Barbarian Productions’ Jo Randerson and Thomas LaHood are partners in theatre and life. And this week they are back at Bats Theatre in Wellington. It’s been a fast few months since Soft ‘n’ Hard’s first sold out season at the end of 2017. Many missed out and demanded the show’s return.
Notoriously hard working and keenly perceptive, these commentators of society’s deepest binding threads, take us on a journey of the ubiquitous and fraught western heterosexual relationship.
Drawing on their many astute observations and no doubt their own relationship, Randerson and LaHood carefully tease out the various iterations of gendered themes within such relationships.
When I first saw the show in 2017, I was amazed (and thankful) at the way that Soft ‘n’ Hard managed to put what are often indescribable and difficult to exemplify experiences – into plain, relatable and hilarious scenarios on stage.
The set and production are minimalist, the music impeccable. They are universal to the subject matter. Set against a backdrop of bold glamorous yellow, the ‘fabric of society’, we journey from amoeba like states to courtship and long term relationship status. High heel shoes, an arm chair and a handful of other props orientate us. Scenes from the 1950s household to the modern day are explored from both perspectives. The body language and discourse of emotional and mental labour are constantly present and build to explosion.
The Man literally disappears during the show, many many times. Stuck on stage and frustrated, we are privy to the exasperated exhalations of the Woman, driven to the edge, who must not get angry or break the mould. This is her time to speak though. Is it her space. And she is heard.
At times the crowd is visibly tense, perhaps uncomfortable with how familiar the conversations and arguments are to their own lives. Moments when those around me literally held their breath, before breaking into tears of laughter, finally able to see the ridiculousness of the situation. Debates of tone-policing (‘Oh, it’s how I say it is it?!); the Woman desperate to show how mental labour squashes her very existence; the oblivious not-all-men guy, wounded and confused, gazing at himself in the mirror for what could be hours.
For those who identify as hetero/cis, and often times for those who don’t, these characters reflect us. Whether we are in heterosexual relationships or not, we see those expectations between men and women more broadly, filled and resisted on stage. The dynamics so familiar and frequent are opened up, illuminated and left hanging in the air for us to pick up and discuss.
It felt like Randerson and LaHood had reached into the farthest reaches of our conscious and unconscious minds, as though they had been the flies on the wall during every argument, every regretful or hurtful thought, and then wrote them into a script. Uncanny, unnerving and yet altogether affirming.
‘Masculine’ – Him; protective, hard working, wilfully ignorant and absent, toxic, hurt and hurtful, introspective and evolving. ‘Feminine’ – Her; extremely hard working, curtailed, unseen, unheard, frustrated, powerful, groundbreaking and eventually – giving no fucks.
From the heights of politics, to the dirty and sweaty backstages of concerts, our society is now largely accustomed to, if not becoming comfortable with feminism being discussed. It is now almost expected territory to traverse in many situations from workplaces to dinner tables. And what better setting to reflect how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to travel, than in a rollickingly funny theatre show.
I’ve always wondered what would happen if the list went more like this:
NOT to do today/this week:
Don’t Book tickets for the holiday
Don’t Find a holiday house/book a camping spot
Don’t Find a house sitter/cat feeder
Don’t Arrange a friend’s house to stay at
Don’t Think about what presents other people may like
Don’t Play Father Christmas
Don’t Think about Christmas dinner/food
Don’t Pick up the prescriptions
Don’t Buy any sunscreen or insect repellent
Don’t Drop the library books back
Don’t Remember who is gluten-free and who has a nut allergy
Don’t Get the teacher a present
Don’t Send Christmas cards/emails
Don’t Be kind and considerate
Don’t Think of others
Don’t Drive yourself batty
Don’t Run around after everyone else
Don’t Be taken for granted
Don’t GIVE A SHIT
but actually, DO GIVE A SHIT
DO push back against the patriarchy this silly season.
And don’t listen to me either – pretty sure women are tired of being told what to do. And because ya’ll can do what you like. But let’s not take each other for granted by assuming certain behaviours from each other, or certain roles to be played this Christmas – based on gender.
Doesn’t the word don’tlook odd now.
It is not a women’s job. We are not natural at it. We don’t necessarily ‘like it’. Social conditioning is a thing.
Women (girls) are taught to run events and functions, and men (boys) are taught to enjoy them. Christmas is no exception. Christmas is the peak. Sure, everyone needs to chill out more on Christmas. To slow down, pull back on the consumerism, and to just have fun times with friends and family. But everyone has to eat, and everyone has to get together in the first place – and those things require careful, considered planning. Logistics are hard work.
