On Contributing to the Conversation About Feminism

Anyone who's spent any amount of time on the internet will know that discussions around Feminism are likely to become a cluster fuck of horrible comments, ignorance and straight up hatred - which is why for the most part, I tend to keep to my safe little corner and generally don't comment on articles shared publicly on other publications social media pages - even on other Feminists pages. It's also part of why I don't read the news, and why I limit the amount of content I read about pop culture.

Over the last month or so, there have been a bunch of things happening in what you might generally describe as "Progressive Spaces" created by people who consider themselves to be free thinking and open minded. Some of it great, some of it problematic, and some of it down right disgusting - from all sides.

I'm sure that many of you who read my blog will have at least some awareness of who Leonie Dawson is, you may have heard of a website called Pile Rats, you've probably heard of Tyler, The Creator, and like everyone in the Western world, you have an opinion on The Kardashian's one way or another.

Let's start with Tyler, The Creator and Pile Rats.

For those who aren't familiar with, or interested in listening to his music, Tyler, The Creator is a rapper from the US who writes music with graphic and deliberately offensive content. Many people claim that he's doing so in order to call out the violence and horrendous shit that goes on in everyday life truthfully, and in a way that will wake us up to how truly shocking the world actually is.

Now, I want to point out, that the content of his lyrics doesn't actually worry me. I know, shocking right? But the truth is that I grew up happily listening to music with violent lyrics, and I still do sometimes. I dig Grindhouse and revenge porn, and I enjoy a whole lot of shit that's incredibly problematic from a white feminist perspective including, but not limited to Rihanna's Bitch Better Have My Money video. I've kind of gotten to a point now where I can put aside my need to view stuff through a feminist lens and just enjoy something for what it is.

On the surface, shocking lyrics and stage behaviour isn't necessarily a bad thing - especially if the artists intention really is to discuss their experience of reality in order to change things for the better.

But that's where shit gets hairy in this case.

Last time he was in the country, an activist group called Collective Shout petitioned the Government to revoke Tyler's visa, on the basis of the violent and misogynistic content of his lyrics. Tyler, The Creator decided to address this whilst on stage, in front of a supportive audience of fans at a sold out underage gig in Sydney (you can search the footage on YouTube), and then take to Twitter the next day naming and tagging individual activists.

This unleashed a fucking tsunami of violent abuse and threats, which ultimately led to Twitter creating the "Report Abuse" function, and for the Government of New Zealand to cancel Tyler, The Creator's visa application.

Tyler was booked to play here again in the coming months, and again Collective Shout petitioned the Australian Immigration Department to reject his visa application, siting not only the lyrical content of his music, but also his behaviour while here last time, and requesting that they consider this in relation to the horrendously high number of women having been killed in Australia this year and the impact of men's violence against women.

(Let's bear in mind that this is the same Immigration Department who maintain a policy of detaining innocent and desperate people indefinitely in offshore camps under the "care" of private security forces, and have been widely condemned by the Human Rights Commissioner.)

Rather than talk about the ins and the outs of this over recent times, let's just cut to the part where Tyler, The Creator decided to cancel his tour after having again instigated another round of his fans raining shit upon Collective Shout Director, Coralie Alison and anyone who stood in support of her. Now we're not just talking basic level trolling, we're talking phone and internet account hacking and revealing home addresses to 2.5 Million enraged fans.

My opinion on all of this, isn't as some might expect that violent content shouldn't exist. I think that it should definitely be restricted in terms of how, when and where it should be promoted, broadcast and consumed. I definitely think that there's an element of racism in this situation - after all, Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines got free reign on commercial pop radio stations here, where as Tyler, The Creator is restricted to Triple J and carries strong language warnings.

My point here, and I have the same opinion of the way in which Kim Nekroman from The Necromantix handled being called out for lyrics making light of rape (essentially all of their songs centre around themes of horror, monsters, and describe violence and gore with tongue in cheek), is that if you intend to invoke violent lyrics to make a point, then you should be able to articulate that without naming fans or individual women who raise the issue with you to your fan base and resorting to calling them sluts, bitches, and whores who deserve to be raped.

