Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Stick your tongue in

So many things in life are better when you stick your tongue into them.

And it makes me particularly happy when I see feminists exercising theirs.
It was with this in mind that I gave a workshop at the Melbourne Feminist Futures Conference earlier this year titled: Mincing words: Feminism and Semantics. It went down well, I reckon, and I was flattered to be asked by the editor of online publication 'The Scavenger' to adapt the workshop into article form. This proved trickier than I expected but they were very patient with me and, with some wonderful editing help from talented writer Meg Mundell, I finished it at last. It was published about a month ago & you can read the original here, or keep scrolling.

Warning! Long! Very loooong.

Speak For Yourself: A Call For Feminists To Sharpen Their Tongues

“Language is power, life and the instrument of culture, the instrument of domination and
liberation” – Angela Carter, author and feminist.

Language is a mercurial force as temperamental as a newborn child, constantly changing,
adapting and reacting to its environment. Individual words fatted up by the tongues of
many, in one time and place, can wither quickly into a state of anorexic weakness with the
passing of just a few years or a few miles. Words netted in popular culture by language
enthusiasts and carefully placed between dictionary pages can be made extinct before
they’ve even hit the library shelves – wiped out by one blockbuster movie or hit TV show
with a catchy catch-phrase.

It is little wonder then, given the wily and capricious nature of language, that some feminist
activists view the discussion of semantics as little more than an academic indulgence, an
intellectual game with little connection to the pressing realities of women’s lives. In fact
I believe it is the very intangibility, changeability and ubiquitousness of language which
evidence its great power, and rather than dismissing language as something which might be
toyed with as a secondary concern, we must move it to the forefront of our fight. Because
to put it in no uncertain terms: language as it is commonly used today is stifling the feminist
cause and it’s time we made an effort to change it.

Language is a barometer of a society’s beliefs; it reflects and supports the dominant culture
and by studying it we can gauge that society’s attitudes. In Australia today the word
considered the most offensive possible, a word deemed so objectionable that it is blanked
out of all major newspapers, is one which doubles to describe a part of the female anatomy.
Meanwhile the word ‘Slut’ is commonly understood to negatively describe a woman who
participates often in sex, yet there is no male equivalent for this term. ‘House-husband’
awkwardly raises eye-brows, while ‘house-wife’ is so clichéd all it can raise is a yawn. Even
this quick glance at the barometer of our language indicates that today’s social climate is a
worryingly patriarchal one.

The past year, however, has seen a revival of interest in feminism, spearheaded
by ‘Slutwalks’ across the (predominantly) western world. Some have expressed concern
that the walks are misdirecting the revival by employing the word ‘slut’, which they
see as a distraction from other more tangible legal and systemic concerns, which seem
more amenable to being grasped and altered in a concrete way. But language cannot be
separated from other issues and set to one side; it is with us every day, reflecting those
days and shaping them too. If we fail to address language issues then the power of language
will fall naturally into the hands of the dominant patriarchal culture, undermining any
other action we take. As author Ingrid Bengis said, 'Words are a form of action, capable
of influencing change'. Indeed, I believe that words are one of the most powerful forms of
action we have at our disposal today, and they are vital for tackling the particular new and
unique challenges faced by contemporary feminism.

We live at a time when many of the barriers to equality have become less overt. Women
now have the right to vote, sit in parliament, fight for the military and, in some areas of
Australia, exercise extensive control over their own reproductive systems. A large portion of
the solid blockades of the patriarchy appear to have been torn down, and opponents of the
feminist movement use this as evidence that ‘we now have equality’.

Of course, we do not; in the Australian parliament only 28.3% of members and senators
are women, just 9% of private board directorships are held by women, and the portion of
women’s sports coverage in the media is a grand total of 2%. The blockades are still there,
they’ve just become less glaring – assumptions and expectations of men and women are
now seldom decreed by law, but rather held in place by subtle but pervasive patterns of
language and communication, all the more insidious because they are not immediately
visible. Unfortunately low visibility does not decrease their power; it just makes them
harder to tackle. A woman considering applying for a position in a high paying non-
traditional field does not have the law to contend with, but she must struggle against the
burden of her co-workers’ expectations, and her own expectations to follow a ‘natural’ path
– which have been reinforced day in, day out, over her entire life, by language. Describe one
person as nurturing, caring, sweet and compliant and another as ambitious, strong-minded
and aggressive and it is near impossible not to make gender assumptions because the words
are used so predictably.

