UN Women’s International Women’s Day Breakfast

UN Women hosts these International Women’s Day Breakfasts each year. I received a ticket this year – something that they repeatedly emphasised to be worthy of celebration.

I thought I’d leave this event feeling inspired and empowered. I spent most of it feeling uncomfortable.

Here’s a short list of some problematic things I heard:
– Romanticisation of disability
– White feminism/ non-intersectional feminism
– Invalidating women who like make-up and beauty products
– Having a male on the panel who talked about how his company practices “gender equality”. (We hear about this same story every other day, yet we’re celebrating men being decent human beings and foregrounding it on International Women’s Day? Lookin at you, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and Sydney Boys High)

I also can’t remember how many times the MC asked us to make donations, donations that will probably go to buying more purple ribbons and customised pens that were produced in Chinese factories. Please tell me how these items help empower women?

If feminism is not intersectional, there is no point. As Audre Lorde put it, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

We also need to be asking why male voices are needed, especially on International Women’s Day, in any conversation about sexism that would otherwise be ignored if voiced by women.

Wait – I am not done.

I think we should all acknowledge and remember that International Women’s Day celebrates working-class women. Though it has grown from its origins, we can’t erase the elements of class struggle this movement was built on.

 

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4ZZZ | Oppressive language, stigma and stereotypes: disability and mental illness

I’m a volunteer producer for the radio show, Only Human on 4zzz Zed Digital in Brisbane. You can find our podcasts hereThis week on the show the People of the Air join the fun with an interview with Kim Stewart as coordinator of the Ability Radio Project.  The project, which started in early 2015 with co-conspirator Ben Stimpson, is working towards increasing inclusion and diversifying your community radio sounds with the voices and opinions of people with a disability. 

Here are my stories:

[CN: ableism, mass murder mentions, violence, ableist slurs, mental illness, distressing content]

  1. Casual ableism in our language

Ableism is the discrimination in favour of able-bodied people. The Australian Human Rights Commission notes that ableist attitudes are the root of stereotypes and are linked to discrimination and even violence against people with a disability.  They can also be cause for complaints to the Human Rights Commission.  It is our obligation as equal persons in a democratic society to be sure that while we are enjoying our own freedoms, we are not restricting someone else’s. Discrimination and stigma can also have mental health effect on the target, in some cases, like that of trauma.

Dan Goodley is professor of  psychology at the University of Sheffield and has written extensively on ableism. Goodley says, “A key site of the oppression of disabled people pertains to those moments when they are judged to fail to match up to the ideal individual”.  We can see this in our everyday language. Ableist terms are always used to describe something as negative or insult people. Most people don’t even realise what these words really mean and how using them in such a way can be harmful.

For sake of example, some slurs and offensive terms for people with disabilities will be raised. Creating awareness of harmful language is really important. We need to stop describing people as retarded, or lame to insult them. When use the word retarded to describe things, we’re comparing them to a developmentally delayed person, at the same time suggesting that this an unlikeable thing. Historically, ‘lame’ was used to describe someone who couldn’t walk. Using these words as negative descriptions is really problematic; it serves to class anything that misses society’s standard of an abled-bodied person as undesirable.

While words like ‘lame’ are somewhat detached from their original meaning, there are many other clearly ableist terms we use to insult people. When we ask, “Are you blind? Or deaf? Do we consider people who are actually blind or have difficulty hearing? We even describe fatty foods as diabetes or heart attacks. Asking or saying these things in these ways, even as a joke, links disability with negativity.

One of the most misused words would be ‘crazy’, even though it’s not exclusively a slur anymore. ‘Crazy’ means mental unsoundness but is now used to describe anything from a mass murder to Donald Trump. We’re creating a connection between mental illness and violent or horrible behaviour, while stigmatising and dehumanising them.

This connection dismisses the reasons behind people’s actions, removing blame from the contributing factors and shifting it toward the mentally ill. We also need to stop using mental conditions as adjectives – there is no need to describe a perfectionist with the term OCD, or a moody person with bipolar. When we don’t use the words properly, it trivialises their true meaning. This makes it harder for people who struggle with these things to come out and speak about them and to think that people will believe them and take them seriously.

We need to constantly check ourselves: our actions, our language, our internalised ableism to build a safer space for our differently-abled community.  Normalising or casualising ableism is very problematic, and this is reflected when the recent mass murder of 19 disabled people in Japan didn’t even make headlines. 

Disability activist Sam Connor said, “In the wake of other mass murders and hate crimes, there were outpourings of public grief, rallying of communities, shows of solidarity. After Japan – perhaps the only mass hate crime where the killer had clearly signalled his intention to ‘euthanise’ hundreds of disabled people prior to the event – there was nothing.” We really need to recognise ableism and stop perpetuating it in our language.

Although Australia does not have legislation to protect people with a disability from ableist language, it does have the Disability Discrimination Act (1992) that provides people with a  disability to pursue complaints if stigmatising attitudes have affected their access to work, education, a place to live, activities of clubs or sport or access to government organisations.

See humanrights.gov.au for more information.

You can read more about Dan Goodley’s vias his articles he makes availabe free on Academia.edu

2. Construction of sickness and ‘sick identities’ #1: Linking mental illness to violent crime

There have been many hate crimes we have seen unfold in the recent months. Something I’ve been noticing is that we are so quick to jump in and call the perpetrators sociopaths, psychopaths, or mentally troubled. But this language implies that these crimes were committed as a result of mental illness rather than bigotry, systemic violence and lack of gun control.

The people who commit these crimes do so because of our society and our system that enables or in some ways encourages it. By dismissing these people as mentally ill, by using ableist language, we divert the blame from the system and the perpetrator to stereotypes. Far from being opposed to crime, the law is universalised crime. Retributive punishment accepts the context of the criminal.

Most of the time, there is no clinical diagnosis of the people committing these crimes, so we don’t distinctively know. For some reason, we always assume it. Someone with a mental illness could commit one of these violent acts. But so could someone with no history of a mental health disorder.

Statistically, it’s unlikely that someone with a mental illness will commit a violent crime. Only a small 3 to 5 percent of violent acts can be attributed to those with a serious mental illness. But those with a mental illness are actually more likely to be victims of a harmful incident.

The chair of the department of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, Gregory Dalack says, “The implications of making an assumption like this are potentially profound,” “It encourages the public to equate violence with mental illness, when we know that the vast majority of those who commit violent acts are not mentally ill, and the vast majority of those with mental illness do not behave in violent ways.”