Maybe this comes from spending three years at art school and learning how to justify painting squares as being a valuable contribution to the dialogue of visual art. Seriously, once you've mastered the written proposals required when applying for visual art exhibitions, and for grant funding, you can pretty well justify ANYTHING.

Incidentally, Pile Rats, along with Vice, and Beat were covering all of this as it unfolded over on their Facebook page, and as an organisation centred around music, they have a bunch of fans with strong opinions on the subject.

About the most logical argument I read in support of Tyler, The Creator was in a comment on the Beat Facebook thread, where someone compared this to the Moral Censorship Marilyn Manson was subjected to in the wake of the Columbine School Shooting. I'd argue that the main point of difference here, is that Marilyn Manson has never incited a wave of fury amongst his fans against a specific individual person, nor has he claimed that any one person deserves to be raped or murdered, but I digress.

On the same day as expressing their disappointment that Tyler, The Creator announced the cancellation of his tour, Pile Rats published THIS piece by author Maile Shanti on their blog, and on their Facebook page. Obviously, it received some interesting comments from people still shitty about the tour cancellation on how Feminists spoil everything for everyone.

Last night, they followed it up with THIS piece by Alexander Grey in reply, and for the first time in YEARS, I sat down an typed up a comment:

" In response to the last paragraph of the article:
I think that what needs to happen is that individual men stop reading feminist discussions as a personal attack, rather than feminism needs to be more welcoming, or cater to male sensitivity.
Sensitive men are great, and male voices are important if we're going to see any significant positive change in male behaviour at a societal level. BUT part of the reason so many of women come across as hostile is because it doesn't seem to matter how we frame our points of view, we'll be slammed, shamed, belittled, ignored or have our experiences minimised - and we're freaking tired of it, and frustrated that playing nice hasn't really solved a lot.
If you don't understand where we're coming from that's fine - just ask or make an effort to inform yourself and do some critical thinking (which I think the author has done) - but don't expect feminists to hold your hand through the process.
Privilege DOES exist - and that isn't necessarily your fault as an individual person, nor is it necessarily your fault if you can't see it for yourself until it's removed or pointed out (Just like that old saying goes, "The fish can't see the water, because it's in it").
Having privilege just means that because of who you were born and how you identify, you experience the world differently. Similarly, I can't truly understand the way in which a person of colour, or a trans*person experiences the world.
The difference being that I don't tend to read the arguments of people of colour against white supremacy, or trans*peoples experiences of transphobia as an attack on me and the way that I personally live my life.
But that doesn't mean that we can't all ask questions about how we as individual people can make an effort to make one another's experience of the world better."

Surprisingly, the response to this, and the comments section in general has been fairly positive.

Something I didn't get to address in this comment, is WHY it's completely inappropriate, and entirely impossible for Feminism to get clear on it's message and have a unified voice.

The reality is that NO SINGLE socio-political ideology can possibly speak truthfully for 51% of the entire human population, because within that group of over 3 Billion people, there are a multitude of experiences. As a movement, Feminism has privileged different voices (predominantly the voices of educated white women), while ignoring others - which is why we see things like #SOLIDARITYISFORWHITEWOMEN and many women of colour who fight for women's rights do not identify with Feminism as a movement.

Similarly, there are different experiences, understandings, and differences of opinion between people who identify with First, Second and Third Wave Feminism.



Which brings me to Leonie Dawson and Kim Kardashian.

Now Leonie Dawson is something of a big name among Australian entrepreneurial women. She's a self-described hippy, successful million dollar company owner, she's got a foul mouth, and is outspoken on a number of issues. She also shares her experiences with both Post Natal Depression, as well as a condition called Hyperemesis Gravidarum which impacts women during pregnancy. She has done a whole world of good in terms of supporting women in many different situations, not limited to pregnancy, parenthood, or business ownership.

And Kim K is... Well, she's Kim K.