Some argue that the reason women don’t apply for, or aren’t successful in getting, certain
jobs, and the reason certain behavioural words have gendered connotations, is that men
and women are biologically geared to want different things and behave in different ways.
While there are a hundreds of possible words to describe most concepts and ideas, there
is just one which adequately sums up this argument: bullshit. In her book, ‘Delusions of
Gender’, Cordelia Fine quickly dispenses with assumptions about behavioural differences
caused by a ‘male’ or ‘female’ brain, stating that it is the social world which “entangles
minds – gendering the very sense of self, social perception, and behaviour that will then
seamlessly become once again part of the gendered world”. We hesitate to do things not
because we’re not capable of them but because we are indoctrinated with a strong and
erroneous idea of gender capabilities by the language of the patriarchal system. How can we
free ourselves from the limiting tangle of the social world, then, and is that even possible?
Perhaps we can begin by unpicking that which binds it together: language.

It is possible for disenfranchised sections of society to take control of aspects of language
for their own ends. Examples of words which have been actively appropriated by and within
communities and have had the effect of galvanising and strengthening those communities
and helping them to build positive senses of self-identity are the ‘n-word’, ‘queer’
and ‘wog’. Even with these positive examples, many still view the idea of taking control of
the capricious thing that is language as a near-impossible task. Following the Slutwalk in
Melbourne, many internet commentators seemed bemused as to what ‘the point’ of all
this banner waving and word reclaiming was, arguing that it wasn’t likely to stop people
from using the word in spite. And the thing is, it probably won’t. Nor would more drastic
measures such as enforced censorship have much effect; language is a wily force, and
breezes past such obstacles like wind through a chain-link fence, which is why we’re all

familiar with the word ‘cunt’ though (and perhaps to some extent because) it is forbidden in
so many realms.

The fact that we’re not able to halt the distribution of words is certainly no reason to
despair, because the happy news is, no force can dictate how words are absorbed – we each
experience language in our own unique way, just as we all perceive the world in our own
way. I say the word ‘dog’ and one person will imagine a border collie, another a Chihuahua,
a poodle, or perhaps a sausage in bread. Say the word ‘cunt’ and I perceive something
entirely wonderful but apparently most people aren’t seeing what I do. The Slutwalks may
well have done little to change the wider community’s attitude towards women who engage
in frequent sexual activity; it may have provided no disincentive for individuals who have
used the word from doing so in the future with the intention of shaming and insulting.
However, what it did do was galvanise a group of women who declared that they were no
longer going to absorb this word and internalise the concept it denotes as an insult. The
sight of women across the globe marching and shouting this out gave women support and
strength to enable them to deflect the blow of this word if ever it was hurled their way. It
increased their immunity to the patriarchal mindset – the invisible barrier which holds so
many women back from expressing behaviours and pursuing paths which men never think
twice about.

A couple of years ago I was sitting in a bar with a female friend when a guy came up and
asked if he could join us. We were deep in conversation and told him so. “Ya fuckin’ stuck up
cunts,” he spat, hovering over us. My friend laughed, “Well yes, we are deep and powerful,
thank you.” The guy looked confused for a moment, then stalked off and we continued
our conversation. A word which was intended to hurt us or piss us off careened out of his
mouth, pirouetted in mid air and landed daintily in our ears having taken on an entirely
different form because we found nothing remotely offensive about female genitalia and
had the tacit support of each other in our interpretation of the word. A word delivered with
hatred was rendered benign by our interpretation.

That is what taking back the power of language is: it is diffusing potentially hurtful words
by analysing our reactions to them, and how they fit into or reflect our views – then
finding other people to connect with and support who share our views, who truly speak
our language. And once we have taken that power, and made benign all those hidden
patriarchal blockades, who knows what we may achieve? As author Rita Mae Brown once
said, “Language exerts hidden power, like a moon on the tides”. Ignore that power in the
current climate and we’ll be allowing women to be washed out to sea, but learn to harness
it and all the waves of feminism might at last come together to change the shape of our

Links: /FemmeFightClub

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Monthly troubles

Have you checked out the Feminist Creative Alliance website yet? Do it! They're a Chicago based group who define feminism as "an activist and non-hierarchical endeavor that challenges intersecting oppressions by confronting mainstream ideologies to bring visibility to the experiences of marginalized groups and individuals". Each month they feature the work of a different artist to further that cause & this month I am very honoured to be their featured trouble-maker (a.k.a. feminist artist) :)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Shiny Shiny Shining!

