“Ironically, the behaviours we most revile in “mama’s boys” may be a product of the same social forces that caused people to roll their eyes at close mother-son relationships in the first place: rigid gender roles and sexism. It is not an excess of emotional intimacy and support that breeds a man who can’t take care of himself, after all, or who can’t find a partner who lives up to his mother’s image. It’s a society that says that men shouldn’t need to know how to take care of themselves, and that puts women in constant competition for male attention and validation.”—The Myth of the Mama’s Boy: my latest piece at Daily Life.
I’m researching an article on popular culture, powerful women, femininity and ambition at the moment, which sparked a very interesting (45 comments and counting) conversation on my Facebook wall today.
Does Hollywood portray successful woman as bitchy, regretful or lonely, while its loveable heroines are shoehorned into more traditionally feminine professions (like, say, Kristen Wiig’s cupcake shop in Bridesmaids)? And if so, how does that impact our own ambitions? Are we defining ambition in the wrong ways in the first place?
As usual, I think it’s… complicated. I don’t think women are hated on for being successful. If anything, I think it’s part of the ideal that we’re all “supposed” to live up to these days: beautiful, thin, great shoes, cute family, glittering career. But I also think that success is supposed to come easily, something that is bestowed upon you because the powers that be couldn’t help but notice your innate fabulousness.
To try is unseemly. Mostly because it means admitting you wanted something in the first place. It also suggests a certain level of ego: that you thought you were worthy of the thing you wanted and went after it, instead of letting someone else decree your worthiness and hand it to you.
As one young woman is quoted saying in this excellent Elle article from 2010: “There’s this attitude that if you’re a girl, there’s a limit on how much success you’re allowed. When I was nominated for a major award, the friends of another candidate went around telling people that they shouldn’t vote for me because I already had ‘too much’; I was the editor of the school paper and had been accepted early decision to Harvard. So the other person won.”
But I don’t think ambition has to be a bad thing. Ambition doesn’t mean thinking you’re better than the people around you, or walking over them in order to get your own way. Or at least, it shouldn’t mean that.
Ambition is about figuring out what makes you feel alive, and going after it wholeheartedly: whether that’s opening your own cupcake shop (I don’t know why that plot point was ever cast as “unambitious” - starting your own business is no easy feat), transforming people’s lives or the world around you as an activist or social worker, heading up an investment bank, being a top thinker in your field, or building an amazing, tight knit community of friends and family.
I also don’t think downplaying our accomplishments does anyone any good. Pretending things happen effortlessly only makes it harder for people to follow in our footsteps. Far better to say, “This is how I did it, and how you can do it, too” than to act coy and say, “Oh, little old me? I don’t know how that happened at all!”
“Advice for young feminists? Do something else besides feminism. I’m serious. The feminist blogosphere is oversaturated in my opinion. Please, find something else you love and take feminist theory there. It gets lonely over here in tech and video games – I have a great crew of other feminists but we are a little island in a vast sea. We need more feminist minded business bloggers, feminist theory wielding finance bloggers. Labor organizers with a feminist lens blogging. Can you imagine what Deadspin (the sports blog) would look like with a feminist on staff? Restructure writes about science, tech and feminism – join her! Publish a blog doing literary criticism with a feminist lens! Take on the NYT! Talk about class issues and feminism. Whatever it is, apply your feminism in a different space.”—Latoya Peterson (Source) (via andcouldheplayblog)
I’m quoted in the Independent today. “Has spent the past three years travelling to three continents, interviewing more than 150 young people to see how realistic our current views of sex and porn actually are” sounds so much more glamorous than “spends her days writing magazine articles from her couch”. Although both are technically correct.
Hey Rachel! I was just wondering: how did you start your writing carreer? As in: what did you study, where did you start your first job,... I would like to do something similar to what you are doing right now when I'm a bit more grown-up (I'm 16 now). Thanks!
Hi Sam. I started my writing career… by writing, and submitting my work until people would pay me for it.
When I graduated from university (Media & Comms, University of Sydney) I knew I wanted to write. I also knew what I wanted to write about (gender, social issues, politics), and who I wanted to be writing for (major newspapers and glossy magazines). I also knew that jobs at said publications were few and far between, and that my chances of getting one were low.
BUT - through my work as an editor at Vibewire, I knew a few other young writers who were getting work at those publications. So I decided to follow their lead and just start submitting my stuff until someone would publish it.
They did - and quite quickly - but it took about a year to turn that into a remotely liveable income, and two years to turn that into actual employment. I later decided I preferred working for myself, and now I’ve been freelancing full time again for two years. I couldn’t be happier, but it’s definitely not for everyone.
