International women’s day: women who are inspiring

Happy International Women’s Day to all. Today I want to ask – which women do you find inspiring?

It is a challenging question for me in some ways – I have never been one for role models or inspiring leaders. There has rarely been one person, male or female, who I would see as the person I would most like to be.

In another way, however, it is easy. I am inspired by and admire so many women that I encounter in my life. There are aspects of what they have achieved or how they live their life that inspire me or that I follow or attempt to emulate. From the way my mother brought up me and my siblings, to the women I work with – the ones who are my bosses and who support other women and demonstrate how it can be done in a good way and the ones who work for me who want to learn and who make the choices in their lives which are right for them. My sister and her willingness one day to say, stuff it all and do something completely different, which has led her to the life she loves now through a curving pathway, and my best friend who achieved things that no young woman had ever achieved before. Then there is the friend who can use tools and sew and knit and cook, and is still a formidable intellect and highly skilled at her work. Another friends who take a matter approach to the cancer in her life. New people who juggle academic life and leadership and being a mother. And friends who live their lives the way they want whether they have children or not, study or not, work or not. What makes me lucky is the number of women in my life who I find inspiring and who make me feel humble, but in a good way.

There are of course the women I have never met who are also inspiring, but it is really the women who are close to me who give me the inspiration to do what I do.

Tell me about the women who inspire you, so we can be all big and share-y and inspired on what is still an important recognition of all those other days where women are not put first, or even equal first.

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100 Sci Fi women #5: Ellen Ripley

Before I get to our featured woman for the day, I just wanted to draw attention to an Entertainment Weekly list: Shrieking Violets: 25 Butt Kicking Babes. While I applaud EW for its focus on women, I think the title of the story gives away the fact that this isn’t as girl-power a list as it might be. I mean, in the four areas covered for each character, one of them is “male admirers”. And “shrieking” and “babes”. Good to see the gender stereotypes being upheld, and women being defined by their admiration from men… A better list can be found at Woman.ca with their Top 10 Superheroines.

Ellen Ripley

Alien-ripley-gun-smallI love Ripley the most in Aliens, which is (arguably of course) the best of the Alien films. And I am kind of not counting Resurrection here, though I guess Ripley is still essentially Ripley.  However, in Ripley we see another tough woman who is willing to mow down aliens with the best of them, but she is not a woman without fear and vulnerability. She is wary but not unwilling to overcome this, as with her relationship with Bishop the android in Aliens. While much is said about her mother-instincts (and the one part of the extended version of Aliens I hate is the extended life story she tells Newt), I don’t think it is about being a mother as much as it is about being a human with empathy for others. Ripley isn’t willing to let other dies for herself if she can help it, but is willing to sacrifice herself to save others, and to save herself the horror she knows is coming. And let’s face it, the fight with the alien queen while in the cargo loader suits is one of the all-time great science fiction fights.

Get away from her, you bitch!

100 Sci Fi women #4: Offred

Lest it appear that women must wield guns to appear in this list, a change of pace…

Offred   The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Attwood

In a way it is wrong to refer to her as Offred, the name bestowed upon her by the repressive sexist society she is dragged into. As a “Haidmaid” her role is to carry the children of the high ranked men of society, pregnancies which are harder and harder to achieve due to the toll that environmental toxins are taking on society. In the world before the revolution which oppresses women, she has a family and is the daughter of a radical feminist. In the new world her husband has been taken and probably killed, her daughter taken from her and she has seen her best friend tortured. Despite being stripped of friends, her husband, daughter, mother, freedom and even her name, and despite the fact she considers suicide, she finds a way to survive, learn, communicate, protect herself, live, fight and even, almost love again. We hope that in the end she does find her way to safety, even if we can’t know this. She survives something we would find unthinkable and unbearable, but she doesn’t survive without pain and anguish.

I want Luke here so badly. I want to be held and told my name. I want to be valued, in ways that I am not; I want to be more than valuable. I repeat my former name, remind myself of what I once could do, how others saw me.

I want to steal something.

100 sci-fi women #3: Sarah Connor (both versions)

sarah connorSarah Connor is an interesting character because depending where you find her, she is a little different, but most of all a survivor. Except when it comes to cancer. My favourite incarnation of Sarah Connor is in Terminator II, but who can forget that look on her face as she comes under the sights of the Terminator’s gun in the nightclub in Terminator? And the television series has done her justice, as with Terminator II she is tough, resourceful, determined and possibly just a little psychotic. Her incarceration at the beginning of Terminator II can be seen as reminiscent of the treatment of women with ideas who refuse to do as they are told and not worry their pretty heads – she is treated as mad and an outcast, deprived of her son who she is determined to save. Connor is willing to take on responsibility for mothering the world, she wants to save it from itself, but like most mothers, in the end has to leave it to its fate, leaving it with the best resources she can provide (in this case, an extremely well trained son). Her determination to save the world from itself leads her to try assassinating Miles Dyson, destined to invent SkyNet. She is willing to give up her own humanity to save the world, but this humanity, which she has instilled in her son, leads him to stop her. She is tough, and though she hesitates, she still shoots.