Emotional labour and home-based work is for everyone. See, aren’t women sharing and caring?
Men and women can do anything and everything. And in case the load isn’t evenly shared in your household on the big day: When push comes to shove, just step outside with all the other women in the house. Have a chat, have a smoke (if you do), have a beer (if you do). Or just take long and deep breaths. See what happens.
And if you are an active man in the lead up to, and on Christmas Day – every year. Keep up the good work and spread the good gospel.
To date, 127 people have been nominated for this award, for a total of 99 videos. 11 have been women. 11/127!!!
ONE WOMAN has won in the HIStory of the awards. That was Niki Caro for Straightjacket Fits, way the hell back in 1990. Heck, there are women winning awards today, who weren’t even born then! Actual ancient HIStory. Way to role model for women today everybody.
But really. Let’s make sure that girls growing up today are not pushed out of technology, and let’s change the power structures and the bullshit bro-conomy that dominates the music industry. The production side of music is overwhelmingly male and does not represent our society fully.
How can we expect good stories to be shown through music, if women are hardly ever behind the camera or script, and if they are, they get ignored? I’m going to post video by each of the 11 nominees over the coming 11 days. SHARE THEM!!! And if you are a musician, find a woman to shoot your video next time. They’re awesome.
The HIStory is here:
1965 – Recorded Music NZ starts the ‘New Zealand Music Awards’.
1983 – The award for Best Music Video (best director) is created.
1985 – Debra Bustin nominated for ‘Krazy Legs’ (The Pelicans)
‘What a handsome boy, you must have lots of girlfriends…’
‘Gosh, those eyelashes are wasted on him, aren’t they!…’
‘You’ll have to get yourself a shot-gun when she gets older…’
‘He is always flirting with the blondes…’
‘I can just see them walking down the aisle now…’
We’ve all heard comments like these before. Kids are cute for sure, but before we get all weird on their beauty, there is something us adults need to talk about.
It is something that many of us do at a much higher frequency than we’d like to admit. Something we must all become vigilant in identifying and expert in addressing.
It is the imposition of adult romantic and sexual thoughts and behaviours on babies and young children. At all times completely unnecessary, entirely inappropriate and plain old yuck town.
Unfortunately we are almost all a bit guilty of it. If we don’t do it ourselves, we may laugh along with it, or we quietly and awkwardly ignore odd comments. Or, worse still, we simply don’t notice them at all, so deeply rooted are our sexualised, sexist bias’. They are hardened, internalised and ingrained.
Our silence or lack of intervention is our complicity in the ongoing sexist and often misogynistic socialisation of children. This may seem fairly broad sweeping, and could be applied to any number of shitty things adults do that limit and curb the development and opportunities of children, however, to keep our self-flagellation manageable, I’m just going to focus on what I’ll call ‘Yucky Adult Comments’ for now. The acronym is YAC. Like ew yac! That is yac! Did you just hear that yac over there…. and so on.
There are some things we should never say about or to children. When analysed, even just a tiny bit yacs don’t look too good at all. By definition all yacs are unseemly, at a minimum they are sexist, and in the extreme – they can be soft pornish. This is not an exaggeration, you’ll read what I mean later.
And yet, yacs just seems to roll off our well oiled, hetero-socialised, hyper sexualised and gender oppressed tongues. All. The. Time.
Saying or tolerating yacs is to essentially participate in the narrowing of our children’s own expressions of self, of their burgeoning identities and the intensely personal, yet very public exploration of their own genders, orientations and sexualities.
Here are some examples I have collected from a diverse group of concerned parents. They demonstrate the absurdity and grossness in all the ‘oh no you didn’t just yac did you’ glory.
‘Oh my goodness, they are just SO cute. Can’t you just see them on their first date?’ – said of any old 3-year-old girl and boy playing blocks with each other, or drawing at a table.
‘What a little tease’ – a toddler who isn’t interested in giving another child or adult a kiss or a cuddle.
‘That is how he shows he likes her’ – excusing a small boy who just hurt a small girl.
‘His eyes are a stunning blue, such a ladies man’ – yet the mother from whom these eyes are inherited is not labeled a ladies man.
‘That’s right, roll over and go straight to sleep like a good man’ – said within earshot of 9-year-old boy, who was snuggling by the fire with his 6-year-old female cousin.
‘Oh look, she’s trying to hold your hand, always hold a pretty girl’s hand when she offers’ – 1-year-olds learning to hold hands.