Other ways I’ve seen people start careers as writers/journalists include:
- Work experience/interning. The main avenue through which most people I know in magazines and broadcast got hired. - Cadetships. Common in newspapers and broadcast. - Taking jobs at less glamorous publications (trade magazines, local papers, etc) and leveraging that experience to get their foot in the door at their dream gig. - Starting a blog and turning it into a business.
None of them are easy (or foolproof!), but all have worked for someone. I hope that helps. :)
For me, creative/intellectual energy tends to come in cycles.
There I’ll be, bounding along, bubbling over with ideas and saying yes to everything (even things that, if I applied the laws of physics, I’d know I probably don’t have time to do).
Then, out of nowhere, comes the crash. That period in which I become bogged down in anxiety and fear, unable to do anything more than mindlessly surf the internet. The more self-sabotaging my behaviour, the more anxious I become, until even the smallest tasks become a Big Freaking Deal. Much easier to dive back into the mindless activity.
Which is why I liked this post. At first I thought it was going to give me advice about stamping out procrastination. Then I realised the real point was that you can never escape procrastination entirely.
It costs energy and motivation and time. It costs what we call our life. It costs the life of that girl.
It costs a whole chunk of life – an hour, a day, a week, a month – until she finally gets back to her core. Back to what she is. Back to what she wanted to create. Back to her art.
Because as unbeatably enthralling as creative or intellectual work is, it’s also scary and confronting and draining. And at some point, if you’re anything like me, you’re probably going to crash.
And while you may not be able to avoid the crash entirely, you can control what you do once you’re in it.
You can accept it as the reminder that it is that your brain and body has its limits. And once you’ve given in to those limits - and this is the most important bit - you can climb back out of it again.
Guest Post: HBO'S Girls and The Story of a (Multicoloured) Girl
I love this guest post by Melbourne writer and actor Nicole Lee, and I think you will too.
I love Lena Dunham. Say what you will, but the fact that the girl wrote, directed and acted in her own show, while at the same time managing to make a nuanced commentary on the struggle of today’s Internet drenched, recession happy, self-focussed generation - before the age of 25 no less - makes the star of HBO’s new series ‘Girls’ nothing short of a genius.
Much has been made of the ‘whiteness’ of the ‘Girls’ world over the past week. I won’t repeat all the arguments here (you can read some very compelling and insightful arguments online: Hairpin, Jezebel, Racialicious, Gawker and an entire Room For Debate on New York Times), but the general gist of it is that for a TV show that paints the Gen Y female experience with such painful clarity, the glaring absence of ‘ethnic’ (and I put that in quotation marks because everyone is ethnic to some culture or another) characters seems a sore disappointment.
I have only seen one episode, the pilot. From its opening scenario I was hooked. As an ambitious drama school graduate, I have had to take on low-paying jobs, accept parental handouts and turn my face away from more ‘stable’ opportunities in the name of becoming a fully-fledged ‘artist’. So too did I identify with the closeness of the female relationships portrayed on the show, their complex relationships with their bodies, and the strange and inexplicable relationships they have with guys - when the males of our generation have been brought up on an easily accessible diet of Internet porn, why wouldn’t you both be convinced of the dysfunctional nature of it? 'Girls' resembles my life closer than anything I've seen on television. The only other show that came close in terms of values was ‘Sex and the City’ - albeit much glossier and sexier than my life could or would ever be.
So then what’s all the fuss? Before watching the show I had read a glowing cover story in New York Magazine about the show - the brilliance of its star, the openness of her relationship with producer Judd Apatow, the comparisons to ‘Sex and the City’. At back of my mind was the criticism about the cast being all white, but for the first watch I cast it aside. So? I thought. Most American TV shows are. And yet, despite two racial stereotypes popping up (which, it could be argued, is what made the show even whiter), at the end of the half hour it did seem strange that a show about New York had gone by without a single memorable blast of colour.
I got it immediately. Lena Dunham’s characters were all white because she was trying to paint a ‘white people’s problem’. As a child of affluent artistic parents (and indeed all of the lead females are famous progeny, whether it was intentional or not) she had probably grown up around other privileged artistic kids and was portraying what she knew. In making her feature Tiny Furniture, made for an impressive $25,000, not only did she raise capital from family and friends, but her parents gave her their apartment to use and acted in it (like rowing, filmmaking is an elite sport). At Oberlin college, she studied creative writing. White kids everywhere there. Clearly she was surrounded by a supportive and affluent environment.
