You’re Not a Princess, Dearie.

So my friend just sent me a link to this article on Daily Life about a girls’  school’s recruitment campaign:

http://www.dailylife.com.au/health-and-fitness/dl-wellbeing/youre-not-a-princess-school-ad-campaign-goes-viral-20131117-2xoi6.html

I’m not a fan of it.

According to the Daily Life article, the campaign addresses middle-school girls, telling them “You’re Not a Princess”, “Don’t Wait for a Prince”, “Be able to Rescue Yourself”, “Life’s Not a Fairytale”, “Prepare for Real Life.”

That last one, sure, I can get behind. The rest of the slogans set my teeth on edge, for several reasons.

Firstly, the majority of fairytales are peopled with, and were once told by, clever, resourceful, creative, and ruthless peasant women, not princessess!

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Even in the staid collections of the Brothers Grimm, there are lots and lots of fairytales with resourceful trickster heroines that get themselves into and out of trouble.

These girls – and not just girls, older women and mothers too – are dirt-poor peasants, who sometimes, as a result of their machinations, manage to become princesses, or just as often, queens, as a social, sexual, and financial reward for their adventures.

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I for one would love to see some of the traditional oral and  literary tales that features gutsy, amoral heroines come back into our use of the word “fairytale”.

Secondly, how empowering is this message really? Does it actually situate the girl at the heart of the adventure?

“Be able to Rescue Yourself” puts the girl in the traditional role of victim, with the reversal only as the second part of the story. This is a slight improvement, but there are better models of narrative (in fairytales themselves!)

What about “Cause the Trouble in the First Place?” “Rescue the Other Girls”? “Capture the Golden Apple First”? “Convince the Sausage to Jump into the Pot”?

Also, thank-you self-congratulatory grown-ups for letting the women of tomorrow know they have the option to reject the option of waiting for a prince. BE MORE PATRONISING.

Assuring girls that they don’t need to wait for a prince has the effect of reminding them that that’s supposed to be their default … maybe give them some credit for the fact that of course that wasn’t their life plan.

Finally, I can’t help but feel unconvinced by the fact that it is a Catholic school behind the ads. Is a school controlled by an institution that is anti-safe-sex and anti-reproductive-freedom and anti-women-in-power REALLY very likely to be the best place for a young woman to learn and grow?

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Fuck off, Fred Nile.

In my career as a feminist so far, I’ve often found it hard to get past my own emotion about the issues I’m confronted with. It’s hard to take a step past that the visceral fear of seeing someone planning to take away my rights over my body, hard to move beyond the battling emotions that very physical sense of being threatened evokes. In other words, it’s hard to stop swearing a blue streak, and actually move into action.

When I sat down to read Fred Nile’s second reading speech introducing his proposed Zoe’s Law, which will be voted on in the NSW Parliament on Thursday – well, this tweet captures my initial response.

Fuck Off

My response to Nile and those like him tends to be emotional, visceral, expletive.

But today, I did get over that first reaction, long enough to do some actual research and writing about it. The post, Personhood, Foetal Rights, and Fred Nile’s Sideswipe at Abortion is over at the F collective blog, go visit an have a read.

I read a lot of stuff for this post; I am in particular indebted to the awesome Rachael Watts, and her article “Foetal homicide laws set up a competing set of rights for women”,  published on The Drum. In contrast to my steady stream of “fuck off”, “oh fuck off” while I was reading the anti-choicers, there’s this whole paragraph in her article, which instead made me go: “Fuck yeah!” This is what Watts writes:

“Assault on a woman is the result of someone else’s choice to be violent. Defining a foetus as a person does not address that choice. Women should not have to be deferential to society about the functions of their bodies. Women should know that should someone inflict violence upon her, pregnant or not, they will be dealt with seriously not because of a foetus within her, but because she has the same right as anyone else to live in peace and without fear.”

-Rachel Watts “Foetal homicide laws set up a competing set of rights for women”, 15 March 2012,  The Drum

Photoshop is almost as satisfying as swearing

Photoshop is almost as satisfying as swearing

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One of One Billion

Dancers' FeetYesterday, I participated in One Billion Rising, a demonstration staged in many countries around the world on the 14th of February to protest violence against women.

In Sydney we were one of the first groups of women and men to begin the dance, which right now (according to my twitter feed) is sweeping around the globe.

While we didn’t see one-third of the population of Sydney’s women, there were many women and men gathered outside St Mary’s Cathedral and some of us were starting to dance – to the EXCELLENT mix – just before 1pm. At 1:30 pm, we all danced together (or thereabouts) as we attempted to copy the dancers in front of us!