A recent Johns Hopkins University study found that more than one third of news stories about mental illness link the disorders with violence toward other people. But this doesn’t accurately reflect the actual rates of interpersonal violence involving someone with a mental illness. Linking mental illness to violence also creates a perception that a mental health disorder is a character flaw. This can cause discrimination, impede recovery or even prevent people from seeking help in the first place.

On a whole, mental illness isn’t the cause of violent behaviour, but our tendency to think otherwise prolongs the stigma surrounding mental illness.

3.  Mental illness in Asia and the impact of stigma

China and India are home to more than a third of people with mental illness, but millions go untreated because of stigma and lack of resources. These findings were recently published in  the Lancet, when the UN has, for the first time, begun to recognise mental health as a global priority.

In China, less than 6 per cent of people suffering depression, anxiety, substance abuse, dementia and epilepsy seek treatment. In India, only about one in ten people is thought to receive specialist help. More than half of those with psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia are not diagnosed, and much less cared for. By contrast, treatment rates in rich nations is 70 percent and up.

Factors that prevent these individuals from accessing treatment are: the lack of trained mental health professionals, poor access to mental health services especially in rural areas and the fact that less than one per cent of the national health budget in either country is allocated to the mental health care sector. Both India and China have recently put progressive policies in  place to provide help to the mentally ill, which is a step in the right direction.

The stigma or taboo associated with mental health problems in the two countries also deters employers from giving jobs to those struggling with mental illness. This consequently impacts the socio-economic status of families with mentally ill members. Unfortunately this makes it even harder for them to seek and pay for treatment.

Researchers estimated that the burden of mental illness is set to increase in the next ten years in both China and India. They suggest that by 2025, around 74 million years of healthy life will be lost to mental illness in China and India combined.

Since medical systems are failing to address the lack of mental health treatment, some researchers have been looking into alternative methods. Kamaldeep Bhui, professor of cultural psychiatry and epidemiology at Queen Mary University of London suggested that tackling stigma was imperative. He said: “Providing just legal and policy frameworks should drive reform, so that people are not deprived the very basis and affordable treatments that the rest of the world takes for granted.”

Eradicating stigma plays a huge part in addressing mental illness, social inequality and economic disparity. Understanding mental illness and educating others about it can help create acceptance and support for those struggling.

4. Construction of sickness and sick identities #2: People with mental illness can still be high-functioning 

Although we are told mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes, that it doesn’t discriminate, we don’t always believe it. It’s easy to put depression or anxiety into a checklist of symptoms. We create a mental-health stock image in our heads that in reality, many people don’t match.

When we picture depression and anxiety in adolescents, we see teenagers staying in bed all day, struggling to get by in their day-to- day lives. We see low grades, social isolation, changes in appearance. But we don’t see the student with the straight A’s. We don’t see the debating team leader, the honours-roll student, or the sports captain. No matter how many times we are reminded that mental illness can affect people from all walks of life, we revert back to a carefully constructed idea of how it should manifest, and that is dangerous.

Time and time again we see suicide stories where people comment, “I had no idea” or “they were living the perfect life” or “they were so successful”. Many people living with mental illness do not necessarily fit the list of symptoms. This makes those struggling feel unqualified to get help because they’re not sick enough or they’re getting by. They feel like they can’t possibly feel under duress as they have it all, and this often makes them feel worse.

Sarah Schuster from The Mighty describes what it’s like to have high-functioning anxiety: “It’s when you’re social enough to get invited to things, but so often find yourself standing in a room, where it feels like no one knows you. It’s being good at conversation and bad at making close friends because you only show up when you feel “well” enough.

We can’t keep allowing our ideas of what mental illness should look like to dictate how we go about recognising and treating it. Doing so will make us continue to overlook those who don’t fit our mold. We can’t disconnect mental illness with ideas of success. If we do, we forget about the people who are heavily affected by mental illness but don’t express all the symptoms we demand of them. If we forget, we allow their struggle to continue unnoticed, and that is very harmful.

Brisbane Period Project

[CN: Domestic violence mention, sexism]

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own” – Audre Lorde

Every day, there are womyn and trans men (lots of them escaping domestic violence), sleeping on the streets or in short-term emergency accommodation. For the past few months, I’ve been volunteering with Brisbane Period Project (BPP). BPP makes 5-day packs filled with pads, tampons, hand-sanitizers and other sanitary items to last an entire period. These packs are distributed to organisations in touch with the women and transmen experiencing homelessness. They shouldn’t have to choose between being hungry or bleeding out.

During this time, I’ve felt upset, challenged, and angry at how a lot womyn still don’t have access to basic needs. I thought about things I’d never before considered. For instance, I never wondered about how homeless womyn dealt with their period. I didn’t think about how homelessness is more than houselessness. I didn’t think about the many complex issues that cause homelessness, and the consequential issues. We dehumanise homeless people so much that we forget even going to the toilet can be a huge inconvenience or danger.

Menstrual hygiene technology hasn’t developed much in the past century – our needs are forced into the background as making life easier and more sustainable for us isn’t profitable. I’ve been looking into menstrual cups and I’ve tried some reusable menstrual hygiene products and I thought I was privileged to be able to even try these things. But I realised it’s not privilege – it’s a right, a basic need which many womyn are still deprived of. Though I am living quite comfortably, I can’t let this result in complacency. It’s an opportunity to lend a hand. It’s not fair that our uteruses have rendered me and my sisters second-class.

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“Sometimes sisterhood is quiet and more in between the lines: when you belong to a marginalised group, you automatically even if subconsciously align and position yourself with that group, and depend on it. Therefore, I cannot separate girl friendship from Survival against oppression and patriarchy. It is a force so unequivocally Powerful that it has survived an immeasurable amount of oppression throughout history and is continuously reclaimed.” – Rowan Blanchard.

In the first two weeks of collection I promised to match every donation (within my means). I ended up living off a few dollars for the last few days, and although this was hard, it wasn’t long-term, and I had the security of my next payslip. Every day I carried bags of pads/ tampons home and it made me so happy and grateful. Thank you so much to all my chums, friends of friends and strangers who donated. We now have 1460 pads, 1432 tampons and 9 bags of treats ready for packing day. To put these into a more meaningful number, more than 190 womyn will be able to deal with their period this month with a few less worries. 190 individuals!!! This is so great and worth celebrating hehe, but let’s also remember that they’ll need more next month. So whenever you have some spare change or are doing your shopping, throw in an extra pack of pads/ tampons.

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*Edit – How to get involved

You can contact Brisbane Period Project through Facebook message. They will give you details about your closest drop-off location in Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast or the Gold Coast. There is also Melbourne Period Project,  Sydney Period Project, Geelong Period Project, Murray Region Period Project, and Gippsland Period Project. Even if you can’t help through donations, share the pages and their posts!