During my recent trip to Berlin, I met two very ace women from Aus - Melania & Patty.

Not only are they lovely & fun & obviously incapable of looking anything less than gorgeous - they also make super music under the name 'Shiny Shiny'

For one of their gigs they bravely invited me & Melisa to come & do some sort of something while they played.

The 'something' we did consisted of donning fake pubes, smearing each other with lipstick & chucking craft supplies around.  We didn't know what the fuck we were doing.

No one knew what the fuck we were doing.

It was big fun.

Then we tidied up (ourselves, not the room as you can see)

Played some fussball

&I decided that Shiny Shiny are one of  my all time favourite groups/couples ever. Ever.


& NOW THEY'RE UP FOR AN AWARD!!! One of their film clips - the super cute 'Snakes & Ladders' has been nominated for a National Campus Film Fest Award. So do your ears & eyes a favour & head over to Vimeo to check it out. Watching & 'liking' it will up their chances of winning by a count of one & up your chances of smiling by a count of one hundred.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Beyond Cool

The U.K's Sunday Times has just given 'vag art' the thumbs down in their style section's 'Barometer' column. 'Barometer' is one of those indispensable What's hot?!! What's not?!! guides without which the world would surely come to a grinding halt because OMG! how could we possibly function if we didn't have someone telling us what was the hippest hip hipness of the moment??! We'd have to, like, form our own opinions or some shit! Aiiii! Too terrifying to even contemplate.


Apparently feminism's "new fascination" with "our bits" is "gross".

If some unfortunate woman (I'm assuming it's a woman based on the "our bits" statement) is so consumed with self loathing that she finds parts of her own body "gross" all I can feel is pity. That PLUS she's stuck writing a goddamn hot&not column - I'm hesitant to be too critical 'cause she obviously doesn't have much to live for. However, she directly slagged off an awesome project - Embroideries: a campaign to end female genital mutilation, who have been doing wonderful work putting together a beautiful quilt of cunts to draw attention to this horrific practise. When since has campaigning against FGM been a fucking style issue? 

Uncool, Sunday Times, very uncool.

If you, or someone you know, write a 'hot or not' column or find your bits "gross" please contact Beyond Blue for depression counselling & SHUT THE FUCK UP.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I wanna be a cyborg too!

Meet my latest cyber-crush Ms. Hiromi Ozaki a.k.a Sputniko! Watch 'till the end to see some space-baby blasting gloriousness.

Too delightful for words.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Friday, August 26, 2011

Mainstream Medusa

We all know that if you watch too much mainstream media your brain will go numb & very soon your entire body will turn to stone.
But for a short time you're gonna get impunity from this terrible fate & are encouraged to watch 'cause I am on it! Briefly.

& actually, it's ABC TV & Radio National which I'm on. Hardly 'mainstream'. More like side-streams, little puddly brooks which aren't nearly so polluted but which not many people bother swimming in either. In fact, they're far enough out of the way that you can go skinny dipping in them, which is exactly what I did. Yes - cunts out in the media.

Each of the programs which include meeeeee aired a week or two ago but both are downloadable from the net.

1st up is Making It Handmade - the doco about subversive craft made by Anna Brownfield. Featuring crafters, my partner at Craft Cartel Rayna Fahey, Gemma Jones, Pip Lincolne & me, it first screened at Melbourne International Film Festival last year & made it's smallscreen debut on ABC2 on August 15. You can still view it here on iview, but only for a few more days I think so get lookin.

When you're through looking, have a listen to this radio feature on yarnbombing by Suzanne Donisthorpe, made for Radio National's Artworks program. Mine is the voice which sounds like it belongs to a 12 year old near the end.

And if you're still marvelling at how a 32 year old woman can keep her vocal chords so young (I spread Oil of Olay on my toast!), have a listen to the piece I did with Nicole Hurtubise for 'People's Tours', a brainchild of Jane Curtis. You can download it from the People's Tours webpage here, or from the 3CR radio station here (along with tours of rollerderby, women's pool comps, the Aboriginal history of Gertrude st & Yana Alana's take on rage).

Friday, August 12, 2011

Is non-reproductive sex natural & wondrous? Is the Pope Catholic?

I have recently returned from an epic cunt pilgrimage. I actually re-routed my entire European trip & added Rome in to the itinerary specifically for this pilgrimage because I am a true believer.
In Cunts I Trust.

