You know how I hate those baseless news stories about how oversexed (or undersexed) young people are? Well, I’m writing one. Kind of. Except without the baselessness or the sweeping conclusions, and aimed at myth busting rather than myth promoting.
Much of it will be based on research and analysis I’ve already done for my book, but I’d like to flesh out my understanding of the subject matter with some numbers. And since there aren’t many numbers out there on young Australians’ sexual practices (and I should know - I’ve looked), I need your help.
I don’t care if you’re male or female, gay or straight, never been kissed or worked up hundreds of notches on your belt - if you’re aged between 16 and 25, I’d like to hear from you. The survey is quick (less than 5 mins) and completely anonymous if you choose, with an option to get in touch with me for a 20-30 minute phone interview next week.
The Musings of an Inappropriate Woman guide to Feminist Wedding Planning
As you may have gathered from previous posts on this here blog, I’m getting married in just over two months. Which sounds like a long time away when it comes to most things in this world, but feels like no time at all when you’re said person getting married and you also have double your usual writing load, a book proposal you’d like to finish revising and start shopping around, and need to wrap all this up before flying to the other side of the world in six weeks to prepare for the wedding and do this thing known as “taking a holiday”.
But this isn’t the Musings of an Inappropriate Woman guide to Feminist Life Planning, it’s the Musings of an Inappropriate Woman guide to Feminist Wedding Planning.
For some people, planning a “feminist wedding” is a contradiction in terms, believing that marriage itself is a patriarchal institution (I don’t think it has to be, but I’ll get to that in a later instalment). For others, it’s all about the symbolism: no white dresses, no giving away, no name changing, no honouring and obeying – certainly no garter tossing.
For me, planning a “feminist” wedding is about refusing to participate in (what I believe to be, at least) the bullshit that is heaped upon all of us – but perhaps especially women – when we deign to enter the Wedding Industrial Complex.
I’d like to think that most people reading this blog have got the symbolism stuff pretty much sorted (although I will cover that in detail at a later date). You might not make the same choices I would, but you’re up on the politics of them and you’re pretty sure of where you stand.
But what most people I talk to struggle with is the more insidious stuff: the idea that you can’t get married without spending fifteen or twenty or fifty thousand dollars. That it takes a full year or more to organise a party, and if it’s not at the top of your mind constantly, you’re going to screw it up. That the most important thing about the day is the way you look and capturing that for posterity (sure, we’ll say it’s about love and commitment, but the horror of not spending adequately on either dress or photographer suggests otherwise). That if you’re not skinny enough, if you don’t decorate your space creatively enough, or if you don’t serve your guests five star food, you are failing as a woman, a bride and as a member of the respectable bourgeoisie.
Like I said, it’s bullshit. You don’t have to take out a personal loan (or have rich parents) in order to throw a party; nor do you have to treat it as a second job. If you want to, that’s your choice, but just as it is possible to get married without having a big wedding, it’s also possible to throw an awesome wedding without doing every single thing the wedding mags and bridalsphere would have you think you absolutely have to do.
So, over the next couple of months, I’m going to cover some of the main issues I’ve encountered in co-planning my own wedding – how they’re political, how we’ve been getting around them, and how you can do so too, if the super expensive, super conservative wedding prototype appeals to you as little as it does to me.
Topics I’ll be covering include:
- Weddings cost money, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend all your money on them. - You don’t need to spend a year of your life planning it, either. - Weddings and women’s work: where are all the mens? (With guest commentary from Mr Musings of an Inappropriate Woman.) - How planning a non-traditional wedding made me more sympathetic to traditional couples. - Is marriage still a patriarchal institution? A heterosexist one? And how do we deal with that? - The bridal beauty myth. - And “getting weddinged” versus “getting wed”.
If there’s anything else you’d like me to cover in this series, leave a comment or submit your question to Ask Rachel.
I love your blog and your advice has been invaluable. I have submitted articles to small publications, and although new to all this, I'd love to have a go at larger publications, for practice as much as anything else. But I'm finding it's harder to find contributor's guidelines/contact details the larger the publication. I.e. for the Sydney Morning Herald I can only find a way to submit opinion pieces, nothing else. Where am I going wrong? Or do they generally not accept article pitches?
Switchboard! Call it. You’re right that the reason editors don’t publish their email addresses is probably to turn off would-be contributors (or at least to turn off would-be contributors who aren’t willing to put in the leg work), but that doesn’t mean they’re not willing to look at a good story pitch from an unknown writer.
When I’ve been in this situation, I’ve usually just called switchboard and asked for the name of (never to speak to, unless you think you’re better at selling over the phone than in writing, which most writers aren’t and most editors don’t like anyway) the person who looks after X or Y section. I’ll then check the spelling and - if I’m pitching to a Fairfax newspaper - shoot off an email to FirstInitialLastname@newspaper.com.au.