 

 

My first semester of uni

[CN: Domestic violence mention]

For a long time, I resisted the idea of going to uni, especially in year 12. I think this was because I saw myself always fulfilling expected roles: being academically high-achieving, being good in the kitchen, being “overachieving” in general (except at driving 😥 ). Basically, I felt like I was filling the mold of the stereotypical Asian and the stereotypical woman, and while these attributes are positive and make my life much easier than many, it still caused some frustration.

I didn’t like how people would always ask me, “What are you going to study at uni?”, like it was a matter of time rather than choice. (I acknowledge my privilege here, as I never had to think about not being able to pursue higher education). While on holiday with the intention of deferring, I was offered a scholarship and accepted it, on the condition that I start uni in semester 1, 2016 – classes started the day after I got back.

Long story short: my bad first day was the start to an even worse week, but, it eventually started to get better a few weeks in.

My journalism courses allowed me to do research on subjects I was interested in: politics, feminism, social justice, sustainability, veganism, art, and more. I was required to start a blog (hello), to build my online presence by posting my writing. Writing about my exhibition made me reflect a lot. Though I claimed to be a feminist for a long time, I had never really expressed or explained my opinion through writing, or speaking for that matter. So I decided to extend the use of my blog to a space for me to process, sort and share the ideas that float around in my mind. I revived my Facebook page and started following a lot more feminist bloggers and news sites, exposing myself to more opinions to practice thinking critically and autonomously (as possible).

Liking things on Facebook helped me find a lot of uni groups that I hadn’t known about as a consequence of me missing O Week. I joined the Women’s Collective and other societies I found interesting. I went to events that celebrated women and their achievements, their journey to self-care and love. I made friends with some of the most open-minded people. I feel like uni has fostered my expression of opinion and ideas, has helped me find really great people.

Having the safety net of financial security, I can do a lot of things other than try to make ends meet. I now volunteer for Brisbane Period Project, a group that collects and distributes donations of pads and tampons to homeless women and trans men, most of them escaping domestic violence. I volunteer for a community radio show, Only Human, which talks about mental health, psychology and social issues. I went on QUT’s Mid-Year Big Lift trip, a week of needs-based volunteering in regional Queensland, doing projects and lots of service-learning. I feel like I’m engaging more and more with my interests and developing my character. Being at uni taught me a lot, not only about the law, and the media industry, but also about myself and the issues I care about. I’m also finding that the list of things I care about is continuously growing. My inclination to academia or my grasp on life-skills doesn’t really frustrate me anymore as I know I am growing towards a better version of myself. Although I know my idea of a “better self” will change, I am happy with the progress I’ve made over the past six months.

 

4ZZZ | Institutional Motherhood

I’m a volunteer producer for the radio show, Only Human on 4zzz Zed Digital in Brisbane. You can find our podcasts here. This week I had to write two stories about the effect of “motherhood” on the mental health of women. We interviewed Aleksandra Staneva, a Brisbane-based academic whose work focuses on the differences between the expectations and realities of motherhood, and how these affect all women. Here are my stories:

  1. Institutional motherhood in Of Woman Born

Adrienne Rich uses the term “institutional motherhood” to describe the how women are demanded of maternal ‘instinct’ rather than intelligence, selflessness rather than self-realisation, and relation to others rather than the creation of self. Though This book was published in 1976, it still applies today – nothing has changed. Women are still experiencing motherhood as an institution, as a set of rules and regulations imposed by outsiders. One of the main ideas Rich explores is the myth of the good mother.

There is no human relationship where you love the other person at every moment. But mothers have been supposed to love that way. When mothers don’t feel like they’re being constantly loving, it creates a sense of ambivalence, wondering if other mothers are happier more patient, skilled, and selfless. This myth regulates women, even if they choose to defy it because it was a choice that they had to actively think about.

Another issue Rich explores is fact that child-rearing is so heavily placed on women – there is an enormous pressure on mothers to be perfect as they are blamed for anything that goes wrong with their children. Take it from the recent incident at Cincinnati Zoo, where the three-year-old boy ended up in a gorilla’s enclosure, and the gorilla ended up dead. Maybe there is blamed to be doled out and maybe there isn’t. Even so, the mother has faced a lot of scorn. Some have said they should have shot the mother instead of the gorilla. The father on the other hand, received almost no criticism, despite his presence at the scene.

Motherhood is high pressured and intensive. If a woman must be a helicopter mom, which is often the standard, what is left? What energy would remain for her to love and enjoy her children? Where is her time to find personal fulfilment in order to be a good role model for her children? Rich wrote, “A mother’s victimisation does not merely humiliate her, it mutilates the daughter who watches her for clues as to what it means to be a woman.” Institutionalised motherhood holds women to impossible standards and teaches our children that women are not people but servants, set up to fail.

To sum up, mothers are not perfect and the institution of motherhood does not help with our perception of motherhood, nor the pressure women still feel from this deeply internalised view.

     2. Child-free: Motherhood as a standard

A recent study by Zoe Krupka reports that more than seven per cent of western women choose not to have children. This statistic is set to grow as society develops and women have more freedom of choice. In a workplace discrimination report, Anna Byrd found that women who choose not to have children are often overtly labelled as “selfish, damaged, cold-hearted, shallow, overeducated and greedy.”

Other researchers found that Australian women experience social exclusion if they choose to remain childless. While all childless women experience exclusion to some degree, women who have consciously and publicly rejected the role of motherhood are at the greatest risk of social disconnection. The fact that women have to write articles, explaining and justifying themselves, redressing dialogue around the choice to not have children is telling of the ideals we place on women, and the way society still tries to control our autonomy.

Many writings on the choice to remain child-free actually challenge the labels and myths surrounding their choice. If we actually listen to these women, we find that the deciding factors are not a hate for children, the cost of children, the lack of childcare, parental leave nor the loss of superannuation. It’s just the desire of a certain kind of life. To be criticised and policed for this is simply not fair.

It should be noted that for many women the choice to remain childless is still an ideal rather than a reality. Just over forty per cent of pregnancies worldwide are unplanned, many being unwanted. There is a plethora of reasons for this, including access to contraception, domestic violence, social pressure and lack of information.

The statistic speaks volumes about how hard it still is for women to be free to make personal decisions about their own bodies. The conversations around not only voluntary childlessness, but also abortion, older or teenage mothers, and anything that does not fit into the expectations of motherhood continues regulate the behaviour of women. Women who are fortunate enough to voluntarily reject motherhood play an important part in challenging rigid and unforgiving gender roles. Listening to them will help us understand the oppressive binding of womanhood and motherhood, and help society move forward.