No fate but what we make.

The guilt factory

Hooray. Once again women get given a whole nother thing to feel guilty about in the realm of motherhood. Epidurals! This article in on News.com reveals that a male midwife has suggested that the pain of childhood is a “rite of passage” and that it should therefore be put up with – epidurals out! Yoga (yeah, right) in.

Now, I am no poster child for the epidural. My first labour was extraordinarily painful – all in the back – and as a result, somewhere in the middle of the afternoon, I called for the epidural. It didn’t work. I had to lie perfectly still in between increasingly painful contractions while the anaesthetist stuck a giant needle into my back three times. Only a woman who has been through labour can understand how challenging that whole scenario is. And the pain – it didn’t go away. In the end I got a local anaesthetic which took the pain away for, oh, a whole ten minutes. Over the course of an hour the pain got stronger and stronger til it was back where it started, and then we got onto the really fun part with pudendal local anaesthetic to allow for vacuum delivery…and OK, I’ll spare you further details. But the worst part of the epidural was that, even though it didn’t work, I suffered the side effects: the needle pierced my spinal column, which lead to the drainage of spinal fluid and for three days I suffered the massive pain of an epidural headache – the skull sitting straight on top of the veterbrae which meant I couldn’t sit up or stand up without excruciating pain – I learnt how to breast feed lying down – until I had a “blood patch” procedure three days later which fixed it all up. Strangely, with my second birth, I decided to avoid the epidural….and with the third I just didn’t have time.

So, I am not a straight out just-have-the-epidural person. I also do understand that epidurals can often lead to further medical interventions, like forceps delivery and episiostomies which can increase birth dangers a little or result in additional recovery periods for mothers. However, and this is a big however, what I do believe in is the right of women to make the choice that is most appropriate for them, without feeling guilt because they are not doing the “natural” thing. Women should have access to the best range of information about their options then choose what they want, and they should not be judged for it – particularly for the decisions made in the middle of a difficult and painful labour.

The judgement bit is the bit that really irks me. As mothers and mothers-to-be women are judged on everything – what they eat, what they drink, how they dress the baby, how old they are, whether they breastfeed, what they name the baby, whether they work or whether they stay at home, how they discipline the child, whether they use a dummy…..the list is endless. No wonder some women figure they are better off out of that jungle. So fantastic to be judged for your choice of pain relief as well.

I also find this idea that pain is natural and our society has changed to make it unacceptable stupid. Do we apply this to other forms of pain relief? Not wearing shoes is natural too…. Flying isn’t very natural for humans, neither is communicating over the internet. So, I’m sorry if I’m a little slow but, why is it imperative that women go through labour using nothing but what nature provided, while we don’t apply that rule elsewhere?

OK, I have just had a debate with my partner about my emphasis on the word male up the top there. He makes the point that saying that one cannot comment on chidlbirth because one is male perpetuates gender binaries which say one biological sex is allowed to comment on certain things while others cannot and is therefore anti-feminist. I argue in return that his gender matters because he is in the patriarchal tradition of men dictating to women what they can and can’t do with their bodies. Sometimes it is annoying living with a feminist sociologist who reads more feminist theory and blogs than I do because he has more time.

And besides psssssht to that – Dr Walsh is never going to have to go through childbirth so he really isn’t qualified to comment!

Final (I promise) thoughts on the Triple J Hottest 100

Having read lots of the debate online and the listened to the comments on Hack on Monday, I thought I might go back to a couple of original thoughts.

I don’t think that the result (ie only 2 female vocal tracks and only 9 tracks by black artists) makes Triple J or its listeners sexist, misogynist or racist. nor are those who didn’t include a woman in their own Top 10 misogynist – hey, I, all without realising, am guilty of that charge. What I think the result actually reveals is systemic sexism – within the music industry itself and more broadly within society. As noted by blogger Orlando:

Whenever words like “greatest”, “most important”, “best”, “most influential” and so on, are used in any context we are taught to think of men (I think this is exactly what happened when JJJ put their history pages together). We just aren’t given models in our formative years of women having places beside men in “history”, just occasionally in that disreputable annex “women in history” or “women in rock”.

It is easy to throw around terms like “misogynist” without undertaking much analysis. It is much harder to tackle this notion of systemic discrimination. The Hottest 100 did what all democratic processes do (and thus reveals the limits of democracy) – it reproduced the prevailing ideas/ideology of those who participated in the voting. Democracy is not progressive as a system; it requires progressive activism to prompt change and usually follows social movements rather than leads them (the Green movement and Green political party is a case in point).

The other interesting little side-alley that this debate has gone down appeared in The Punch yesterday when Chris deal brought a whole new dimension to the debate by introducing class. He argued:

Triple J have confirmed the rumour that the only thing that stands between them and mainstream rock stations like Triple M is the absence of an ad break. Their previous tenants have moved out, and the lease has been signed by the nouveau-bogan elite. They’re got a bit of coin. They’ve discovered ecstasy. They’ve infiltrated the Big Day Out. They adorn their torsos with Australian flags and sing along to the Kings Of Leon like their founding bogan fathers did with Cold Chisel. And Triple J is now the shining star in the night sky with which these un-wise men follow towards their Rock Jesus.