For contributor guidelines, you’ll have to rely on your reading of the magazine/newspaper/website in question - most publications I’ve written for don’t have them, and the ones I have seen haven’t been particularly useful. How long do their articles usually run? How do they structure them? What do they write about? What’s their tone?
”While the feminists and soft men like to kid themselves that they are changing our nature, all they’ve really done is teach men to keep their mouths shut, while our minds still explore exactly the same topics they always have.” – Fairfax reader
”How to explain this to women? There is this thing about men that they cannot completely know. Few people want to believe that there could be a real chasm, a chemically induced difference of sexual drive between the sexes.” - Max Wolf Valerio, The Testosterone Files
I never know quite what to make of Australian sex therapist and professional provocateur Bettina Arndt’s writing on men and sex. Or, for that matter, that certain kind of woman-led-commentary on men and sex more generally. (See also: Vargas-Cooper, Natasha.)
I don’t disagree with everything Arndt has to say – I too am turned off by the mass hysteria over pornography, sexting and even infidelity (don’t like the latter, but have no interest in seeing it splashed over newspapers and celebrity weeklies, either). But this whole idea that men’s sexuality is not only somehow “different” to women’s, but also darker and dirtier and more repressed (by the evil feminist establishment, natch)? I don’t think I buy it.
That’s because I’m a woman, these writers would say (although, funnily enough, they’re usually women too). And a naive, social constructionist feminist, at that!
But while I don’t deny that Arndt is in touch with a lot of men (Vargas-Cooper, while compelling, didn’t seem to speak to anyone much for her own essay on porn), I also think that, as writers and social researchers, like attracts like. You write about a topic, and then everyone who agrees with you nods their heads and joins your circle. Maybe it’s in the way you frame your questions, or even in the questions you choose to ask. This doesn’t mean that Arndt is wrong, per se, but it does mean that her conclusions are only one piece of the puzzle.
(And as someone who has reviewed her work before, I’d add that there are some internal contradictions there. In What Men Want, for instance, she argues that men have an insatiable need for variety. But she also says that women are more likely to go off sex in long term relationships – not because they don’t want it at all, but because they don’t want it from their husbands.)
Equally interesting is the way in which these writers present themselves as “truth tellers” – the only people brave enough to face up to the dark, seedy underbelly of human sexuality. Again, I’m not convinced. I don’t think we try to bury men’s “lust for life” or rein in our less “savory” desires. I think we love hearing those stories, that there’s something in the way they unsettle that offers a form of comfort. It’s why they’re published so often, and why they do so well on the internet. They play to what we already think we know, and to what we want to be true.
But I’d suggest that this depiction of human sexuality – and in particular, male sexuality – as secretly and innately brute is a symptom of our hang ups about sex, not an act of resistance to it. Why does pleasure have to be dark and dirty? Why should sleeping with lots of people have to mean hating the people you sleep with? There’s no reason, nor any innate link between the two. Many people manage it all the time.
And if (as Arndt, and Dan Savage, who she quotes, suggest) gay male sex is the purest expression of male sexuality? Well, I know gay men who prefer monogamy, too – as well as gay men (and straight men, and women) who would prefer not to be monogamous but whose partners insist on it.
It’s a bit of a “duh, no shit” statement, but when it comes to sex, beware the one size fits all.
what was your major in college? in graduate school? :)
I actually did three majors in my undergraduate degree. Which sounds impressive, but at my university just meant doing four senior level classes in a given discipline. They were Media & Communications, Gender Studies and English.
Postgrad wise, I’m technically in the media department, but draw more upon sociology and a bit of gender/cultural studies when it comes to what I read and what resonates with my research.
Did we see violence, looting and vandalism and assume that this could only be the work of poor people, and passively accepted the media’s categorization of the perpetrators as such? Or are we so blinded by our ideological beliefs, romanticizing the riots to be exactly what Marx warned us of that we bought this generalization? Or do we want so desperately to blame governmental cuts against the poor that we ignore the lack of solid evidence as to who these rioters really are? (Sociological Images)
In the worst of cases, you wake one day to find that you are not a whole but, indeed, an assembly of lots of selves and cultural artefacts. Your attempts to emulate, to run with the pack, or even stay two steps ahead, have left you flat with nothing to give back. You feel like an iPhony. So the quest to find your true self begins… only beneath all the clutter, you’re not so sure you’re going to like what you find. Not to worry: more stuff will numb that straight away! (Girl With A Satchel)
Lately, writing and I have not been getting along well. My freelancing work is going great guns – I’ve become a regular idea machine, stockpiling commissions and invoices to see me through the 4-6 weeks I’ll have to take off in a couple of months to go back to Australia, visit friends and family, get married and go on my honeymoon.