The destination was Vatican City, the Basilica. A place of grand & majestic beauty...

awe-inspiring ....

& eerily cunt-free....

Even the little girl cherubs had to cover their bits up while the little boy cherubs dangled free. Weird. Obviously the Basilica was in urgent need of some pussifying. Which is where I came in.

I lovingly constructed a pair of cunts...

With lesbian love motifs...

I then attached heels to the backs...

& strung them together.

Normally I would fling the cunts up over power lines, referencing the running shoes flung up by gangs to claim their territory, as my own way of reclaiming the streets for women. But for my lesbian-love cunts I had something loftier in mind. I had my eyes set on the Basilica.

I was quite nervous 'cause I'd never been to Vatican City before. There were approximately 1 kazillion tourists, nuns, priests & coppers shuffling about & numerous bag-checks to get through before I could get access to the dome. With all of that plus the Wrath Of God hovering in the air I felt quietly terrified. So I knew it was a good thing to do.

In Australia same-sex couples still can't legally say 'I do' to each other, in most states they can't jointly adopt & it is legal for faith-based organisations to discriminate against people based on their gender or sexuality. I personally know people who work in Catholic organisations who conceal and lie about their sexuality because of fear of losing their jobs. This is incredibly fucked-up.

Massive beauty becomes hideously ugly when it tramples on small & fragile beauty such as the love between two people of the same gender. So, I set out to climb the dome, & gift the Basilica with my Lesbian-Love Cunts.

It took hours to get through the cues & the security checks & the narrow spiraling staircase in the upper-dome was choccas with tourists & lined with security cameras but I managed to duck to the side for a moment...

pretend I was fascinated with the meshing on one of the windows, push it out a little...

& let the lesbian cunt love fly

Unfortunately the window I shoved them out of faced onto a part of Vatican City closed off to plebs so I had to go way outside the walls of the city to get some photos...

You can just make them out, glinting in the afternoon sun.

It's a pity I couldn't get a closer shot but in a way I like the idea of the Lesbian Love-Cunts having a private viewing with the Pope & his cronies. I do, I do, I do.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ich bin ein Cunt Künstler

Ah Berlin! How can you fault a place where the word for art is 'kunst'? It's a city of beer & sausage & battle-wounds & while I gravitate more towards wine & pastries, sunshine & play (such a girl ), it nicked my heart because it has a kind of raw & growly potential about it - a sense that anything & everything is possible.

I think I spent most of my stay hanging out with Aussie ex-pats but they were the BEST kind - Bali & London must get all out southern-cross tattooed footy bogans, Berlin has ou
r finest.

While I was there I wanted to take advantage of the crazy cheap beer & I wasn't up for drinking it so I organised an impromptu Femme Fight Club beer fight instead.

(FFC pictures by Ulrika Walmark)

Oh, it was fun....

I now have a whole new understanding of the concept of 'sticky'.

Danke Berlin, I will be back, not for your beer but for your people & your possibiliti
es. Not only is Berlin home to one of my all time favourite people, Ms Melisa Gray-ward (who sweetly let me bomb her loungeroom with my junk for two weeks) it also has one of the healthiest queer scenes I've ever come across. Especially seeing as it wasn't so long ago that they tried to exterminate all homos...

So in honour of Berlin & with
❤, on my last evening, outside a very awesome queer cabaret event, I flung (with the help of a local punk) this special pair of blonde-hair & blue Aryan cunts.

Abschied Berlin

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Conceal IT! Reveal IT!

I'm travelling through Europe at the moment, first stop Paris. A land where they DO NOT USE A WORD FOR FEMALE GENITALIA AS A DEROGATORY TERM = a land which I ♥.

So fucking lovely to be out of freezing Melbourne winter & to be able to wear what I want. At the moment I'm sitting in the sunshine in a t-shirt & not much else. Of course, I can't wear everything I might like to here...

Since April 2011, women have been banned from wearing burqas in public in France, the Govenment audaciously citing feminist motivations, stating that to "ensure the dignity of the person and equality between sexes, this practice, even if it is voluntary, cannot be tolerated in any public place". In Australia & elesewhere, there have been calls for similar laws, also sometimes, on 'feminist' grounds.

How legally enforcing any form of dress on women can be a feminist action is beyond me.

In both of these countries we, as women, are already compelled, culturally & legally, to cover our cunts & breasts so now we are required to simultaneously conceal & reveal different parts of our bodies. The law-makers do not seem to see the inherent hypocrisy in this situation. Their bizarre dissection of the female anatomy & the privileging of some parts over others is fascinating, disturbing & profoundly fucked-up.