It was certainly a strange way to dance – I didn’t end up running into anyone I knew, so I was there, on the street, dancing by myself in a crowd of strangers, with my laptop in my handbag & a sunhat crammed on my head. I might have hung out on the edge of the crowd, but there were people filming and taking photos all over the place, and I wanted anyone who covered the event to see me dancing, to see all of us dancing, transforming silence and emotion into unrestricted, defiant, joyful bodily movement. So I dumped by laptop bag on the ground in front of me, nodded in appreciation as Aretha Franklin came on, and danced – and oh how different from getting up to dance by yourself at a club! Everytime I met someone’s eye I got a supportive, cheerful grin.

I have to admit there was a very uncanny mix of determination, anger, emotion, and joy to everyone’s faces, it is strange after all to dance & think about the overwhelming statistics of gender-directed violence, to think about the protests about to happen around the world where women who joined in this same dance were risking bodily integrity, risking their safety, while we in Sydney were really only representing that risk, at least in the public space of our dance. I was trying very hard not to cry (bad enough to be dancing alone in the middle of the crowd, but weeping alone too?), but then when we finished our dance, I saw I wasn’t the only one smiling in tears.

Although there were plenty of people filming & taking photographs, I did wonder whether that the idea of a protest as a demonstration in front of the media – as something staged so it could be recorded – meant that many victims of violence could not attend the event, out of fear that they would be photographed and identified? I certainly wasn’t sure whether people would be comfortable about me taking photos of them and putting them up on my blog without permission.

So I took photos not of faces, but of feet. As a mundane detail of the women-dominated dance protest, I enjoyed the mulitude of handbags that got discarded on the ground – you can probably see a few.

Here are some of the feet that were dancing around me, declaring with decided steps that end to all violence against women is a goal we must achieve.

Dancing Sneakers

Dancing in Red

More Dancing Feet

Dancing Feet

Dancing sandals

Legs and feet

Dancing Heels

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Settling in in Sydney

My favourite fashion blogger, the sequin cat, mentioned recently that this month is          No Excuses November in blog-land. My current, just-as-of-this-evening excuses include: I am using my (new!) smartphone as a wifi hotspot and it keeps dropping out; I am quite uncomfortable sitting up in bed (which is the only place we have for sitting) because we only have three pillows and J has two of them which is fair enough since he started watching REPO the Genetic Opera ago), I probabaly should be either unpacking some more, or, going to sleep early so I can get up early, and unpack some more, and I am exhausted from the week/day/last couple hours of doing dishes.
MOVING IS HUGE.
I spent so much time planning and thinking and imagining each step of our move, but my imagination focused very obsessively on certain details – where all the stuff I wanted to get rid of would end up, what going-to-job-interviews clothes I had, how I should “sell” us to the real estate agents as Perfect Tenants – but I don’t think I ever pulled the mental camera back and thought about just how much there is, how everything an interstate move is, and how ongoing it is.

The world is very topsy-turvy at the moment: doing the grocery shopping is thrilling; each load of laundry is deeply, comfortingly satisfying; and having to remember to enjoy the pool or decide to wander leisurely around a farmer’s market is suddenly stressful.

Last night we walked up to the train & went a very cool (ie small) number of stops to get into town. I definitely had the most fun just walking along the street, people watching & enjoying being part of the night, but I also enjoyed my glass of wine at the fairy-lit Winery, which being uber-trendy was packed, but had such a nice garden that Jason & I were quite happy just standing in a corner observing the skyline and drinking our surprisingly sour white “Sauvign”. J was entertained by my pocket list of Sydney fashion trends: colourful tight pants, big chunky necklaces, lots of bracelets, flat shoes, lots of blue, lots of white. “Flat shoes?” he said, looking around. And, OK, there weren’t really any at the Winery.

We rejected Mexican (a good call, I think) and pizza for Thai food because really, if you’re going to buy food out why not buy the MOST DELICIOUS and I had the most delicious Pad Thai. But my enjoyment in my meal was spoilt, utterly, by the cigarette smoke blowing directly from the outside garden through the small restaurant. I am always so embarrased and upset when I have to get up periodically & go outside to gulp the air and get over feeling sick, and when I can’t help but drop my fork and gasp disgusted when a particularly strong gust hits me. As has happened many times before I was almost crying with the frustration of having a lovely – and expensive- meal absolutely ruined, but I never quite feel allowed to be angry, even though I am angry, at how someone else’s choice, and the restraunt owner’s indifference, can interfere with & kinda wreck a total stranger’s night. I’m always especially angry that the smoker never knows what a horrible horrible time they’re forcing me to have, and angry too that I’m the one that ends up embarrased (& my dining partner too) and I’m the one that so obviously annoys anyone who notices my reaction. But at the same time, it’s equally not cool for me to make it the cigarette smoker’s problem. And I’ve never had anything but hostility from cafe owners or waitstaff when I ask to move or for the door to be closed or for the law that says the smoker can’t be within 5 metres of the entrance of the eating place actually to be enforced.  So, as a result, this is my feelings here, in my blog, because frustrated feelings of having no forum for complaints is the true origin story of the Internet (Maybe not the factual or historical one, but the true explanation in terms of human nature).
At any rate, I did manage to finish my meal, because the happily unconscious smokers finished their cigarettes, and luckily I’m not actually asthmatic, so I recovered before J ate all my tofu. Next time will make sure to pick somewhere that has no outside.