‘My grandson would be the perfect match for this little bubba’ – a random white middle-aged male wants to marry a 6 week old baby off to his grandson.
‘Are you wearing perfume? Is that for your boyfriend? You should be wearing lipstick so you can leave kisses on him’ – said an uncle to his 6-year-old niece. Who then teases the niece about boyfriends for weeks on end.
‘He’ll be a ladykiller one day’ – an astute observation of a beautiful boy
‘He’s a boobie man’ and ‘He knows where the action is at’ – a breastfeeding baby boy
‘Lock up your daughters!!’ a father leaves a comment below a picture of preschool aged friends (boy and girl) on a childcare website.
‘wow she is waxing down there already’ – 1 month old girl during a nappy change.WTF
‘you’ve pulled mate!’ – A father cheering on his boy toddler who has made friends with a similar aged girl in a hospital waiting room.
So, perhaps some of us are feeling a bit grossed out by ourselves now or worried about some things we’ve said or smiled at during playgroup this morning. Maybe your mum said it, your brother, a boss or someone in a shop, or maybe you said it! Yacs made by people we know and love, and people we’ve don’t know from a bar of soap. Yacs made by ourselves. Yac.
But why do we do it? We don’t mean to be creepy. We love kids!
Here is my postulation. We want to tell other people how we feel about babies and kids. We want to show our friends how much we love their children. Or we want to make friends with another parent at the park, and commenting on your children playing together seems like a good way in.
I totally get it, we love them, they are incredible. Somehow us people are able to create beings much more than the sum of our own parts. We are so excited for them. We are hopeful about their futures. About the parts of our own lives that will move forward with them. It can be hard not to get ahead of ourselves, of themselves. Imagining, planning and plotting even – the next day, the following month, their first day at college, their first love.
But, we need to stop interfering with how their selves develop, how their personal identities form. And we certainly don’t need to get involved in how their romantic and sexual interests in other people develop as they grow. This is not our business.
The overlaying of adult assumptions of gender, or what we might think of as cute throw away remarks, or some kind of compliment in the form of yacs – have massive impacts, because children copy adults. They hear and see it all. The good and the not so good.
Children listen to what we say. They believe us. We weld a power over children greater than we know. They are extremely impressionable and they desperately want to please us. For the most part, they will do what they think we want them to do, they may even strive to be who we see them to be. They desperately want to be approved of. More specifically, they want to fit in – so they actively seek clues of how they should behave. How a boy should act, what a girl should do. What a girl or boy is. So what are the boxes we are constructing for them to live in?
This is what children understand when we yac at them.
Gender is fixed and society defines it for you.
Boys are active agents, girls are passive eye candy.
Boys pursue girls and they have to put up with the attention.
Boys and men are predators
Boys are a ‘good bloke’ or ‘great little man’
Girls will always be girls, small, little, ineffectual
Heteronormativity – the assumption that boys will eventually be attracted to girls and vice versa
Normalisation of and the acceptance of the pressure to perform, or provide physical services for others, such as hugs and kisses.
Gender power dynamics, whereby boys just can’t control themselves when it comes to girls and helping themselves to more than their share (boys will be boys) and are naturally stronger and bolder etc. And that girls have no power so have nothing to control.
That girls ambitions in life should be limited to looking nice, pleasing others and getting married and having babies.
That boys purpose in life is to provide and protect (while simultaneously perusing and attacking girls – an oxymoron I’ve never understood)
and the list goes on…..
Ok, so now we can read between the lines a bit better. But what do to when we hear these remarks and aren’t sure what to say – when it is socially awkward, which it usually is.
– ‘Oh give them a break, they are only 5 years old, plenty of time for them to make their own decisions
-‘How do you know? She might want a handsome bride when she grows up’
– ‘They don’t even know what genders they are yet, they are infants!’
– ‘No, I really don’t want to imagine that, my kid is only 18 months old, I’m happy for them to be a toddler just now’
– ‘She may well want to achieve more in life than just marriage’
– ‘Long eyelashes are for everyone’
Or just call it as it is:
– ‘Ewww, they are 3, not 18’
– ‘Don’t ever combine soft porn images with a nappy change routine’
– ‘So you really want your son to be a women beating polygamist when he grows up do you?’
Instead of all this – make it clear to our children that they don’t have to put up with unwanted attention or discrimination in any form, or anything at all that makes them feel yuck. This includes crude yacs from adults.