So, I made some special Cunt Fling-Ups...

Conceal IT! Reveal IT!

LE cacher! LE révéler!

I exhibited them as part of the Ladyfest Paris festival which really was ALL kinds of awesome...

And normally I would then go & fling the cunts up over a power-line but Paris has NO powerlines so I had to look for somewhere else to hang them...

Saturday, July 2, 2011

So, I think I might be in love...

You can tell it's love when you think that they're just AWESOME & you start daydreaming about your future together & smiling inanely while staring into space & jumbling up all of your words, yeah?

Check this out:

La Barbe

& this:


La Barbe (The Beard) is a group of French women who don facial hair & hijack the French Senate, corporate do's & "places of male power" to show their "commitment to resisting male hegemony and make visible all the ridiculous situations of inequality betweenmen and women". Their manifesto proclaims: "It is time to put feminism in the saddle and set out to conquer the territories of power in all its forms".

So is this love? I think they are just AWESOME. I am gonna ask them if I can set up an Aussie chapter & am smiling inanely while I daydream about them saying yesyesyes & jumbling up all my words.
Admittedly the word jumble bit is probably ma
inly due to me being in France trying to learn French which I haven't attempted since before I got my first period. But still, I think it's pretty clear - I am smitten.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Feminists fighting fairly fairly.

Wow. Slutwalk & Feminist Futures Conference on the one weekend. What a wonderful, giddy-making time it has been here in Melbourne.
For so long there has seemed to be an apathy around activism in this city and feminism in particular & I've been just wishing women would get angry, get out there & get fighting.
Then suddenly, in the past few weeks, it's been ON.

We've been getting passionate, & vocal, & active &, for the most part, despite the emergence of disparate views, we've been interacting in a strident but respectful manner. & THAT IS FUCKING AWESOME. Feminism being torn apart from within is as useless as feminism which doesn't peek out of the shadows in the first place.

There is no referee in feminist debate, that's the whole point of feminism - we want to be autonomous, to be able to govern our own lives and determine our own paths free from oppression. Therein lies the challenge, we need to all be able to band together and support each other as feminists in order to overcome the patriarchal system, regardless of our differences.

Massive props to the Feminist Futures crew who made a concerted effort to include a wide range of feminist voices (including inviting me to give a workshop so obviously I'm predisposed to thinking they're pretty ace & inclusive...). It certainly wasn't perfect, the lack of childcare facilities seemed to be a glaring oversight but they acknowledged this, made efforts to accomodate parents such as offering to fund babysitters, & I'd be very suprised if they didn't make this a priority for future events. They also listened to complaints that the proposed conference did not have enough gender diversity by altering the original line-up of their panels to include a member of the transgender community. It was inevitable that they'd receive flack from people who opposed individual speakers but even so, I've seen copies of some of the letters & facebook posts they received & some of them were incredibly aggressive.

The means don't justify the ends, the means are the ends. The shape of our struggle will determine the shape of our future.

The final panel included Kathleen Maltzahn, a greens candidate and anti-trafficking campaigner. Fliers were left on the seats of the auditorium saying 'Kathleen Maltzahn supports legislation which harms sex-workers' (from memory) & during her presentation several audience members stood & turned their backs. So far so good, all strong, non-aggressive voicing of opposition.

One protester, however, used an umbrella to block the view of other members of the audience & during the question time a couple of the protesters interrupted with heckles from the crowd.

The organisers managed to save the proceedings from descending into chaos by moving to the microphone when things started to look a bit dicey & reminding the room of basic house rules so the event ended on a calmer, more positive & optimistic note.

Censorship & oppression are what we're fighting against. Censorship & oppression should never be part of our fight.

When the audience member raised an umbrella to block others' view - that was censorship & oppression.

When another audience member interrupted with heckles from the crowd - that was censorship & oppression.

& to try to introduce legislation to ban sex work (which protesters claimed was Kathleen Maltzhan's aim though she didn't state that during the conference, has actually said in the past that she wants to decriminalise sex work & has advocated workplace reform rather than elimination of the sex industry) if she, or anyone else did move to ban sex work, that would be censorship & oppression.

Here's hoping we can can continue to band together as feminists against censorship & oppression.

*(If Kathleen Maltzhan has stated somewhere that she'd like sex work made illegal & I've missed it, please do let me know)