This here blog is going well too, with a flood of new followers (hi there!) thanks to Tumblr very kindly featuring me in its writers spotlight, despite the 75 hour weeks (for serious – I added it up on a calculator) not leaving me much time to write anything of substance. I will try to write you some better content soon, I promise.
But when it comes to the really serious, important stuff, I’ve spent the last few weeks in a state of paralysis. I can feel myself doing it; the way my body resists the moment I start even thinking about the book, heartbeat rising, adrenalin pumping. Twitter, Google Reader and email become a siren call, “just ten more minutes” my catchphrase.
One of the reasons I get scared is the scope. When I’m writing a magazine feature, I have a pretty good idea of how long it’s going to take, what’s going to be involved. I still feel scared each time I jump in the water, but I know that after X hours I’ll be finished, abuzz with the rush of success.
The book, on the other hand, has no such end in sight. Even each chapter is so big and complex that there’s no end on the horizon. I know that each dive will take weeks (sometimes months) of writing, deleting, rewriting and restructuring until finally what is in the word document begins to resemble what is in my brain. So, too often, I don’t jump at all – or I leave it until the last minute and then beat myself up for self-sabotaging.
I’ve also realised recently that I’m not just afraid of failure, but of success as well. As the things I have been working towards (too slowly, too ploddingly) for the past three and a half years begin to come closer to the fruition, I am beginning to develop a clearer picture of what next year and the one after might look like. Which is exciting, but also terrifying.
Because what if I can’t do it? What if I can’t draw all the threads together? Or the months I spend on the road “kills” my marriage? (How many men, I wonder, worry that career success will be the death of their relationship?) What if I don’t have time to do my freelancing anymore? (And thus maintain the work relationships I have spent years building.) What if I collapse under the weight of the relentless churn?
But this is meant to be a good news story - about how I’m making peace with all of the above. About my efforts to “make friends” with my book again, so that it stops seeming scary and starts seeming fun. Or at least doable.
One thing I’m trying to do is remember that I’m human, not super human, and that’s okay. That sometimes my mind or my body will falter, but that’s to be expected. That things will probably take longer than I want them too (they always do, for everyone), but they will get done eventually.
I’m also trying to be a little bit less invested in my work and productivity; to take each day as it comes and to go with my instincts. I don’t have to get up at Xam if I don’t want to. I don’t have to go to yoga if I’d rather work, or get everything on my to do list done if I’d rather exercise.
But the most important part of my making peace with the book is to set a daily date with it. Not a long one (that’s too intimidating for me at the moment), but a daily appointment of at least an hour where I have no choice but to wrestle and engage with it. The equivalent of meeting a stranger for a quick drink, where you have the excuse to go home afterwards if you’re not “clicking”. Once our relationship starts improving, I’ll bump it up to dinner dates and eventually sleep overs.
An hour doesn’t sound like much, but you can actually get a lot done in an hour if you focus. Certainly more than you can get done in no hours. And the daily rhythm of the commitment calms me.
How do you cope with “fear of writing”? Or “fear of creating” more generally?
“We were living each other’s mistakes—everything we were doing, in retrospect, was a mistake. The second we continued on our quest for fame was a mistake.” Spencer said. “This isn’t a business. That was the big thing I didn’t get: Reality TV is not a career. Anyone who says, ‘Oh, you can have a career in reality’—that is a lie.” (The Daily Beast)
“These websites represent a ground-flow of young women who want to find peace with their bodies, but the messages—‘I love myself, but please accept me’—can be confusing,” said Elizabeth Scott, psychotherapist and Co-Founder of The Body Positive, a national body-image program for women. “These girls want community, and they want to be told they’re beautiful, which makes sense, but focusing on measurements or specific body types is troubling.” (Refinery 29)
“The young people who took to the streets were making a statement. Denounce this as opportunistic criminality if you will, however there’s a message there too. To me, that message was; “F*ck you. For now, we will do exactly as we choose and you can’t do anything about it”. But why did they decide to deliver this message? Why did some of those young people behave as if they have nothing to lose? If we don’t answer these questions with anything more intelligent than “feral youth” we’ll always return to these terrifying scenes.”—“A riot is the language of the unheard” | Politics, Poetry and Equality (via congruity)
“Sometimes it’s easiest to take in a spatter of pimples or ingrown hairs. It’s easy to be content in closing our eyes and running our hands across the balmy skin of a stranger. But someone who is emotionally naked, who is daring you to experience them on a deeper level, who believes you’re worthy not just of their nudity, but of their nakedness? That’s worth celebrating.”—Stephanie Georgopulos (via callieefornia)
It’s not just Alexa, though. It’s Olivia Palermo, Daisy Lowe, Lauren Conrad, Whitney Port, Kate and Pippa Middleton, Kim Kardashian, Miranda Kerr, Lara Bingle, Edie Sedgwick and all those women have pushed down on our throats on a daily basis as interesting, aspirational, sparky and fabulous… all by virtue of the fact that they are beautiful and wear clothes well.