Let us make sure that we show our children them we love them unreservedly. Ensure that they will be accepted as whoever they are. And that whomever they love will also be cherished.
Lastly, should you feel a yac coming on, bin it and simply acknowledge whatever it is that the kids are doing, and even throw in some praise and encouragement.
‘Nice one you two, you are walking so nicely inside together while holding hands’
Everyone views the world through their own particular lenses, which are constructed by their many personal experiences and understandings of the world. My world is viewed through gender and inequality radar-goggles.There is a fair amount to see through these goggles at the moment.
The capitalist-patriarchal world we live in only serves a few – that is: all men and especially middle and upper class white men.
Power is concentrated at levels never seen before, entirely avoidable poverty is rampant, environments world over are sacrificed for momentary whims of ‘modern living’ and monetary greed. Women and their children are found at the bottom of the heap – time and time again. This is a major concern of mine. Because, I am a women. I have children. And 51% of the world are women (or however they identify themselves to be, by this I mean not cis-male). Believe it or not, we were all children once. Also, many of us are likely to have children ourselves.
Then, and this is where it gets wild, children become adults, and that is how humans make more humans. Thus we should all be concerned. We should all be feminist.
Still I’m really confused as to why some people don’t identify as feminist, or reject the need for or notion of feminism completely. Far too many people just opt out. Either because they can or because they do not know (we don’t know until we know, right?). Dangerously, for those who ‘can’ it is because they are not directly effected by the ills of the world, by oppression or injustice, or at least they think they aren’t. Patriarchy is designed in their favour, or mabye they choose to ignore it?
I don’t know all the reasons that people find feminism a hard pill to swallow. But one thing I know for sure is the media and our own systems, such as the education system, mislead us. We are raised to believe that, at least in the western world, or the ‘developed’ world, we are now all equal. There is a woman CEO, and Helen Clark might be the UN something a rather. Naaw, that is just so nice. I’ve only just heard the news. I’ll stop all my whingeing now. JUST KIDDDDDDDING. Check our history…..we have come a long way, yes, but there is a long road still to march.
Now, some people don’t identify as feminist and fight capitalism and patriarchy because they are far to busy SURVIVING. Kind of hard to figure out why you are living in a rubbish dump with your children, if you actually live on the scraps of humanity. Or why, despite your absolute best efforts, and the hardest of work, you are still living in a car in New Zealand. There are simply more important and urgent things to do. The oppressed are just that. Oppressed. It is really hard to fight back, or to even know that there is a struggle going on, if your immediate, base human needs are not being met. This is how capitalism and patriarchy are designed. This is how it works. Power and resources to the few, scraps for everyone else, and if anyone complains, chuck em’ a bone. Or shut them up completely (round up the activitists, throw away the key!)
Here are a few other ideas I have as to why people avoid feminism.
They think it makes them seem aggressive or unattractive
They think they have a good lot in life, and that everyone just needs to try their best to achieve freedom/equality/equity and so on
OR they don’t understand the language used in feminist or political discussion
Now, this is where I want to Flip the Script. Language is a massive barrier for so many people. Illiteracy is a massive problem in shutting millions out of the conversation (and must be the subject of another post entirely). Even if you are literate – language can remain an obstacle. I know this from discussions with friends about feminism. The blank stares and replies of ‘ahhh’ say it all. I am sorry if I ever contribute to this, I’m sure I do. I said cis-male in the third paragraph for goodness sake.
I want to remedy this, and collaborate with you all.
Here is an absolutely non-exhaustive list of some amazing vocabulary that I believe we all need to wrap our brains and tongues around. It is collated from the ideas of many feminists, and not necessarily always my own – it is a moving beast. Please, hit me back in the comments if you would like to add to this list. It was first published by Freerange Press in 2015…. you can download the journal it first appeared in, at the same time as making a $5 donation to the Women’s Refugee. Win win!
Say what? Feminist, queer and revolutionary vocabulary
Some say it is about the equality or equity of the sexes, but when ‘sex’ isn’t that simple – and there is more than ‘man’ and ‘woman’ in this world – you see that feminism is rather complex! It is a movement and analysis that recognises the inseparable combinations that exist between patriarchy, cis-male (“status quo-male”) privilege, capitalism, homophobia and white privilege to name a few. It is the knowledge that these combinations form political, social and economic power structures, which create injustices for and oppress non cis-male people. Feminism is a lens in which to view and understand the world – a vehicle for change.