From Leonie Dawson's Facebook Page

From Leonie Dawson's Facebook Page

Leonie originally posted the picture above to her Facebook page with this caption,

Ummmmmmmm WTF Big W???? Nope. Nope. Nope. Fucccck noooooo. This is sending the worst bloody messages to our daughters. Not even teenagers. Not even Tweens. Bloody TODDLERS being showered with the wrong fucking oversexualised message about what it is to be a girl and woman. Love, Fuming Mama Bear

By the time the post showed up in my feed, it had been edited to include the following,


1. No, I don't judge you if you buy these clothes. Yes, it's fine for you to feel differently about this than I do. That's totally okay. If you feel attacked by what I have written, please know that is absolutely not my intention. 

To be utterly clear: I don't see any issues with girls (or boys) wearing tutus. But I have a huge issue with a toddlers (and tweens and teenagers) being dressed in a brand that is oversexualised. By dressing them in Kardashian clothes, we are beginning to teach them that to be a Kardashian is the ultimate in success. I believe girls are at a crisis point, and we absolutely need to protect them from this kind of shit, and let them be children. Allow girls (and women) to know they are okay to be themselves, and worthy without looking "pretty" or "perfect" or having to be overtly-sexualised. Because that is very much the impression our girls are getting from the world, and research supports this.

Family psychologist + best-selling author Steve Biddulph is sounding the alarm on the craziness that is happening to our girls, and the very damaging effects it is having on their development with teen girl suicide, mental illness + self harm at all time high. I would absolutely recommend reading "Raising Girls" by Steve, and following his Facebook page. This information is essential. https://www.facebook.com/stevebiddulphraisinggirls

2. Wow, this was a useful way to ban out some pretty abusive people on this page. I've never hit the delete + ban button so often on a post. So useful... I certainly would never wish to work with someone who calls me a "loco bitch" for having a different opinion than they have. It was a really useful decluttering of crap energies.

So... before you comment... you might like to choose to speak gently + respectfully. Because my finger adores that ban + delete button. Abuse = not okay here in this part of the internet.

3. It's absolutely fine if you disagree with me. Totally fine.
And honestly, I would have ignored it myself a few years ago until I started researching the current girl crisis + getting myself well + truly fired up about protecting the childhoods of our girls.

Even if you still don't agree with me, that's cool lovely. We can still be mates. Let's still speak gently with each other however. (See also: loco bitch = not appropriate.)

4. I think we need to take responsibility for where we choose to invest our money. How you spend your money is investing in what you want to see more of. I am 100% not perfect of this, but am always working on how I can make sure my purchases are in alignment with my higher values + who I wish to support in the world.

5. Yes, I swear, and yes I'm okay with it. No, threatening to unlike me won't change that. For further reading: http://leoniedawson.com/yes-i-swear-and-im-okay-with-it/

6. I'm eating a gluten-free melting moment, and it's delicious. Come around for tea + we'll have some together.

Big love + gentleness,

On the surface, this all seems well and good. For the most part I can understand where she's coming from, and I'm pretty sure I held a similar attitude to this when I first started learning about feminism - back before I realised that intersectionality is a thing.

The problems however, arose once people started discussing alternative views, and pointing out information Leonie probably wasn't aware of, but hadn't checked out ahead of time, and started blocking them along with people who totally were trolling her. One of those people was my friend Zoe, and we ended up chatting about it later that night, but otherwise I pretty much just watched the storm blow over.

Something that didn't escape my attention, was the fact that all of this happened on the same day that it was reported that Sinead O'Conner had responded to Kim Kardashian's Rolling Stone cover by calling her a, "c*nt". Whether Leonie Dawson was aware of this or not, her post quickly went viral, and a bunch of people who were previously had no idea who she was, had gotten involved in (and many had been removed from) the conversation.

A couple of weeks later, just as things had essentially settled down again, Leonie posted a link to THIS article, describing it as evidence of why we should be so concerned about the Kardashian's being marketed to children. To be perfectly honest, I only got about a tenth of the way into this article before the total lack of well founded logic or peer reviewed research became too much, and I rage quit my way out the door faster than I could say, "HELL NOPE!"