 

Sustainable menstrual products: Cloth pad review

Sustainable menstrual products

Half the population has their period every month, but discussions surrounding what menstruation is and does to women’s bodies remains a rarity. (x)

According to this article, many critics say that the taboo surrounding periods has helped the disposable feminine hygiene industry thrive – it’s a multi-billion dollar industry, with over 100 million women using tampons and even more women using pads. In the past century, not many sustainable options have been developed, even though it has been an inconvenience for women since the beginning of time. Apart from the environmental footprint, disposable sanitary products are profitable to big corporations, and remain a health risk to many women.

Waste
This widespread use comes with a hefty cost on our environment. The ordinary woman will use roughly 11,000 tampons in her lifetime. Each of these tampons take centuries to degrade in a landfill, especially when wrapped in a plastic wrapper or bag (which they usually are).  The process of manufacturing disposable pads and tampons is also quite taxing on the earth’s resources.

Profits
Apart from the taboo, I think another reason why I hadn’t been aware of or/and come across any sustainable alternatives is that they are not profitable to businesses as people do not need to keep buying them. It’s also not profitable to the government – the way that feminine hygiene products are classed in some countries results in the pink-tax.

“The paper feminine hygiene industry has done a very good job of convincing women that their period is something [which] should be out of sight and out of mind, something they shouldn’t talk about,” said Zivku, communications and education director for DivaCup. “Think about the advertisements we see – it’s all about silent wrappers, discrete and smaller products that are easier to hide or dispose of, and concealing the fact you have your period. Without opportunities for positive period talk, women and girls may not have the opportunity to learn about or even ask about other, more sustainable options.”

Health risks
Co-founder of LunaPads, Madeleine Shaw says “Most consumers of feminine hygiene products have almost invariably only been exposed to disposable products, and brand loyalty is entrenched at an early age”. “Most consumers are also unaware of questionable ingredients in disposable products, or even the fact that manufacturers are not legally required to disclose ingredients in the first place.”

I’ve been menstruating for over six years now, and to think about how much waste I’ve produced so far is pretty distressing. To think that I still need to deal with a period each month for another few decades is even more distressing. A month ago, I saw a post about DivaCups and cloth pads in my uni’s Women’s Collective facebook group. I googled it and ended up watching reviews on Bree Farmer’s YouTube channel ‘Precious Star Pads’.

There are videos for so reusable menstrual products, most of which I didn’t even know existed. Due to cultural aversion from tampons and the act of insertion, I’d never tried tampons or really been exposed to them. I decided to steer away from menstrual cups and sea sponges for now and try cloth pads instead.

The cloth pad looks like a disposable pad, but it’s made out of fabric and waterproof backing. Instead of a sticky backing, the wings of the pad are secured with snap fasteners. Scrolling through Esty I saw many different shapes, thicknesses, fabrics and patterns. I decided to go with a night-time one to avoid the changing situation as I had 12 hour uni days.

I found a local seller on Etsy (I highly recommend buying from Maria) who made cloth pads using hemp-blend material and bamboo-blend material. “Hemp has four times the durability and absorption of cotton and also has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties”. “Bamboo has great absorbency properties, as well as antibacterial and anti-fungal properties”. “The back of the pad is made from waterproof PUL: Polyurethane laminate. It is a laminated cloth fabric with a thin film of polyurethane.” Amazing!!

Review

Feel: It felt like an ordinary disposable pad, but much softer. It felt like a nice hug. It didn’t cause any itchiness like some disposable ones do.

Effectiveness: No leakage – I got the thickest and longest size because I didn’t know what to expect. It stayed in place and did its job.

Washing: The pads are machine washable – in fact, this is preferred over hand-washing as too much wringing may shorten the lifespan of the pad. I soaked it for a few hours and came back to hand-wash it since my mum was apprehensive of me putting it in the wash. All the stains came out, even though I wasn’t really trying to get rid of them. Apparently the soak water is great for your garden. I dried it in the sun, using the snap fasteners to clip it to my pool gate hehe. It dried in a few hours and came back nice and white.

Convenience: Unless you have access to a sink and basin, I imagine it will be hard to deal with the washing. If you don’t do regular loads of washing or if you share the load with others, the cleaning situation may be trickier.

Cost: One regular pad is around $15, which means it’s expensive to start out, but in the long term it’s a lot more economical than disposable products.

It was an interesting experience but I felt much better after those few days of bleeding, knowing I had taken better care of myself and the earth. For now, I will stick to the night ones and look at other options for day use. Darcy Morgan’s post, The uterus owner’s guide to reusable menstrual products on Honi Soit is a great read for reviews of other reusable products.

I forgot to take photos of the washing process, but I will next time!

Sustainable eating: Alternatives to Cow’s Milk

Shelley Cheng

This piece will be a part of my series on sustainable eating.
[CN: use of the word “rape”, animal cruelty]

Our dietary choices not only affect our health, but also the health of our environment.
Energy and water usenative habitat cut down for crops and grazing, and emissions that exacerbate climate change, are just some of the profound effects agriculture has on Earth. And, there are more and more mouths to feed.” (x)

Eating sustainably, considering where and how our food is produced, could be of benefit to not only the animals we eat, our health and the environment.

The treatment of dairy cows

Since morality is a matter of opinion, I won’t go into whether killing animals in order to eat them is morally wrong. I will focus more on the way the animals are treated in order to keep up with human consumption.

We are often fed with images of cows grazing in huge clearings or the happy Aussie farmer milking a cow in the open. But this is far from reality. The practices of the dairy industry are adapted to meet the huge, year-round demand.

Cows, like many other female mammals, only lactate when they’re pregnant. To “solve” this issue, the cows are continuously impregnated (x). To summarise the process:

  1. A person jacks off a bunch of bulls by hand or with an electro-ejaculator;
  2. Their semen is collected,
  3. Then tubed or fisted into a cow confined in a ‘rape rack’.
  4. When the calf is born, it gets locked up to prevent it from drinking its mother’s milk.
  5. If the calf is male, its throat is slit and it is sold as veil. If it’s a female, it’s raised to be a dairy cow.
  6. When a dairy cow is too emotionally and physically exhausted from being sexually exploited, they are dragged out and sold as beef.

Being kept pregnant their whole life leads to issues like: premature aging, exhaustion and mastitis – inflammation or infection of the utter. The average life-expectancy of a diary cow is four to five years, while a non-dairy cow is expected to live up to 25 years. While it’s not killing the animal, it is prolonged suffering and doesn’t really benefit humans.

Cow’s milk may be detrimental to our health 

How does mastitis in dairy cows affect us? It means that pus and blood in our milk is common. It is processed but, not completely – in Australia, 400,000 somatic cells are allowed in every mL of milk. Delicious.