Patriarchy describes male-dominated power structures, which permeate throughout organised society, in political systems as well as in individual relationships. It is systemic bias against women and non cis-male people. Patriarchy can be recognised as the intuitions and companies that are run in the majority by men that mostly benefit men; where taking maternity leave or breastfeeding a baby at work is a problem; where being a transsexual makes using the toilets an issue. Patriarchy is also a family group or community controlled by powerful men – fathers and grandfathers who give more privilege to boys and men in that group.
Patriarchy is a world that benefits cis-men over everyone else. Patriarchy describes male-dominated power structures, which permeate throughout organised society, in political systems as well as in individual relationships. It is systemic bias against women and non cis-male people. Patriarchy can be recognised as the intuitions and companies that are run in the majority by men that mostly benefit men; where taking maternity leave or breastfeeding a baby at work is a problem; where being a transsexual makes using the toilets an issue. Patriarchy is also a family group or community controlled by powerful men – fathers and grandfathers who give more privilege to boys and men in that group. Patriarchy is a world that benefits cis-men over everyone else.
Gender essentialism is such a commonly held belief that most people wouldn’t know they hold it. It drives many unconscious behaviours and forms the basis of most patriarchal, misogynistic and sexist actions, arguments and discussions. It is the basic idea that men and women act in inherently different ways and as such have different options in life because of intrinsic biological differences between the genders.
Gender essentialism often excuses gender-based oppressions and discriminations in societies, such as what roles parents play, what jobs people hold, expectations held of each other and skill bases. Gender essentialism simultaneously reinforces gender stereotypes, while being informed by them. Gender essentialism relies on the perpetuation of a binary, polarised world, free of ambiguity, where two neat tidy genders exist and know their place in the world.
‘Cis’ (pronounced ‘sis’) is Latin for ‘on the side of’ and is the antonym to ‘trans’ meaning ‘on the other side/across from’. Cis-male and cis-female people are those who feel there is a match between their assigned birth sex and the gender they feel themselves to be, in contrast to transsexual people. The term was created so cis-men and cis-women aren’t seen as the normal standard from which everyone else deviates, whereby people such as transsexuals and LBGTIQ would be viewed as abnormal.
LGBT – LGBTI – LGBTIQ – These initials mean ‘Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/sexual, Intersex, Queer’, and represent the diversity in sexualities, genders and cultures that are subject to discrimination, persecution and violence globally. They can also be used to refer to someone who is non-heterosexual/cis-gendered.
To quote Mani Mitchell: ‘Intersex is a medical umbrella term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.’
A dislike, ingrained prejudice and/or contempt of women which can manifest in numerous ways, including sexual discrimination, violence against women and the sexual objectification of women.
Oppressed, repressed or suppressed?
To oppress is to keep a person or group powerless by unjust force or authority. To repressis to hold back by coercion, or hold down by force. Suppression meansto put an end to, to inhibit, andto keep from being revealed (knowledge or recognition for example). These are some of patriarchy’s best-prized tools in the power tool kit.
The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different groups of people, usually based on the grounds of race, age, or sex or sexuality.
First wave feminism
Feminism initially emerged from the Western world to the backdrop of the age of the Enlightenment (1650s – 1780s) when analysis, reason and the individualistic thinking of philosophers and scientists challenged traditional authorities of the Church and Throne. Debates around women, colonialism and slavery abound, however women were almost entirely kept from the table, creating a pro-male movement. Then came the intense industrialisation of the West in the 1800s, starting in Europe. For women this meant further burden in addition to childbearing and mammoth Victorian work loads running small holdings and households; women and children now also worked in factories and businesses, but had none of the rights afforded to men to safeguard their working conditions, politics of the day or land and sexual rights.
Fed up with their lot, women of the Commonwealth and America demanded change. The defining struggle for the first wave was women winning the battle for the vote. The suffragette movement officially started in America at the Seneca Falls Convention, 1848, but New Zealand was the first country where all women could vote in 1893, followed by America in 1920 and Britain in 1928. This was feminism by and for the white middle and upper-class women and their families. For this reason the second wave was born.
Second wave feminism
Loosely framed by the civil rights movement and anti-Vietnam War protests of the 1960s through to the neoliberal politics of the 1980s and 1990s, the second wave sought emancipation and equality for women on the basis of economics, sexuality and politics. There was a growing recognition of the multiple oppressions and battles that women faced in this wave. Where black women, lesbian women and indigenous women from all around the world had been left out of the equation, there was now some representation for them in feminism. Connections were made between broad political structures such as capitalism, war, patriarchy and heteronormativity, as well as the roles of women as wives and mothers. Sex and gender were differentiated as a biological base and social constructs. Sexuality and reproductive rights became central issues. The women’s struggle was associated with the class struggle, the personal was now political, and everyone was invited to bang a drum on the march.