But on reflection I changed my mind. I had responded to the show because I identified with it. Hipsterdom and artistic lifestyles are not the realm of the white and privileged. At drama school my other ‘ethnic’ classmates were from different privileges and backgrounds, as were my white classmates. I had begun a career pursuing something much more stable but left in the hopes of becoming, much like the ironic comments of Dunham’s character Hannah in ‘Girls’, one of ‘the voice(s) of my generation’. Like the author of ‘Stuff White People Like’ Christian Lander suggests, ‘white people’ really refers to an outlook, not a racial identity: like Hannah my friends and I are 'left-leaning, inner-city hipsters who believe (we)'re unique — despite the fact (we)'re actually all the same.' Where was I in this picture?
For some shows, this is excusable. ‘Mad Men’, of course, is clearly about the lives of white advertising men in the 60s (although it does seem strange that only now a prominent black character as been brought in). ‘Game of Thrones,’ which I dearly love, is obviously based on a mythology whose otherness is based around dragons and ‘white walkers’ (although Starz new TV series ‘Marco Polo’, to be shot in China and based around the adventures of Kubla Khan’s court, might now soon appease those who have been wondering when the world was going to get its first English-language epic Asian historical fantasy series, myself included). ‘Friends’ and ‘Seinfeld’ were made in times when whitewashing was the norm. But with The Wire’s Baltimore, Glee’s Ohio highschools and Grey’s Anatomy’s Chicago being racially, sexual orientation and size and shape diverse, should not Girls’s 2012 New York be assorted also?
It has been odd reading about the issues of race on television and film in the US recently, because in Australia the lack of diversity casting is so widespread that it has always been the case to look towards the Northern Hemisphere for examples and support. Many times as a young actor I have been advised that of someone of colour I should go to the US to look for work, and in all honesty, the numbers look more promising. On ‘Hawaii Five-O’, two lead actors are of Korean origin; ‘Heroes’ and ‘Lost’ promoted heavily diverse ensemble casts; ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ is a pioneer of colour-blind casting; ‘The Office’, ‘Modern Family’ and ‘The Good Wife’ all offer diverse casts in all areas, including race. In Australia growing up I was spurred on by the Asian faces I saw reflected back at me in local children’s television shows; as an adult, however, I see myself rarely, if at all. Recently, the government body ABC’s high quality TV drama ‘The Slap’ observed a highly colourful and eclectic portrait of contemporary Australia; however these kinds of shows are uncommon and rare.
But it is clear that this is a systemic problem, not just one of a single network or television show. In both the US and Australia, the lack of diversity amongst casts on stage and screen means that entire cultural groups are being denied their right to be part of their nation’s story. What we want to see is not necessarily our ‘refugee’ stories or ‘slave’ stories or ‘immigration’ stories, (although these stories are valid too and deserve their own space and come with their own set of struggles and limitations - something misunderstood by ‘Girls’ staff writer Lesley Arfin in this Twitter post), but our faces as the common people; the girl who goes to college, sleeps with the wrong guy, stresses over money. Any of these characters on ‘Girls’ could be white; but just as easily they could be of African, Asian or Mediterranean descent. And it would still be the story of a girl.
“Mann writes about her daughter’s complaint that today, not working outside the home and enjoying motherhood is looked upon with scorn. What I see is the wider issue that most of our choices, as women, are looked upon with scorn. To work, or stay at home. Have a “career”, or a “job”. Have children when we’re 20, or when we’re 30. Send them to nursery while we work, or spend all our time with them. Pursue personal interests, or have none. Be open about enjoying sex, or be open about having issues with it. Society sets us up to judge the choices of others, creating “wars” and “catfights” rather than encouraging us to press for change. And it is this that often prevents us from seeing the bigger picture, so keen are we to assert the validity of whatever choices we’ve made.”—Hannah Mudge: The Fifties: a warning from history
I would love your opinion. I have always been what is traditionally considered "feminine" but I have also always considered myself a feminist. I haven't felt that the two were mutually exclusive, but lately I've been starting to worry. Is there anything wrong with wearing makeup & being "girlie" as a feminist? I've also seen radfem statements that heterosexuality is antifeminist. What's your take on this? I can't help being hetero - and my relationship is very equal and independent. So confused!
But that doesn’t mean that putting on make-up or dressing yourself in a traditionally feminine way can’t be a positive and (dare I say it?) empowering experience. And there are certainly plenty of women out there who are heterosexual… because (shock, horror) they just like having sex with men. I definitely don’t buy the argument that heterosexuality is innately sexist or disempowering.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Tavi Gevinson: “girls … think that to be feminists they have to live up to being perfectly consistent in their beliefs, never being insecure, never having doubts, having all the answers… And this is not true. And actually recognising all the contradictions I was feeling became easier once I realised that feminism was not a rulebook but a discussion, a conversation, a process.”