We spent the next hour or so walking off our full stomachs and looking for another bar in a pretty desultory fashion, but in very snooty manner decided not to bother when the pub we eventually did scoot into turned out not to have a wine list. Their exact words were, “You can see the bottles behind the counter.”

I fell asleep on the train on the way home, half-way through a twitter conversation (hi bogurk!). Sydney trains are warm and comfortable (especially when you’ve been drinking wine and walking around and around and around in the cool night breeze).

And then we came home to our BED (spare-room mattress sitting on the floor) and it even had my doona on it, which I’d found in a box earlier that day, and meant to hang out to air, but then there it was all dusty and snuggly.

No matter how nice I am about wine lists set out by varietal or breathable air in Oxford Street restraunts, I am sincerely, unpretentiously grateful to have shelter. I love my bed, in a comfortable, lazy, luxuriating way, but also understand with great preciseness how fortunate I am to have my comfortable, dry, clean, secure place to sleep, and be able to get my clothes clean & dry, & leave my things & not worry about them. I guess it is the great upheaval of moving that really brings home home. The essentials of basic food and shelter and soap are luxuries, too. I have been enjoying them that way, lately, with gratitude and relief that they’re available seasoning my more usual hedonism.

It may be a flavour that immatures as the acquisitive and indulgent season of Christmas draws near…

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What TV taught me to expect from “college”…

In Community, Abed Nadir puts together a bucket list of classic college experiences, obviously based on classic college movies Abed has seen. I haven’t seen “Animal House”, which according to both a character on the show and a brief scan of reviews of this ep is one of the films Abed is referencing. I actually don’t get many of the other references either, but the idea definitely resonates with me.

Below I have put together my Classic Uni Experiences bucket list, based on my viewing of popular-culture universities – although I guess I should say “college”, because I can only think of two movies set at university that were based in Australia (that one about the guy’s Mum who is diagnosed with Alzheimers and goes back to uni and that looking for Alibrandi movie (although I guess in “Looking for Alibrandi” they just visit the unis they are going to go to after year 12 if they don’t commit suicide because teen issues).

I have put together a list of quintessential college experiences based on television series and movies set in college or uni. Can you guess which ones?

Laurie’s Abed’s College “Bucket List”

1. Have a run-in with a bitchy clique that hasn’t yet realised that bitchy cliques are a mark of immaturity and need to remain in high school.

2. Help your high-school classmates into roles at plausible university clubs and organisations that equate to their roles in the social groups of highschool.

3. Meet-cute a shy intellectual with a passionate political interest.

4. Go to a bar where you run into other classmates and where you can hear well enough to use high-level intellectual debate to jockey for social position.

5. Drink too much beer.

6. Wear a toga.

7. Find a body.

8. Become an investigative journalist for the school paper.

9. Meet-cute a shy intellectual with inherited magical power.

10. Find out that the leader of the bitchy clique is a vampire. So it’s OK to kill her. Problem solved.

11. Drop literary and pop-culture references into your conversation that are instantly recognised and responded to by the person you’re talking to, even if you have only just met them and they are not the same age as you.

12. Put up a banner above a staircase while standing on a stepladder (possible setting for the meet-cute).

13. Go to a lecture about mythology and/or magic which turns out to have been delivered by a practicing witch or magician. She/he will offer you magical aid later on.

14. Become briefly romantically entangled with a hot guy who is later the key suspect/witness in a crime you have to solve.

15. Discover that fraternities are populated by the wealthy, misogynistic and rapey sons of wealthy, misogynistic and rapey politicians and businessmen.

16. Wonder why even though the fraternity guys are surprisingly explicit and overt about their rapey intentions and misogynistic and elitist views, they still somehow manage to attract hordes of conventionally attractive, skimpily dressed, vacuous looking young women who you never end up having a conversation with to find out why the hell they would talk to, let alone accept drinks from, these overtly objectionable menfolk. (Seriously, Shows, if only four women on campus seem to care whether the guys on campus believe women are people, you are not really providing much of a critique).