I sat on my thoughts for a few hours before posting this to my own Facebook profile:

I'm not jumping on the "Leonie Dawson is a Loco-Bitch train", but I do wish that we could move beyond policing what girls and women wear, and stop complaining about clothing that we deem as inappropriate for young girls being the reason that they're being sexualised (and becoming sexually active) at a young age.

How about we all stop taking lessons in feminism from Sinead O'Connor, whereby we blame everything we don't like about society on the Kardashian's or Miley Cyrus, and consider the actual social construct within which females (celebrities and regular people) exist and, which both allows, and encourages boys and men to behave the way they do?

Also, let's stop writing and linking to articles which use terms like "unwanted sexual contact" (particularly under circumstances of intoxication - and especially when referring to teens under the age of consent), because the only appropriate term in those situations, is "rape".

I'm not suggesting that the current social system is appropriate, but I think we need to recognise that the clothing girls and women choose to wear is nobody else's business but their own.

It is not a fucking invitation.

They are not asking for a specific kind of attention, nor are they dressing for anyone else's benefit.

Just to be clear, what girls wear has ZERO impact on how boys and men view them (I can personally vouch for this. Whether a girl or a woman is wearing Jeans, a T-shirt and a Blazer, or is stark freaking naked, it DOES NOT MATTER to a man who views you as an object). 

What we really need to do is raise people who treat one another with respect, rather than viewing each other as sexual objects.

To be perfectly honest, the whole Kardashian thing doesn't really fly onto my radar, however I think that their popularity is actually pretty amazing. I know that Caitlyn Jenner was extremely successful as an athlete in their own right, but I can guarantee that there is a massive chunk of the population (which includes me) who would have NO idea who they were without the context of the Kardashian's.

As a DIRECT RESULT of their fame and popularity, we now have an EXTREMELY famous and visible, Republican supporting trans woman, who is doing a tremendous amount of good by sharing her transition with the world.

If you want to challenge the gender binary, go for it. I 100% support you.

If you want to challenge the patriarchal social construct, awesome.

But let's stop going after easy targets like the Kardashian's (who I didn't know were designing kids clothes before they were famous until my friend Zoe Mattsson pointed it out, and was subsequently blocked from Leonie Dawson's page) just because of how we became aware of them. 

How kids dress is not the problem, and attacking other women is not the solution.

Rant. Out.

What followed in the comments, was a truly well rounded and respectful discussion about all manner of things. We discussed Kim Kardashian as a business person - and that it's totally cool that she and her family are creating a business beyond reality TV and sex tapes, as well as how it's far more important that we focus on how we raise boys to be respectful rather than policing how girls present themselves.

Another point I raised was one that I've written about before, but I think it sums up everything about this whole long rant I've been going on today,

"I am 100% for protecting your own space, and only allowing positive or constructive criticism, but if you invite discussion, you actually have to listen to alternative points of view."

I'm not suggesting that we all have to tolerate abuse, or trolling, or any other level of disgusting behaviour, but I think that there are appropriate and respectful ways to make MEANINGFUL contributions to Conversations about Feminism which are genuinely based on love, rather than hostility and alienation.

While attitudes like Sinead O'Conner's do exist, and misguided woman-hating does occur within feminist spaces, I don't think it's fair to describe the over all movement as looking, 

"like the Labor party right before over half the population decided that Tony Abbott was a better alternative."

Like I mentioned earlier, it would be entirely inappropriate for any one voice or message to remain the dominant voice of Feminism as an entire ideology because the female population is ENORMOUS.

If we stuck with the attitudes and beliefs of Second Wave Feminism, we wouldn't see the inclusion of trans*women's voices, or if we just referred all feminist matters to Collective Shout, we wouldn't have seen Amnesty International voting to adopt a platform of support for the decriminalisation of sex work and seeking to differentiate between people who choose to engage in sex work, and those who are coerced into sex slavery or trafficking. 

Extremism on either side of these discussions, serve nobody in a constructive or productive way.

It's important for debate, discussion, and disagreement to occur so that we can continue to improve. Yet, for that improvement to actually occur, we all have to be open to hearing alternative points of view.

The minute we close ourselves off from listening, is the minute we stop learning, and once we stop learning, we stop growing - as individuals and as a collective.