Don’t get me wrong - I love me some Alexa (and Olivia and Daisy…) as much as the next ladymag reader. When I first saw her photos floating around the internet back in 2008 or so, I was entranced. There’s just something about her that draws the eye. The woman oozes “cool”. Yet it is a coolness that is not consequence of what she does but of how she looks.
It’s like Caitlin Moran writes in my favourite chapter of How To Be A Woman, about her teen desire to be first a princess, then a muse:
I wanted to be a muse. I wanted to be a muse quite badly. To be so incredible that some band wrote a song about me, or some writer based a character on me, or a painter produced canvas after canvas of me, in every mood, that hung in galleries around the world. Or even a handbag. Jane Birkin inspired a handbag. By way of contrast I would happily have settled for my name on a plastic Superdrug bag.
Because that’s what most of the famous-for-being-famous women we admire are - or at least the reason they’re sold to us as being worthy of admiration. Muses, elevated for their faultless embodiment of different personas of femininity. And it makes me profoundly uncomfortable, in the same way that the businesswomen who are so often promoted to us are promoted on the basis that they produce products that will help us look, dress and smell like these women (here in the UK, you will often read about how “fragrant” the Middletons are).
And yet, I also feel somewhat conflicted about my discomfort. I’m not against aesthetics, after all - I once moved into a house based primarily on the fact that I liked my future housemates’ decor (which turned out to be a fairly decent indicator of broader compatability), and I recoil every time I have dress in a manner that doesn’t feel “like me”.
I’m open to the idea that the ability to put together a “look” is a form of self-expression worth celebrating, like music, literature, or fashion design. And I’m also conscious that - in some of the above cases, at least - the problem isn’t that the women themselves aren’t worth celebrating, so much as it is the things we celebrate about them.
And yet, it still makes me uncomfortable. I’m going to chat to a whole bunch of folks about this next week to get my thoughts in better order (and hopefully to a place of greater insight), but to help me along that journey, I’d like to first throw it out to you.
Does “it girl lust” make you uncomfortable? Do you wish we had more substantial role models, or that we celebrated more substantial things about our role models? What do you think is the appeal of these ladymag staples?
“Pop music had often cast women as sweet, bright creatures, but Winehouse’s lyrics revealed something messier. Here was … a woman who chose to live a little wild, follow her heart and sing of the simple stew of being female. Her songs were filled with broad talk, cussing, drink and drugs and dicks, songs that could hinge on one magnificent, unladylike question: “What kind of fuckery is this?”—
Like every other journalist on the planet, I’m writing a magazine piece this week about Amy Winehouse. But the above quote made me think of another famous British woman: Kate Moss.
When I interviewed Moss last year for Aussie ladymag Cleo, people were eager to know “what she was like”. Which, now that I reflect on the questions I was asked, pretty much meant “what she looked like in the flesh”.
"What was she wearing?"* "Was she insanely beautiful?" "Did you just want to kill yourself looking at her?"
Most of the time, I told them she was small. Boring, I know, but that was my first and most overwhelming impression: that she was shorter than I expected. Not the 5’7” she is officially promoted as. More like 5’6” or 5’5”.
My other thought - and I couldn’t find the words to explain this until I read Laura Barton’s article on Amy Winehouse - was that she looked like a woman who was too busy living to be overly invested in how she looked.
By which I guess I mean that I imagine that if you spent 20 minutes in a room with someone like, say, Jennifer Aniston, you be bowled over by her glow. The toned limbs from her daily yoga classes with a personal trainer, the glossy blowdry, the prenaturally dewy skin, the fact that the woman hasn’t had a slice of cake since the second season of Friends (okay, so maybe I exaggerate a little…).
Such comments aren’t an insult to Aniston anymore than Moss’s “messiness” is an insult to her. The woman is a beacon of health, and it shows.
But if Aniston is yoga and vegetables, Kate Moss is cocaine and clubbing. And again, it shows.
Our interview was part of a beauty promo day, but the only make-up she was wearing was thick black eyeliner. She looked like a good looking 37-year-old who has taken lots of drugs, drunk a lot of alcohol, and spent years sunbathing on the Mediterranean and partying at music festivals - which is of course, exactly who and what she is.
Moss has a face could light up any camera, but she’s also a woman who - as Barton’s article about Winehouse put it, has chosen to “live a little wild” and “follow her heart”. It’s not what everyone’s heart would choose, but I kind of liked the fact that - despite being a supermodel - she didn’t feel the need to play that role every day. That she’d rather live her live in a way that she obviously enjoys than have perfect skin. Which is probably why people like her so much.
* She was wearing black, if you’re curious. I don’t remember the outfit in any further detail.