17. Find an underground passageway on the university campus.

18. Attempt to free live animals from a science lab, only to accidentally discover a conspiracy in which the unknowing test subjects are HUMAN BEINGS… and narrowly escape with your life.

19. Actually call someone “Professor” while speaking to them.

20. Be able to find (and afford) delicious-looking takeaway junk food at all hours of the night.

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Frugal Fun

On Sunday, I invited friends and family (and some family of friends) over to our house for a “Book Swap”. Given my history of frantically cooking army-loads of food  as people are still arriving, and then spending the rest of the party setting it out, I didn’t do too badly. I relied on the leek-and-onion quiche I knew was in the freezer; the also-frozen chocolate cupcakes leftover from two batches of hospitality the week before, and the relative speed of scones. Beautiful fruit and purple muffins were also provided by E and M, so we had a feast!

I had spent the night before setting up the house to look as much like a second-hand bookshop as possible, although I didn’t have the years of gentle mouldering or the layers and layers of mezzanine that the best second-hand bookshops require.

Still, it looked the part:

The best bookshops have babies breastfeeding ...Friend after friend staggered in with a box or a giant plastic container, and how the books stacked up! Everyone had decided, too, that what they most wanted was new Shelf Space so I don’t think anyone took more than one or two or three treasures with them!

Sitting in our stairwell there is currently a (refilled) giant plastic container and a (large) cardboard box, packed with books waiting to be be dropped into the yellow plastic bins outside Good Sammy’s in Subiaco.

A couple of friends also brought around some clothes, figuring that we were already in the swapping spirit. So I got to play at clothes-shop lady, second-hand bookshop eccentric, and barista, all in one afternoon!

The next day S picked me up so that we could do another of our all-time favourite activities – tip diving!
Well, OK, so technically the Council calls it the Recycling Centre and we actually went to the tip shop, where the stuff is mostly already sorted, but it still counts as treasure-hunting. We didn’t get there until around 12, and the sun was ferocious, and we sweltered even under the corrugated-iron roof of the tip shop’s sheds. I can’t say I wasn’t relieved when S admitted she was a bit too hot to start heaving paving stones into the car, so after a complicated game of Clothes Rack Car Tetris, we took our finds home again.

My combined tip shops finds cost me $20, which includes the exact Ikea clothes rack I was planning to buy new! Here is a picture of my total loot for the weekend:

The clothes rack, pink hatstand, and fake flowers will feature in a future post, when Field Notes from Fairyland goes to the Melville Swapmeet …

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No Princess

I caught the circleroute yesterday, to go into uni, to pick up a new set of academic transcripts.  Just opposite the uni,  a grey Nissan Pulsar passed my 98, zooming along Stirling Highway to Mounts Bay Road. Across the top half of the Pulsar’s back windshield was one of those stickers made all of glitter, and it gleamed at me staring through the bus window. The sun flashed along the sticker, highlighting the silver-purple-silver words: “I’m No Princess.”

This heartened me.

Not that I would have heaped any disdain on the glimpsed figure of the driver if the sticker had instead proclaimed that she (or the vehicle itself? Who is the sticker describing?) was indeed “Princess”, as I seem to remember seeing in a pink-silvery-pink sticker on a car once before. And not just because anyone whose ability to point and propel a car as a matter of everyday, unnoticed skill, rather than a matter of concentration divided between the traffic, speedometer, car’s movement, crunching gears, painfully tense legs and cramping feet and aching clenched hands and the sweating and quick breathing of just-under-control anxiousness is a heroine to me. (My last driving lesson did not improve my confidence).

It doesn’t make sense to me to be disgusted by anyone in my generation, or aroundthereabouts, being the possessor of a proclaimation of princesshood. It’s almost a matter of subjectivity, the princess is the heroine, the protagonist, the main character, the person who things happen to, or, depending on the slant of the story, the person who does the things. If the no princess sticker makes my inner old lady (Get off my lawn! What’s the young wimmen of today coming to, I ask you?) feel a little relieved, it’s due I think to narrative conditioning.  The Pulsar driver’s declaration feels right and true, and necessary even, rather than simply bizzare, because one of the most memorable parts of every princess story I was ever exposed to is the part about being no princess.