Third wave feminism
Although many legal and institutional rights had now been granted to women as a result of the second wave, the 1990s children of the second wave feminists had something else to say. Informed by post-colonial and post-modern thinking, they wanted changes in media representation of women and of gender stereotyping. The focus shifted from what was good for all women, based on the personal being political, to ‘micro-politics’, where women were encouraged to use their own personal identities to define what being a feminist meant to them. A woman could wear lipstick and high heels, run a boardroom and still be a feminist. Language such as ‘slut’ and ‘bitch’, deemed misogynistic in the second wave, was reclaimed in order to suffocate sexist language.
The fourth wave
Has it arrived and when? It is differentiated from its predecessors by its use of the internet. The fourth wave’s creation-in-action is evidenced online in forums, blogs, social media and clicktavism causes. The third wave’s increasing intersectionality has brought all sorts of individuals and groups into the frame and to the screen. There is no one experience, no one feminism. However, the fourth wave also looks back to the second to inform its arguments about the state of the world, a world controlled by patriarchal capitalists and run by the West, taking into account issues such as climate change, severe poverty and systemic racism.
Intersectionality describes the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, classism, ageism etc.) are all interconnected and cannot be seen, challenged or unravelled separately. This concept first came from Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, and helps us to understand the complexities of individual experience and systemic oppressions.
For as many women as there are in the world, there are arguably as many feminisms. Check them out sometime! Eco-feminism, Marxist, socialist, mana wahine, radical, liberal, post-modern, post-structural, anarcha-fem, new age, black, womanist, separatist, cultural, lesbian, Chicana, standpoint, libertarian……feminism to name a few.
Heteronormativity are the actions of a gender essentialist’s ideal world, one in which men and women fall into distinct categories with clear roles and expectations, where heterosexuality is the norm reinforced in power structures such as legislation and the media.
Attitudes, bias and discriminations that favour opposite sex relationships and heteronormativity. It is based on the presumption that people are heterosexual – the expected ‘superior’ norm.
The powerful combination of a heterosexual bias society run by a patriarchy. Most nation-states and ruling classes could be described as such. From America to Saudi Arabia, from New Zealand to Indonesia. Where straight men rule the roost.
Where people socialise with their own gender most of the time, or in certain situations such as work or sports teams. Homosocialisation reinforces gender stereotypes, gender roles, gendered division of time, education and work. It is self-perpetuating.
An acronym for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. Feminists who state that trans-women aren’t really women, thinking the only women are those born with a vagina and XX chromosomes. Gender essentialists through and through.
Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminism, which opposes women’s participation in prostitution and pornography. Swerfs sometimes and often unintentionally, do not include sex-workers in conversations and debate.
An internet troll/trolling
Someone who finds pleasure in seeking opportunities to disrupt and derail discussions and debates in online forums, blogs and social media. For the fun of pointless argument, and sometimes more sinisterly, to meaninglessly detract attention from important conversations.
When the audience is constructed from the perspective of heterosexual men. The male gaze is so powerful in media that it now dictates the content of most mainstream films, TV, music videos and advertisements. Men are situated as the watchers, women as watched; men active, women passive. Buy the product, get the girl or be the girl. Think car ads, female roles in action films, central-main characters on TV and superheros.
Rape culture as a term is designed to show the ways in which society blames victims of sexual assault and normalises male sexual violence. It is a culture that encourages boys and men to be macho and aggressive, and girls and women to be submissive and compliant. A society that allows a quarter of women and girls to be raped or sexually assaulted, and 1/6 of men and boys. Where 3 per cent of rapists are jailed after just 6 per cent of rapes and assaults are ever reported. A social culture in which rape jokes and cat calls are heard and normalised, where the male gaze pervades pop music and the visual arts. Where children are sexualised by clothing and toy companies. Rape culture has implications for all and is everyone’s issue regardless of gender.
There has been a lot of discussion lately in the New Zealand press, entertainment and social media worlds, about the rampant and insidious sexism and misogyny in our music industry. I would like to pay particular thanks to Alex Casey and Duncan Greive of the Spinoff right now. Not only have they been doing a stellar job of supporting many women in exposing the revolting predatory and illegal behaviour of Andrew Tidball (Cheese on Toast) – at the extreme end of the spectrum – but also in providing a platform for women in the scene to tell it how it is for them in the industry in a much more mundane day-to-day kind of a way. This was all so familiar, Emily Edrosa.