Cow’s milk is designed for baby cows, not humans – scientific studies have always proven this:

  1. Cow’s milk depletes the calcium from our bones
  2. Cow’s milk-drinkers have highest cases of bone fracture and osteoporosis
  3. 70 per cent of the population is lactose intolerant to varying degrees

So why do we keep drinking cow’s milk?  Consuming dairy is an idea deeply inseminated into our education, nutritional guides and media in general. Behind this is the dairy industry, paying for all these advertisements.

For most of history, cow’s milk was only a small part of a diet for a small number of people. Winter made it difficult to grow fruits and vegetables, so people drank cow’s milk to survive. During World War I, the U.S. government sent soldiers huge amounts of canned and powdered milk in effort to fight malnutrition. In response, farmers changed their practices to focus on dairy production. When the war ended and demand dried up, farmers were inevitably left with heaps of milk. (x)

The problem was that farmers invested too much time to shift away from large-scale, year-round round milk production. Instead of reducing production, they encouraged people to drink more. Milk producers got a boost from legislation that required meals to have a glass of milk. The Federal Government started buying up the surplus and encouraging multimillion-dollar companies like Dominos and Starbucks to engage in “milk partnerships”. It is no surprise then, that one slice of Dominos pizza has two thirds of the “daily recommended intake of dairy”. (x)

The environmental impact 

The global water footprint of animal agriculture is 2,422 billion cubic meters of water (one forth of the total global water footprint, most of which is related to dairy cattle. Water use adds up fast in the process of making milk: water is required to hydrate and feed cows, clean the parlour floors, walls and milking equipment.

Hydrating cows

As milk is nearly 87 per cent water, a cow that is continuously producing milk needs to well-hydrated. A medium size dairy factory farm facility houses between 200 and 700 cows (the EPA considers 700 dairy cattle the lower limit for a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation). A cow can drink 87 litres a day. In a facility with 700 cows, 61,000 litres of water would be used every day solely for the cow’s drinking water. Remember that this is only for one factory farm facility.

Water for feed

A study found that 98 per cent of milk’s footprint can be traced back to a cow’s food. (x) Cows generally eat a lot, but constantly producing milk is a huge drain on a dairy cow’s metabolism. As a result, they need to replenish themselves with food, additional food that we need to grow. A dairy cow can produce up to 26 litres of milk per day. This means that 18,000 litres of water is used per cow per day to meet their food needs.

A report by MotherJones shows the number of gallons of water used to grow feed for cows to produce our favorite dairy produce, here are some of the figures:

  • 1 scoop of ice cream requires 159 litres
  • 1 cup of yogurt requires 133 litres
  • 1 cup of greek yogurt requires 341 litres
  • 2 slices of cheese requires 189 litres
  • 1 stick of butter requires 413 litres

Water for Cleaning Dairy Facilities

A dairy facility that has an automatic “flushing” system for manure can use up to 570 litres of water per cow, per day.

When you add up the water used for food, water, and cleaning the facility the average dairy cow uses just under 19,000 litres of water per day. Considering in 2015, Australia had 1.74 million dairy cows (x), imagine how much clean water is used. This isn’t even taking into the account the water needed to clean the equipment used.

Carbon emissions

According to this report, it is estimated that the global dairy sector makes up four per cent of the total global anthropogenic green house gas (GHG) emissions. This figure includes emissions allocated to milk production, processing and transportation, and the emissions from feeding and slaughtering the dairy cows.

Around 52 per cent of the GHGs produced by dairy is methane, the most troubling GHG as it has the ability to trap 100 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.  It is also estimated that a dairy cow produces up to 500 liters of methane a day.  Additionally, it was estimated that nitrous oxide made up another 27 per cent of a dairy cow’s GHG emission. Nitrous oxide has a global warming potential nearly 300 times greater than carbon dioxide. Yikes.

Sustainable, accessible alternatives

There are many alternatives that are healthy, cheap and easy to make. (x) Some popular ones, however, may not be the best choice.

Almond milk

Almond milk has become quite popular and considered the “healthy” alternative. However, it takes 5 litres of water to grow one almond. More than 80 per cent of the world’s almond crop is grown in California, which has been experiencing its worst drought on record. The demand for almonds is also harming honeybees. Almond trees need to be pollinated but bringing in 1.6 million hives to California every year, into almond farms dripping with insecticides kills off whole colonies killed off.

Soy milk

Soy milk is one of the highest sources of plant protein with five to ten grams of protein per 250ml serve. It is cheap and most stores sell it, but health-wise, it may concern some. But according to Worldwide Fund for Nature, almost 4 million hectares of forests are destroyed every year for soy foods and milk in South America alone. This is equivalent to just under one third of the size of England.

Coconut milk

“Coconut milk is particularly rich and does contain a significant amount of fat, however the fat in coconuts is a medium chain fatty acid, which converts quickly to energy when the liver processes it, instead of storing as fat as other saturated fats might do,” says nutritionist, Jacqueline Alwill.

Coconut milk is one of the most sustainable milks as production mostly takes place in the Pacific, and a number of products are extracted from the plant. These including milk, oil, the flesh, fibres and cocopeat. Coconut farming is fairly low impact, requiring little fertiliser and pesticides, and may help sequester carbon.

Rice milk

Rice milk is easy to digest, but lacks protein and calcium.Unfortunately, rice farming is responsible for up to 1.5 per cent of the world’s GHG emissions (about half that of the dairy industry). Rice farming also produces a gas that is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Oat milk

Oat milk is the healthiest alternative, with properties that: enhance the immune system, prevent cardiovascular diseases, maintain healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and many more.

I couldn’t find information about the footprint of oat milk but the Australian government has figures for wheat (being a similar crop to oats) production. This figure is 200kg of carbon dioxide per tonne, making it more sustainable than almond, soy and rice milk; possibly coconut milk too.

Most of these alternatives are inexpensive and easy to make at home as well. There are many recipes online. This way you can also avoid additives, sugars, or other things that may worry you. It also prevents the pollution caused by cartons and other disposable bottles.

Conclusion

Cows milk is unsustainable. We don’t need dairy, it doesn’t benefit us in any way. The problem is that the dairy industry is a huge economic force. Its propaganda is embedded in so many aspects of our lives, making it hard to unlearn the belief that we need milk. We need to be more sustainable as the population will keep growing. Better choices are often in arms-reach; small changes can pave the way to a more sustainable future.