Have you been exposed to any of the rash of movies out recently where the heroic field of action has been the imagined wedding? The competition, or rather, the cautionary tale, is played out between the bride who disqualifies herself, by wanting to be one, and the woman who proves her worth by ritually denying her desire for the role, the ritual, or the money and status that accrue. It’s as effective a trap of double-think as any other created for women; true lovers and real partners are those who prove absolutely that they are not concerned with – cannot even benefit from – the financial and social advantages of true love and partnership.

Princesses too are a cautionary tale, but perhaps not the one that you  think. The figure of the princess teaches us that it is safer, and pleasanter by far, to be bourgeois.

My thinking is influenced more than a little by the volume by which I measure all princesses, Sally Patrick Johnson’s A Book of Princesses. Here is a picture of the cover of my 1965 Puffin edition. I made it huge so you can see the lovely detail on the dresses:

Front Cover Illustrations by Fritz Wegner

And here is the back:(Two of the princesses seem to have used the same material: sale at the Godmothering Gladly Warehouse and Emporium in Fairyland, perhaps?)

This is one of the very first books I ever remember reading. I paid no attention to the names of the writers of the stories, and they wouldn’t have meant anything to me anyway. I had no significance to attach to the names of Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, or Charles Dickens, and I was so little when I read this book that I didn’t even recognise the name Edith Nesbit.

My favourite story in the collection without a doubt is Mary De Morgan’s A Toy Princess, in which the real princess is exchanged for a mechanical automaton with a stock set of phrases.

...the fairy interrupted him.

This story is wonderfully executed, but even without the way that De Morgan characterises the king’s court as repressive and foolishly fearful of any hint of real emotions, the image of a soulless princess robot would have been just right.

A Toy Princess

All the other stories of princesses contain within them an apologetic parenthesis, an explanation of how this princess, with whom we are concerned, is, unlike her cool and aristocratic and fabricated sisters, warm and real and courageous and unconventional enough to earn our interest.

The curse of a too-long nose, exponential hair, or a literal lack of gravity -or even a serious case of rudeness – is exactly what is needed to escape and inhabit princesshood at the same time, which the irascible fairies, of course, well know.

These are stories in which the princesses must negotiate a place for personality within their princesshood. And this is why I say that these stories are stories of the middle class, because even though they are brief and often allegorical with nebulous settings and stock characters, they are nonetheless stories of individuality, a very important middle-class value.

These princesses also tend to find it difficult to secure their own comfort as well as happiness. Success is helped along by a bourgeois  hero, who is not so much the quick-witted trickster of folktales as a rational engineer or an entrepreneur . It’s better to marry the retired soldier, the son of a potter, the rational and mathematically-minded prince who can solve a logic puzzle, or the son of the fisherman in whose family you have lived happily for years.

That most of the writers of princess-stories were are the bourgeois could have something to do with their tendency to favour low suits, of course (In Charles Dickens’ The Magic Fishbone, the King is a bourgeois clerk waiting for “quarter day” to come around). Or maybe I have it wrong, and it’s the buyers of princess stories I’m thinking of.

The collection deals with nineteenth-century ideas of womanhood,

Princess Alicia from Charles Dickens' The Magic Fishbone

"Bring me in the Royal rag bag. I must snip and stitch and cut and contrive."

as the list of authors I just quoted suggests. It opens with The “Princess on the Pea”, by Hans Christian Anderson, which is a story that fails by the thinnest margin to satirize the pretensions of and for women’s genteel fragility. I say it fails because while I remember being a little taken aback by the princess’s rough night and extreme propensity to bruising, it couldn’t help but feel entirely appropriate to my six-or-seven year old self to know that a real princess would be bruised black an blue by the presence of a pea. And I still can’t help but feel convinced that there is a trueness to her, although perhaps that’s more to do with the fact that the princess enters the story as a lone and persecuted figure, drenched by a rainstorm. This princess, although she wins I suppose in the end, is a little disappointing in that she is confirmed as a princess by conforming to a standard, instead of proving her right to walk at the centre of the story by the quirk that seems to shake her out of it.

I’ve often heard people bemoan the wrong kind of fairy tale, the twee fairytale, the one where the heroine is meek, and polite, and obedient to the wrong people (obedience to the right people – to the Baba Yaga or the animals in the wood – is a kind of intelligence in itself, as a recent writer’s workshop with Juliet Marillier revealed to me at Swancon last week). But these fairytales with their insipid princesses and their cardboard princess are a very necessary part of our training in reading and understanding stories, as, without them, we wouldn’t be able to listen to a story and feel the righteous thrill of transgression. Or correction, or satire, depending on the teller.

While it is technically a far greater expression of democratic freedom to never mention or think about princesses at all, I can’t help but find pleasure, along with the driver of the car who passed me today, in the narrative act of declaring oneself “no princess”.

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