Just as in any other sector of society, any corner of our many cultures or our own complicated personal relationships, in any work place or sphere of life at all. Sexism is at play.
I’ve got a lot to say on this topic and am so grateful that music and sexism has become a common topic of conversation around the traps lately. It hasn’t always been my best conversation starter. But some people are cooler than others, and these two are particularly outstanding – and were willing to talk to me.
So, here is a piece I put together in 2015. Hard times and adversity aside, there is so much goodness in the music industry, a lot of it from many industrious women. I want everyone to know how much harder women often have to work in order to achieve what they want. Let us all take a trip in these women’s shoes, and take a moment to ask ourselves ‘where are all the women in the scene?’ and ‘why’? ‘Should there not be more of them’?
Women and non-cis men are people, and they make music. Simple right? Hmm, not always. Please, enjoy this conversation as I did. There are some gems in it.
Melody Thomas and Estère Dalton talk with Flip That Script
(this interview originally appeared in ‘Freerange Vol.10: Feminism and Technology Wor(l)ds, July 2015 – get that article and the whole journal for free at Freerange Press)
Melody Thomas, Radio New Zealand broadcaster and journalist, met with producer and singer Estère Dalton and myself, a songwriter, writer and feminist, on a sunny, still autumn morning. As we converged in a Newtown kitchen from different corners of Wellington city, conversation quickly turned to the music industry. Melody recounts an article about Björk we’ve both recently read, detailing Björk’s constant battle to be recognised as the producer of her own music in the male-dominated industry. One question that she is commonly confronted with – ‘Who produces your music?’ – instantly reinforces gender stereotypes and downplays her abilities. Estère understands – she deals with the same assumptions about her music.
Flip That Script – What does feminism mean to you and what place does it have in your life?
Estère – To me it means equality of opportunity and respect.
Melody – It’s exactly the same for me. In my life, that practice is mostly to do with my daughter, raising her so that she is aware of those things.
FTS to M – What place do you see feminism holding in your professional life as a broadcaster and journalist.
M – Having a feminist base gives me a lot of courage when asking for what I want, not holding back and believing that I can do those things. Within the organisation at Radio New Zealand there are a few really inspiring women, and I get a real buzz knowing these women are there if I need them, to reach out and ask advice.
FTS – Research shows all the areas that wrap around music, broadcasting, media and publicity are horizontally and vertically segregated. Vertically you will see the powerful structures at the top dominated by men, down to the cleaners of organisations who are most likely to be women. Horizontally men and women congregate together in gendered areas, such as women more often being publicists, the pretty voice and face of organisations.
M – That’s interesting because one of the first things we were taught from the beginning at broadcasting school, when we are learning how to speak on radio, is that people find women’s vocal frequencies agitating to the ear – we are taught to lower our voices!
E – In respected news media, there is a common tendency with presenters for an equal ratio of men and women. I don’t know about behind the scenes.
M – Television is different though isn’t it, because all those women are really good looking, a nice conventionally attractive face, nothing too abrasive so you just soak up what they are saying.
E – You could say that about the men too, except for the older guys.
M – I don’t know – we were watching the news the other day and a particularly ‘interesting’-looking male New Zealand reporter came on, and it occurred to me that if he were a woman he might not be given the platform he has been. I also remember reading about a male news presenter last year, who wore the same cheap suit everyday as a test, because his female partner got letters daily about what she was wearing, mostly being criticised. It was a year before anyone noticed.
FTS – Estère, do you see feminism playing out in you life?
E – Definitely when it comes to being represented as a musician or producer as opposed to just a singer. That is something that I am very aware of and put a lot of emphasis on, or else I feel it will get washed away (being a producer). There are just so many more men sitting in their bedrooms, making music.
M – We have a friend staying from England, and I showed him your video last night, he said it was so cool to see girls play instruments.
E – It is so cool
M – Yeah, but I wish it wasn’t like that, ‘Wow look at that woman playing the guitar’.
E – Like seeing Sheep Dog Wolf play yesterday, and the female bass player, I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
M – And a girl on a horn as well . . . fuck, I wish it wasn’t like that.
E – And there are gendered instruments – you’re more likely to see a girl on horn instruments. I would say that saxophone is middle ground.
FTS – When people talk about women playing instruments, it’s mentioned: ‘the female drummer’ and so on. On the one hand it’s good to draw attention to women playing, but should it even have to be mentioned?