 

Success in Social Justice Journalsim

KJB102 Assessment 3

Shelley Cheng

Introduction
Knowing I want to be a social justice journalist has influenced what I gained out of KJB102. In studying the nature of the media industry and learning about the importance of the Fourth Estate, I believe that pursuing social justice will entail many challenges. Though I learnt about many issues surrounding journalism, media and communication, I consider sexism, racism and public responsibility to be the three most enriching topics covered. By explaining what social justice journalism encompasses and presenting the three topics in terms of this career path, I will discuss the personal and professional characteristics I need to begin developing in order to respond to the challenges ahead.

What is social justice journalism?
As Sam Pizzigati says, in the introduction to Eesha Williams’ Grassroots Journalism, “We spend…the better part of our everyday lives in a world that media create for us, a world, paradoxically, where everyday people are largely invisible” (Ahlquist, 2016). Social justice journalism addresses the problems everyday people, casualties of the political and economic order (Jeske, 2003). The marginalised and the poor can’t hold a press conference or issue press releases that draw attention to their grievances. In a myriad of ways, the lack of media access perpetuates inequality (Jeske, 2003) and the Fourth Estate aims to abate this inequality. The purpose of the Fourth Estate is to monitor those in public office, on the premise that powerful institutions have to be prevented from overstepping their bounds (Coronel, 2007). In social justice journalism, media professionals expose society’s deeply problematic issues, like sexism and racism. These media professionals therefore bear the responsibility to form the Fourth Estate and give voice to the oppressed (Ahlquist, 2016).

Sexism
Sexism is the systemic oppression and exploitation of women (Napikoski, 2016). In this patriarchal society, women are disadvantaged in every aspect of our lives. In KJB102, most students are women. Generally, women graduates in journalism and related media degrees outnumber men graduates (Bollinger & O’Neill, 2008, p. 56). Even so, the Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media stated that men occupied 73 per cent of the top management jobs (IWMF, 2013). As men significantly outnumber women at the top of most organisations, it is inevitable that the rules and unwritten systems serve to advantage men. In a survey conducted by Pew Centre for Civic Journalism, 64 per cent of the female respondents who saw opportunities limited identified managements preference for the opposite sex as the obstacle (Selza & Company, 2002). Looking at the statistics of women losing out on opportunities to their male counterparts simply because of genitalia is disheartening, but being able to navigate an old boys club is a skill I will need.

Hearing from Amy Remekis during the panel discussion on gender has shown me the characteristics required to combat the issues produced by sexism in the work environment. She said she got every job and position she had through endless hassling: “I just hassled them until they gave me the position” (Remekis, 2016). This communicates to me that I should not accept defeat upon first instance of rejection and recognise the structural obstacles against me. I need to start building the personal characteristic of confidence in getting where and what I want, in chasing down every opportunity I want. I also need to not be so concerned about being considered “too brusque” or “bitchy”, because I most likely will be, due to the fact that I’m not a man. I believe developing a professional character who can reclaim and embrace these labels will be important in asserting my position and not allowing these labels to affect my reputation. In addition to facing limited opportunities, sexual harassment is something I need to be prepared to handle.

Workplace sexual harassment can be defined as any unsolicited, verbal or physical behaviour of a sexual nature, creating an intimidating or offensive work environment (AHRC, 2010). Cosmopolitan surveyed 2,235 female employees and found that one in three had experienced sexual harassment at work (Ruiz, 2015). With the shift in the journalism industry towards online publishing and social media, sexual harassment has become a daily, even constant experience for women. Clementine Ford receives daily rape threats, death threats and personal attacks by meminists from all over the world, including comments like, “Every time she speaks, she shows that she’s nothing more than a low IQ lemming with daddy issues” (Caswell, 2016).  As demonstrated by this comment, the internet has facilitated online attacks from anyone.

Knowing how to handle this in a work environment and oftentimes in the public eye, is imperative to my future career. Taking Amy’s advice, I need to develop a more verbal character and pronounce my stance very clearly (Remekis, 2016). Currently, only 29 per cent of women report workplace sexual harassment (Ruiz, 2015). I need to speak up and say “fuck off” whenever a situation calls for it. I can’t back away every time a man tries to reduce my professional person to an object for his gratification. Though the changing industry allows for more attacks, I can capitalise on this and use social media to call people out; I can screen-cap and share their messages, explaining why they’re problematic. In my current workplace I can start adopting a stern and less-apologetic character when people cross the line.

Racism
Another important topic discussed in KJB102 mainly within the Facebook group, is racism. Racism is the structural oppression of people of colour (POC) and has been a prevailing issue throughout the media industry. Racism exists in Australia. Studies have regularly shown by having a non-Anglo sounding name, the chances of receiving a call back from an employer is reduced by more than half (Martin, 2009). In an experiment carried out by Australian National University, it was revealed that a Chinese-named applicant needed to put 68 per-cent more applications than an Anglo-named applicant to get the same number of calls back (Martin, 2009). This lack of opportunity for POC is reflected in Australian media. In Media Watch’s video featuring the nationality of Australian newsreaders, the reporter says, “In a country where half the population is born overseas or has a parent born overseas, he is still a rarity. Turn on prime time news [and]…all you can see, is a sea of white” (Media Watch, 2016)

No matter how many professional or personal characteristics I develop in order to combat this issue, no matter how much more I qualified I am than my white counterparts, the structural obstacles will make achieving success very difficult. Even so, I believe consistency in my character will also help me progress in my career. As I learnt in studying one of Slavoj Zizek’s “secrets to success”, constant output of work and taking advantage of media convergence will build a media presence (Advameg, 2015). I need to be more committed in regularly writing and posting to my blog. Studies have shown that blogging is very beneficial to publicity; companies that blog receive 67 per cent more leads in comparison to those that don’t blog (Hayden, 2015). I must develop a more experimental character and be willing to make use of media convergence. I need to be dedicated to constant self-improvement and solidifying my values. This will help establish my identity, which was another characteristic discussed in Zizek’s “secrets to success” (Watson, 2011). When I enter the workforce, I need to be reliable, hardworking and persistent in everything I do. I won’t settle, but I will take every opportunity that allows me to construct a stronger identity in the media industry – a face other POC can relate to.

Apart from the pervasive under-representation of POC in the industry, when POC do obtain prominent roles, they are often attacked on the basis of their racial background and the stereotypes attached to it. According to a study by Balance Recruitment Australia, one out of three Australian employees fall victim of racial harassment each year (HC Mag, 2012). The recent outcry stemming from the nomination of Lee Lin Chin and Waleed Aly for the Logies reflects how POC in the media industry experience racism. The Daily Telegraph published an article titled, “Six reasons why Waleed Aly should not win Gold”, an attack that white nominees have never suffered (Hannaford, 2016). In addition, popular breakfast show host, Karl Stefanovic “joked” with his co-host, Lisa Wilkinson, saying she was “too white” to win an award. Wilkinson then replied, “I got a spray tan and everything and still didn’t make it” (Faruqi, 2016). White people are safe to make racist jokes from their position of comfort and privilege, while POC struggle to break through the systemic barriers that keep them from succeeding.

