rising, and the most common cup size is DD and the average dress size in New Zealand is size 14. But I don't think that DimitySO even get to use that excuse because they are all about the ladies with the bigger tits. But apparently, not the ladies with the bigger backs. Their promotional material reads: '"Sighs of relief have echoed across the world. No longer must fashionable women with D – J cups sizes be relegated to the horrific world of 'nanna' lingerie." Come on DimitySO, can't the fat ladies be fashionable too? And so, I sent them an email:

Hi there DimitySO!
I think your bras are just gorgeous. I am a size 16 lady, but I wear a size 18 bra because of my broad back.
It is so sad that I can't wear your lovely bras, especially because you
pride yourself on being for ladies with bigger boobs, but so many of
those ladies also have bigger backs!
Anyway, I would one day love to be able to wear one of your gorgeous
From Ally.
To be honest, I am not a size 16 lady. I am maybe a size 16 lady after a recent bout of food poisoning, but right now this body that I am sitting in here typing in is not a size 16. It is more like a size 18, but sometimes needing a size 20 bra because of the bigger back thing. I don't know why I felt the need to lie to the strangers at DimitySO. Maybe that is incredibly problematic in itself and as well as the business woman and Meg Ryan I have also inevitably internalised a whole lot of body shame and I need to save it up for another post. Or maybe I was just worried that DimitySO had a touch of the Karl Lagerfeld and didn't want to see fat chicks in their garments. Anyway, this is what they wrote back:
Hi Ally

Thanks for your email.
I am actually a size 18D but wear DimitySO in a 16DD which is the same size cup just a little smaller around the body, so I wear them on the last hook.
Although not ideal, you could look at using a bra extender. This attaches to the existing hooks and eyes and gives you another 4-5 cm at least around the body. The only downside to these is that the straps sit a little further out to the side than they were designed to do, but many people use bra extenders as an option.

I imagine that as the brand grows other sizing's will be added - I hope so anyway.

I will send you comments through to the DimitySO designers to show your interest in this.

Kind regards

Shelley Belsham
Customer / Consumer Service Co-ordinator | Bendon Limited P O Box 53042,
Auckland Airport, Auckland | 8 Airpark Drive, Airport Oaks, Mangere,
D +64 9 257 1696 | F +64 9 257 1600

Which I found kind of interesting. On one hand, that is great that Shelley is going to send my comments through to the designers, and maybe everyone who is reading this blog and who cares about my boobs should also send them an email. But also, Shelley! Shelley, who works for a lingerie company is comitting the cardinal sin of admitting she wears the wrong size bra, because the company she works for doesn't make anything in her size. And whenever I read that recycled article about average bra sizes I also read about how having a crappily fitted bra gives you headaches and back aches and neck aches and all of the other aches. So, that sucks for Shelley. And the general dearth of fashionable, fun and affordable plus size clothing, underwear included, sucks for everyone. In the society we live in, people have gotta wear clothes. Most of the time. And also, that argument about plus size clothing encouraging people to be fat is fucking bullshit. People just want to be warm and if they want to follow trends and express themselves then, by god, they should be able to. Seriously people, untapped market. Apart from ASOS Curve, cos that shit is good. And sometimes it would be cool if I didn't have to look for jersey fabrics or pay with pounds online to put clothes on my body. Or to put wire under my tits.