M – It would be nice if we lived in a world where it didn’t have to be mentioned. But for the 10-year-old girl, I think it should be said.
E – Yes it needs to be emphasised. It would lead to more active movement towards the end goal if it is talked about and highlighted.
FTS – If you are in a band of female players, a ‘girl band’, and labelled as such, how would you feel Estère?
E – It depends on the capacity. If it was just a girl band because of having only women in it, then that is stupid – guys wouldn’t get that label. Only if there are five singers out the front, like with boy bands. Only if it is equal.
M – It’s interesting though, because it’s a great marketing tool, like you were saying in your TED talk that while the female musician thing really grates you, it’s also given you opportunities, a selling point, people want you in their magazine.
FTS – What do you say to the rise of home recording, and demystification of the recording process, meaning that women now have greater access to creating music without having to rely on boys clubs in studios? Could this be interpreted as being ‘re-segregated’ into a lower status of music production rather than being assimilated into the recording industry?
E – The world is much more open and easier to explore, so I don’t think the home studio is any less…
M – I think the rise of home recording has demystified the recording process for men and women alike, and that anyone who sees home-recorded music as lower status is trying to hold onto an old model that is increasingly redundant. If it sounds good, what’s the difference?
E – My question is how do men get to that position where they are sitting in the engineer’s studio producing music for other people? Because I want to do that! I think that studio production is seen as a more polished way of doing it, but it’s becoming more and more redundant.
M – With his first Unknown Mortal Orchestra album I’m pretty sure Ruban Nielson recorded a lot of his vocals at home into a dictaphone, and his second was all in a home studio too. Flying Lotus does it all in his home, although with heaps of flash gear.
E – But there are no female producers with his (Flying Lotus) status at that level. There are definitely more male beatmakers and producers out there. I think this is due to a lack of role models – women don’t really associate themselves as much with the beats/producer culture in comparison to their male counterparts. That being said, there are still some girls out there representing.
FTS –What is your experience of collaborating with others, finding people to work with?
M – I’m lucky with Music 101, we are mostly women. But interestingly, I sometimes feel very much like I am the only one looking out for myself, like there is this unnecessary competition. And I’m guilty of it! Another producer came on-board recently and I caught myself diminishing her and her work, and actively had to stop myself. It’s almost as if you feel like there are only so many places for women in the industry and you don’t want to give yours up. What a sad state of affairs that is! I’d be curious to know if men feel like they have to protect their place.
E – Good point, I’d say the same for me.
FTS to E – If there are three bands in a gig, and only one woman in the mix, she will stick out more, and get more relative criticism. Do you feel you have to work harder to get to where you are, because you are so visible as a beatmaker?
E – People are surprised by my beats, impressed by the beats. I really like making beats and I’m confident. I have very clear musical vision and I don’t really care what anyone else thinks in terms of that capacity. You need to hold on to that, you can be affected by things about musicianship, being a female. When I hang around with heaps of boys that went to jazz school, cause I don’t know any theory, I just retain my faith in my own musical abilities. I know what I like. I’m not going to let insecurity compromise that.
M – I am going to start working with a new presenter soon, a man who has years of experience, and I feel like I’m in way over my head but I’m just going ahead with it anyway hoping that I’ll pass the test.
E – I don’t think that guys feel like this too, none of this ‘I don’t know what I am going to do, or doing’.
FTS – Do you think that women are more uncertain . . . second-guess themselves?
E – It’s constructed that they would. Not only is it a reality they are given far fewer role models and are less encouraged, girls and boys are brought up in gender constructs, like going out and playing trucks and climbing trees. Females are encouraged to be analytical. I don’t think that same culture exists around men. Stopping themselves and starting again.
M – I’ve read somewhere that women are less likely to do something they don’t think they’ll succeed at, to even try.
FTS – What were you both interested in and encouraged to do as children?
M – I was interested in writing and music, I wrote stories all the time and played around on whatever instrument I could get my hands on (though we never had any at home). A big part of my confidence comes from growing up on a farm with a really ungendered upbringing. I don’t even remember feeling like a girl as a child. Jumping in rivers and rescuing lambs!
E – I liked to read and to make things, like sculptures out of old flower stems. I liked singing.
And with visions of Estère and Melody as lamb-rescuing, countryside-wandering flower sculptors, our interesting conversation abruptly comes to an end. My baby has woken from her nap. Her cries and our coos intermingle on my Garageband interview as chatter turns from the music industry to a cute baby.