When they do succeed, their successes are invalidated by racism; the Logies nomination incident affirmed that. To say this discouraging would be an understatement. Previously, I always attributed my failings solely to my own inadequacy created by years of self-doubt stemming from comments like “you’re only smart because you’re Asian.” I’ve been conditioned to think I will never receive any recognition because I will only ever reach the expected standard. Undoing years of internalised racism and being proud of my achievements is something that will benefit me in working towards my career. I also believe developing a character of discernment will be needed in facing the issues produced by racism. Knowing when and how to respond to these attacks will be beneficial to my media identity. Responding to every single attack is not only impossible, but seen as obsessive and bitter. Responding immediately may result in unwise words said out of rage. Learning how to move on when I have exhausted myself in educating people, when bigotry is too much of a barrier, will also be a good characteristic to develop.

Responsibility
Another significant issue I anticipate to the face in my career is the weight of public responsibility in dealing with social justice issues. Media ethics is what is considered “right” and “wrong” in terms of practices and norms within the media (Ward, 2016). In our tutorial’s debate about the ethics of The Kyle and Jackie O Show Princess Kate prank call (Sawer, 2014), it became obvious that a lack evaluation can result in unforeseeable consequences. In my career, I will often have to balance the societal benefit to the damage caused, which can oftentimes be unclear.  The main question raised in discussions on ethics is: “Do the ends justify the means?” (Ward, 2016). Using social media call out bad behaviour involves asking this question. Without educating people and explaining to them the detriment of their behaviour, society cannot progress (Hamton et al., 2014). Social media has enabled the disenfranchised to bypass the political and economic order, and publicise injustices that otherwise remain invisible. However, social media has also enabled attacks on those engaging in the bad behaviour. Pew Research Centre found that online harassment can have long-term effects; 15 per cent of internet uses who have been harassed online feel that their reputation was damaged (Duggan, 2014). I have a responsibility to the public, and I am accountable to each side. As a media professional, one of the professional characteristics I will need to exhibit is non-partiality.

Additionally, I will be addressing issues like racism, sexism and classism; issues which deeply affect many people’s lives. I have to be vigilant in making sure I do not talk over them, in making sure I do not trivialise issues as a result of not being able to see past my own privilege. Personally, I need to be more willing to learn or relearn. I can start building my knowledge now, as I have easy access to ample resources. While an understanding of the subject matter is important, one of the most crucial personal and professional characteristics I need to make sure I succeed in my career is being a good listener. I need to be patient and willing to hear the voices I represent and make sure it is their voice and their message coming through.

Conclusion
KJB102 has widened my awareness about many issues, in a way that relates to my intended career path. Learning about sexism, racism and public responsibility and the issues produced by them has made me aware of the amount of character development I have to undergo. Through analysing the nature of the topics I learnt, the specific personal and professional characteristics I need to nurture have become more evident to me. In relevance to sexism, being more confident and verbal is essential to overcoming the lack of opportunity and harassment I will encounter. When faced with racism, working hard to establish a distinct identity, and becoming a more discerning person will benefit me in the struggle against oppression. In terms of public responsibility, being impartial is imperative, as well as constantly building my knowledge, being a better listener and becoming more self-aware. Building these characteristics will take years of hard work. So in order to be a successful media professional who actively contributes to the Fourth Estate, I will have to start now.

References

‘Nude Selfies Forever’

Why do we hate Kim Kardashian?

[CN: misogyny]

Shelley Cheng, 29 May 2016

It’s no secret that Kim Kardashian became widely known after her sex-tape with Ray J was leaked. If it wasn’t emphasised enough here, the sex-tape was released without her consent. I watched a video where Kris and Kim discuss it:

Kim: “Tyra Banks has asked me to go on her show next week, and I’m so excited.
Kris: “There’s just one little catch, you’d have to talk about the tape”
Kim: “I dont wanna talk about it”
Kris: “I know, but you can just be honest and say how you feel”
Kim: “that was with my boyfriend of three years that i was very much in love with, and whatever we did in our private time, was our private time, and never once did we think it would get out.” (x)

Her privacy was invaded, her personal life exposed, and did she have any support from the damage to her emotional health, to her reputation? Instead of allowing it to ruin her life, she used her circumstantial existence in a voyeuristic, sex-crazed society to turn a massive profit on it.

Yet she is still insulted, shamed, reduced to labels like “whore” and “slut” despite all her successes as a businesswoman, model, TV personality, media sensation…etc. Invalidating all of her success simply because people decide to judge her from a morally absolute positon is not only narrow-minded but extremely misogynistic. As soon as she posts a nude selfie or poses naked for a shoot, the attacks fly in from every direction:Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 11.52.23 PM.png

The fact that she gets so much attention and that she is able to “break the internet” is telling of how hypocritical society is – without a demand or a twisted thirst for the uncovered female body, no one would look at her pictures. Yet we do, and then we sexualise her, tell her to cover up, tell her to be a better person. We blame women like Kim to hide the fact that we are perverted.

Society is “irrefutably invested in how she looks, everything she listens to, says, and doesn’t say, everywhere she goes, and who she’s hanging out with (or not hanging out with). We follow her on social platforms, and wait as dozens of paparazzi trail her every move for one unflattering shot. We speculate on her relationships, whether or not she has had cosmetic work done, and whether she’s a “role model.” We’re waiting for her to surprise us, to fail, to make the mistakes…and to be exactly who we think she is.” (x)

Blaming Kim and policing her body and her choice isn’t going to change the scrutiny women face. In a society that perpetuates so many unattainable ideals for the female body, Kim being proud of her body is something that should be celebrated. Kim sums it up perfectly when she says, “It’s so important that we let women express their sexuality and share their bodies.”

You may then say, how can she be proud of her body if she’s always undergoing cosmetic procedures? Firstly, what she does with her body is her choice and her choice alone. Why is it that when someone becomes famous, society decides that their bodily-autonomy should be relinquished? She is using her body to become her best version of herself, and really, she just becomes more successful as society’s obsession with her breasts and butt grows.

Furthermore, Kim is a businesswoman, not your child’s parent. It’s not her responsibility to be a role model for all girls, and expecting her to be is just another expression of patriarchal values. She doesn’t have to teach your child anything. What she teaches her child is quite frankly, no one’s business but hers. Would you not say the same if someone criticised your parenting?