Now this is quite interesting. The article appears to imply a link between misogyny and class – well, class in the sense of bogans. Now I understand that bogan is not necessarily a class based term in the strictly Marxist sense of the word, but it does tend to generally apply to the lesser educated, more traditional working (or non-working) classes. And I do recognise that there has been an infiltration of the alternative music scene and particularly the festivals by those who Sartre-debating types would turn their noses at. And yes, traditionally working class culture is less progressive in respect to its position on women. But, and this is a big but, I think it is a major cop out to try and imply that sexism and misogyny are the province of bogans alone. It is present across all class spectrums as is obvious in any cultural analysis. So we need to be careful about reducing the debate to simple stereotyping.

Also, I must admit that there is some beautiful irony in the idea that Triple J’s progressiveness is being brought down by bogans whose culture was so ruthlessly appropriated by the university elites of the early nineties as grunge took to the stripped back guitar based tradition which had been oft the province of the bogan during the synthesised 1980s, and students everywhere emulated their Westie fellows in flannies, tattered jeans and battered boots. Ah, how the circle turns.

Female voices and the Hottest 100

Well, it is good to see the issue of female representation in the Hottest 100 now being picked up all over the place. Hoyden About Town presents a wrap up of the blogs on the subject and I notice the subject has been picked up by News Ltd in the form of this article on The Punch. And as I write this the issue is being vigorously debated all over the place on Twitter (albeit with the limitations that Twitter imposes on debate).

Triple J’s Hack picked up the story tonight and led off with expert commentary (ho ho) from yours truly. Most disappointing was how defensive Zan Rowe was – it is not the fault of Triple J, it is the fault of the dominant paradigms of society. Triple J does quite a good job of promoting female artists and other divergent voices. However, it alone cannot change the way we think about the world. And slightly disturbing that in the second 100, there were only 6 female artists!

What was edited from my commentary was the fact that what I think this represents is the massively culturally constructed nature of “taste”. We didn’t choose songs for our Top Tens just because of their innate quality, we chose them, at least in part, because of the cultural, social and, even personal, meaning that attaches to them. One of the callers on Hack showed insight when she noted that amongst her friends people voted for the songs they thought would be in the Top 100, rather than necessarily their favourite. At the beginning of the week I asked on Twitter whether it was cooler to have all your songs in the Hottest 100, or to have them miss out because you are sooo cutting edge. Clearly for this set of people, inclusion was compelling. This of course means that what we have is a reproduction of social norms, of what people think that should like – and this construction is not always conscious.

So, the meaning that attaches to songs sung by women is obviously different to the meaning which attaches to those sung by men. This is hardly surprising in a society where the social meaning attached to anything about women is vastly different, and, unfortunately, unusually still inferior to that attached to men. So how do we change this: well, not easily, but at least the fact that this is a debate being had – and being picked up in the increasingly mainstream media, has got to be a good step forward.

I could say something really negative about ideology and the obscuring reality here, but I’ll try and end on a positive note.

Hottest White, Male and possibly middle aged, 100

So, to conclude from the addition of the final 20:

No black artists. No female vocalists. Only one woman performer in any of the bands (Meg in The White Stripes). Only one song from the last five years, only three since 2000 and none of those in the top 10.  In fact the most recent song in the Top 10 since was Everlong by the Foo Fighters, from 1997!

Has the demographic of Triple J changed so dramatically? Is it failing to meet the youth market and being listened to only by middle aged escapees from the grunge revolution like myself? Frighteningly, two of the songs in the Top 20 are ones my mother loves – Imagine and Bohemian Rhapsody. I think Robbie Buck made a very astute observation in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald when he said:

I think there’s probably quite a few songs here which have made it into magazine lists of the best 50 or hundred blah blah blah of all time and I wonder whether people put it down on their list because they are supposed to be in lists like this and it becomes self-perpetuating.

Guess what: our choices and taste in music are socially constructed. So I guess that explains the absence of woman and black artists.

To recap:

2 women vocalists out of 100 songs.

9 black performers out of 100 songs.

That’s a pretty shameful indication of our tendency to the white male. No black rap, no female grunge, no female solo artists. Are they all so insignificant?

And really, is  Muse and Knights of Cydonia really the best song the last five years have to offer? Is there nothing worthy of a Top Ten place produced since 1997?

I can’t complain that Killing in the Name of was number 2 and Smells Like Teen Spirit (the only song I voted for in the entire countdown) was number 1 – and I note that time has moved on in that there was almost no punk music. And I am sooooo happy that there was no Whitlams.

Interestingly, the last Hottest 100 of all time which was played in August 1998 had a similar lack of women and black performers – there were none in the Top 20. We go back to 1991 for a Hottest 100 of all time for a woman in the Top 20 – Kate Bush. Let’s hope that in ten years time those who are voting are a little more enlightened, and that maybe we have learnt that woman and non-white performers are equally capable of creating memorable, lasting, significant music. Or that the constraints of the music industry have changed to allow diversity a greater acceptance in music outside the mainstream.