It is a shame that most of the misogynistic tweets she receives are from women who simultaneously share photos of naked men, adding heart-eye emojis and commenting on how “hot” they look. Why is it that men become “goals” and women become “bad role models”? Men posting shirtless or nude photographs does not spur any outrage because males already have a privileged position in society. Men are not shamed for being sluts, accused of being poor parents and role models for children. Too often, a woman’s body is used against her to shame and humiliate her.

Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 11.45.40 PMScreen Shot 2016-05-28 at 11.46.27 PM

[Society’s Double Standards.Source]

Everything she does, or says, even if it’s of importance, is brought back to her sex tape. In April this year, she called out Wall Street Journal for denying the Armenian genocide. “Advocating the denial of a genocide by the country responsible for it – that’s not publishing a ‘provocative viewpoint,’ that’s spreading lies.”
“It’s totally morally irresponsible and, most of all, it’s dangerous. If this had been an ad denying the Holocaust, or pushing some 9/11 conspiracy theory, would it have made it to print?” As demonstrated by this comment, Kim has very effectively summarised the ramifications of the problematic ad, and if someone else said it, they would be praised for being woke. Yet, most of the comments I saw under the Facebook post just called her a slut and therefore her opinion was invalid.

I’ve watched an interview where the interviewer asked Kim, “So what is it that you actually do?” It’s obvious that the question was to belittle her and perpetuate the widely accepted idea that Kim is famous for no reason. She replied, “well besides having, like, ten TV shows, a perfume, two clothing lines, a shoe company, diet products, everything…pretty much nothing.” That was in 2012, and since then she has become more and more successful. Even so, any activity that Kim engages in warrants her being called a “slut” or a “whore”. The issue isn’t about nudity or sex anymore. It’s about society’s disapproval for females who don’t conform to bygone ideals of femininity. People do not fear naked female bodies, but rather the fact that women can love their bodies – Kim is one such woman.Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 9.25.29 AM.png

Another way that society promulgates this disapproval is reflected in how she is constantly compared to other women. Anne Hathway recently instagrammed a picture saying, “in a world of Kardashians, be a Helena Bonham Carter”, pitting women against one another – something that the patriarchy has conditioned us to do from young. Too many times I’ve seen images of Kim juxtaposed with another female celebrity, captioned with lines like, “Be a Real Woman” or “Fake is not Beautiful.” This extends to the whole Kardashian clan – I’m sure we’ve all seen the image comparing Kylie and Malala at age 18, or the one of Michelle Obama and Kris.MaliaVsKylie.jpg

Everyone is born into different privileges, has different interests, have different concepts of what is considered meaningful. Stop pitting women against each other, we need to raise each other up in every way possible.

Hate her for cultural appropriation, hate her for her other problematic behaviour, but don’t hate her for expressing her sexuality. Don’t discount her every achievement because of her sex life; don’t be a part of a system that tears down women and reduces them to labels that define them in relation to men. She’s built an empire out of the very thing that was used to attack her. Plus, Kim doesn’t care what you think, “I do what makes me happy and what I need to get done.” Before you start throwing shade at her, maybe identify the source of the hate. Is it internalised misogyny?

smh

 

Trend: My First Exhibition

[All photos used in this post were from Nick Christie]

A few months ago I was scouted to be a part of an exhibition with RAW. I had to write a short biography: who I was and how my art reflected that. I had to write about my interests and inspirations. This should have been straightforward, right? But the more I wrote, the more uncomfortable I felt – my art so far had just been reproductions of popular pieces or pretty photos. Yes, they were impressive and people-pleasing; technically and stylistically they looked great – almost identical to the original. I won’t say my art was shallow, but there usually lacked a dimension beyond the appearance. Here I was, typing away about being a feminist, caring about social issues, yet my art didn’t in any way express my passion.

 I didn’t have a collection of work built up – I usually painted to sell, and what remained were a few paintings that didn’t fit together. So I had to produce a body of work and this time, I wanted it to be meaningful. I knew I wanted to paint women, but didn’t want it to be reduced to another item for the male gaze. I decided to base my work on Bram Dijkstra’s Idols of Perversity and Julia Kristeva’s theory of The Abject, “what I permanently thrust aside in order to live.”

The abject refers to all the bodily functions, or aspects of the body, that are deemed impure or inappropriate for public display or discussion. The theory has a feminist context; in particular, female bodily functions are “abjected” by a patriarchal social order. “Abject art is used to describe artworks which explore themes that transgress and threaten our sense of cleanliness and propriety particularly referencing the body and bodily functions.” (Read more here) I wanted to paint things that women are conditioned to repel; things that we are told to hide, to not talk about. Why? Because they’re “dirty”, and threaten the patriarchal fantasies of femininity – that women must remain childlike and pure; soft and docile. Why are women censored in the interest of maintaining ridiculous ideologies?

I decided to paint things like menstruation, not focusing on the child-bearing-service side of it, but the hidden side; the discomfort of bloodied underwear and pads. It’s obvious that body hair grows naturally on females too. On our legs, belly button, in our arm pits – everywhere it would on a male. My nipple painting was a product of the anger I felt and continue to feel when social media moderators remove photos with ‘female nipples’ in them. Nearly every woman I know has stretch marks, yet we rarely see them in photos. Even in advertisements for stretch mark-reducing products, they are never shown. Why should we be ashamed of growing?

And why should we be ashamed of sweating? It is a normal bodily function to regulate body temperature, yet we aren’t allowed to. We aren’t allowed to smell, we aren’t allowed to pronounce our presence.

We are born into a society that decides what parts of our bodies are acceptable and what parts aren’t. But they don’t get to pick and choose – we are not products. For far too long we have been taught to reject the variability of our bodies in a vain effort to achieve the untouchable ‘feminine’ ideal. Our bodies are wonderful and we should appreciate the amazing variety that is so often oppressed.

I wanted people to feel disgusted or shocked or uncomfortable, but as a secondary reaction, realise why we feel this way. I wanted to show people that these things are a part of us too. A lot of people told me they were initially shocked or surprised but found it interesting, even aesthetically pleasing. Another person said my work was the most interesting and enjoyable. Though art isn’t a competition, it felt really good to be able to make someone feel something and leave an impression.

 Some of the reactions to my vulva painting included:

“Is that…? What I think it is?”

“Is that a strawberry?”

“Is that an onion? Why is it pink?”

“Oh, is it an almond?”

“It reminded me of my pap smear last week!”

It also felt good to finally make art that reflected who I was and my inspirations; I feel like I am more able to say that know who I am and what I am passionate about.

See more photos here: