(c) Kaitlyn Plyley 2013

Why catching public transport has made me a better person

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Transports of DelightCatching public transport has made me a better person. Rather than driving a car, rather than careening in my private space down crowded streets, surrounded but kept separate from everyone else – rather than this, I catch public transport, and I am better than I was before.

I don’t have my own personal stereo system anymore. I can’t sing along to the radio at the top of my lungs. I have to sit on seats that have been sat on by many, many other people – some of whom are frequently sweaty – and keep my knees together, my lips closed, my thoughts to myself. I have to think of others. I have to save up my smiles for strangers. I have to thank the driver. I love thanking the driver. A small thank-you and a wave for taking me to the place I want to go, for being a part of my journey, for not shouting at me when I didn’t have the correct change. Thanks for opening the door, thanks for not killing us on Coronation Drive. Just, thanks.

I don’t get to places quickly anymore. I don’t have the luxury of leaving whenever I want. I have to wait for buses. I have to wait. I have to find a spot in the shadow of the bus-stop shelter where the sun doesn’t hit me at full noon but where I can still watch the curve of the road for the oncoming bus. I sit in the shade of an old tree, on the cement border of a garden, on the flat grass next to the bench. I sit and I wait. I watch the road. I check my phone. And if I’m not too busy typing or texting or trying to find a tune that perfectly fits my mood, I look up at the sky. I often look at the clouds, watch them – they’re actually moving. I see them moving. I can watch one cloud shift from the left of the sky to the right, scudding past and changing shape and morphing into something completely different but equally beautiful and I question everything I think about the nature of reality. I ponder god. I ponder life. I stare at the sky until the sun is burned in starbursts onto my vision, and then the bus is heaving into the stop and I’m stumbling up to flag it down.

(c) Kaitlyn Plyley 2013

Taken from a bus stop.

I don’t have my personal space anymore. I can’t pile as many things as I want into my car, carry the heaviest of bags, shift junk from one place to the other without thinking about it, because I have to think about it. I have to think about whether I will be able to get a seat, or whether I’ll be standing, and whether my my bags of junk might swing around and hit some poor older woman sitting near me who was just trying to get down the shops for a cuppa with her daughter visiting from Ipswich. I don’t have the luxury of not caring. I don’t have the ability to shut people out. I have to see them, all of them, the worst and the creepiest and the smelly. I have to breathe in the smell of cigarettes, even though I hate cigarettes. I have to listen to shouted phone conversations and loud school students and brassy ladies on their way out on the town. I am tired and I wish it were quiet, and the girl sitting in front of me stretches forward to press the button for an old man who couldn’t reach it. He twists his burn-scarred face and says, “Thank you”. She smiles, turns in profile; her purple fringe swings into her face. “No worries,” she says.

I don’t have control anymore. I have no say in how fast we go or when we get there or how many red lights we blow. I grip the back of the seat in front of me; I am terrified. I am elated. I want to throw my hands in the air like a roller-coaster rider when the bus driver hurls us down the hills of Kelvin Grove with the brakes completely untouched, hurtling through the suburbs and squealing into stops at the last second. I don’t know if we’ll make that corner. I don’t know if we’ll hit that car. I have lost control, and as a strange result, I am more punctual. I turn up on time, early – so early that I have time to meander down the street and take a breath in the doorway and stop for a drink of water before I arrive. I leave plenty of time to be late; I don’t trust the bus. I shouldn’t have trusted the car, when I had it, but I thought I was in control. I thought I could speed up a little if I was running late. I thought I could plan the journey to the minute. I was wrong, so wrong, and I was a bad friend, a tardy employee, and a flushed and stressed student. I was always running in just on time: “Traffic on the freeway”, “Ergh, no parking anywhere”. Now, I look out the window before I leave the house and think, “Huh, it’s raining. Allow an extra half-hour for the bus.” It’s annoying, but it’s better. I’m better, and when I arrive I’m relaxed and clear-eyed.

I’m looking around instead of looking at the road. I’m people-watching instead of fuming at people. I’m having a chat with the businessman whose briefcase is crammed in next to me, instead of trying to text while I steer with my knees. (Yeah, I used to do that. Another reason why it’s better I catch the bus.) I’m alert, paying attention, and watching my back when I walk home at night. Because I know I’m not safe; I know I’m out in the big, wide world and I am careful. I don’t have a protective bubble of glass and steel around me, tricking me into thinking I am untouchable. I am vulnerable, dependent, trusting that the people around me with treat me with care: the bus driver, the passengers, the other drivers on the road. I trust them. I have to. And it has made me better.

I never could have guessed any of this when I was watching my old Ford Festiva be towed out of the mechanic’s lot. I never could have guessed, while I was waving goodbye to my symbol of independence, my status as a car-owner in an increasingly car-oriented society, that I would eventually be grateful. That I would be kind of glad that I bought a lemon, that my beloved ’96 Festiva (“Jeff” to his friends) would conk out on the side of the Mitchell Freeway and never get going again. Not having a car has limited my life in terms of geography and distance – I can’t drive up the coast on a whim or live a ridiculous distance from work – but it has expanded my life in other ways. My heart, or something. So, bus drivers: seriously, thanks.

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Women. Am I right?

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“This is a real phenomenon: When women feel like outsiders, they lose interest.”

I read the above quote in an article today, and it struck me dead. In the article, a science student writes about gender bias in the scientific professions, and even though I don’t know my boron from my bunsen burner, I found myself strongly relating to it.

See, the thing is, on Wednesday night I had my first go at stand-up comedy. I entered myself in RAW Comedy, where beginner comedians can compete for a spot in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. I had never set foot onstage at a stand-up gig before, and I don’t mind telling you I was petrified. I had a lively group of friends around me, chattering and laughing and telling me I was going to be fabulous, but every now and then I would just go blank with hot white terror.

Part of my terror came, I think, from the fact that I was one of only four women competing on the night. The other 11 were, as you might imagine, men. That in itself wouldn’t have been that intimidating. After all, I’ve been performing at poetry slams and readings for years now, which are still heavily male-dominated. That wasn’t the issue. It was what the men were saying. Joke after joke about violence against women. Seriously. One guy’s punch line was actually – and I quote – “Wouldn’t it be great to know you fucked a woman to death?” Then he talked about going to her funeral and gloating, saying, “Let that be a lesson to all you other ladies”.

Yes. Let that be a lesson to us. In case we ever forget, we aren’t safe here. Comedy is not a safe space – for anyone, I suppose, but especially for women. One male comedian spent his five minutes extolling his disgust at Julia Gillard, saying she had a penis and she couldn’t arouse the most desperate of men and so on and so on. Textbook misogyny: “a-woman-can’t-be-in-power-without-losing-her-femaleness” with a dash of “if-she-can’t-get-me-off-what’s-the-point-of-her”. Not a word, of course, about her actions as Prime Minister. Another man raged against his ex-wife, calling her a “crazy bitch” at least six times before I tuned out. One young, harmless looking guy, who looked like someone your brother might play Call of Duty with, thanked all the women in the audience for setting their Facebook profiles to ‘public’ so that he could masturbate to them.

I am truly baffled when I see male comedians make demeaning jokes about women, and then chuckle: “Ha ha, all the women in the room hate me right now”. All the women in the room – that’s fifty per cent of your audience, buddy! Too many amateur comedians seem to forget that alienating women means alienating half your potential ticket-paying customers. That comedy isn’t just for the benefit of other men.

By the time it was my turn to perform next, I was feeling sick to the stomach. I waited by the sinks in the ladies’ room, staring up at the posters of upcoming comedy tours. Rows and rows of male faces grinned down at me. I smoothed down my hair, eyeing my outfit. Before I left the house that night, I had pulled a ribbon out of my hair, not wanting the audience to be distracted by my gender. Already, I was “gender priming”, having been told for years that female comedians “just aren’t as funny”.

“Even in areas where actual performance is equal, when a certain group is reminded that they are supposed to be bad at something, their performance weakens.” (S. Wofford, Feminspire)

But I did it. I told some jokes. At the end of my set, I sat down with my friends, shaking like a flippin’ leaf. I had survived. I had even gotten some laughs. I put my head down on the sticky table and tried not to gasp for air. I know public speaking is meant to be scary, but it had never really scared me up until this point. Comedy is such a different beast. You can lose the crowd so quickly. And then you’re dead.

Later that night, after seeing off my friends and dragging myself home, I felt empty. Like all the humour had been sucked out of me. My five minutes up there hadn’t been too bad, I thought, but the other comedians’ various attacks on women had shaken me. I comforted myself that the crowd had liked those jokes as little as I did, with most people shifting uncomfortably in their seats or sitting in stony silence. At least the misogyny wasn’t being openly encouraged. But I wondered. After years of going to comedy nights, I can say that jokes at the expense of women are incredibly common. They’re often aggressive and sometimes violent. Why do these comedians still think these jokes would be an awesome idea?

I found myself thinking, are these the people I want to work alongside? Is this an industry I want to join? If I’m going to have to spend years feeling like a second-class citizen, why would I bother? And then today, I found clarity, staring at me out of that science student’s article. I felt like an outsider, therefore I was losing interest. I was already thinking of opting out of my lifelong dream (my mother says that as an eight-year-old I solemnly informed her, “I want to be a stand-up comedian”) because of some dickheads with microphones. Seems to me that comedy is so male-dominated not because women aren’t as interested in comedy. Rather, I think a lot of women listen to the sexist jokes and see the other female comedians putting themselves down to get laughs, and think, “Fuck this noise”.

Well, I won’t be so easily discouraged. If I cancelled my dreams every time some idiot made me feel inferior for being a girl, I’d never have gone anywhere or done anything. I’m gonna have crack at this comedy thing. And whether I keep working at it or decide it’s not for me, I hope my decision will be based on factors other than my gender.

Five movies that are bad for girls

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For most of last year, I worked at a private boarding house for girls. I was a “housey”.

My boarders were very bright, active, educated young women who could keep any housey on her toes. When lining up for dinner, they were fierce analytical negotiators. At bedtime they were tireless prosecutors. (“But miss, you let the Year 8s stay up for Glee!”) They navigated the politics of teenage girldom with strength and canniness and a freakish understanding of their complex social web.

But when it came to Movie Night, they only wanted one thing. Stupidity. Frequent, continuous stupidity. Preferably delivered to them in a cute dress.

They wanted the stupid, vapid, often offensive films grouped under the umbrella of “rom-com”. They wanted them without exception, and they would accept no other genre.

I despaired of the boarding house’s DVD library, which contained almost exclusively films about romance (with the exception of Milo & Otis … which is really more of a bromance). In school, these girls were privy to the best academic education our state had to offer. But their education in love and relationships was informed by How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days.

So, for months, I had to watch Amanda Bynes finish every story arc with “See! It’s OK that I’m a strong woman, because look, boyfriend!”, while my brain screamed to itself.

I tried to counteract this pro-stupid bias by delivering mini-seminars at the end of each movie. “Alright girls, who could see what was wrong with that ending? Should she have risked her career so that he wouldn’t feel ’emasculated’?” My lectures were met with replies such as “Shut up” and “Miss, don’t ruin this for us”.

I watched nearly all of those movies with the girls (and quite a few in my spare time). I’m not saying I don’t enjoy watching them. I do. I really, really do. But I also watch other genres of film, and, I might point out, I have enough life experience to realise that Matthew McConaughey is not going to sweep me away on his motorcycle. Those rom-com stories are all about exceptions to the norm: weird – and therefore funny – situations. But the girls watch them uncritically, accepting them as their ideal romance. When they collectively cooed in awe as Edward decided he did, after all, want to be with Bella, after breaking her heart and abandoning her without explanation, I wanted to bash my own head in.

So, rather than bash myself (because then the rom-coms win!), I choose to word-bash these films in this blog. I choose to NAME and SHAME.

I wanted to title this list “Top Five Movies That Young Girls Shouldn’t Watch Without An Accompanying Lecture And Discussion Workshop Analysing The Oppressive Discourses At Work On Them”. But it wasn’t snappy enough. Here, instead, is my list of Five Movies That Are Bad For Girls.

5. Friends With Benefits / No Strings Attached / any film in which casual sex leads to the guy falling deeply in love with the girl

These movies are just setting girls up for a fall … and possibly herpes.

4. Pretty Woman

Prostitution leads to the guy falling deeply in love with the girl … See above.

3. 10 Things I Hate About You

Yeah, I know, BUT HEATH LEDGER! I agree. He is dreamy. And while I adore this film, the ending makes me go “But whaaaaat?” Let’s remember that Heath spends most of the film conspiring with a motley group of teenage boys to trick Julia Stiles into dating him so the other guys can swarm on her sister. Somewhere along the line, Heath actually begins to notice that Julia’s a rockin’ babe. However, he continues to accept bribes to date her, and lies to her about things like quitting smoking. Julia finds out and, hurt by his betrayal, gets mad. Really mad. (Not surprisingly.) Still the bravest person in the film, she expresses her bewilderment in a poem that rhymes really badly. Heath listens with a pained expression. With so much trust lost between them, and such a betrayal on Heath’s part, you’d think it would take something huge to– oh wait, he bought her a guitar. He bought her a guitar! Rather than do something trite and mediocre like APOLOGISE, he bought her a guitar. And when she expresses her need to rebuild trust with him, he stifles her by forcing his face onto hers. All is better! Cue grunge music!

2. The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Pointing out chauvinism in the Twilight series is like shooting fish in a barrel, so I’ll keep this brief. Bella loves Edward! Edward loves Bella! But wait, Bella’s blood makes Edward’s family want to kill her. Bella wants to work through this problem, because their relationship is important to her, but Edward knows what is good for Bella BETTER THAN SHE DOES. He dumps her, without explanation. Bella is sad! Bella sits on a sofa without moving for several months! Then she jumps off a cliff! Only solution when your boyfriend leaves you! Wait, Edward needs her! Then, ignoring safety for herself, Bella needs to help him! Edward’s back, yay! He’s chastising her for not understanding that he did it for her own good, but he’s back! All better!

1. How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days

This blog post begins and ends with Kate Hudson. I’ve probably seen this movie upwards of a dozen times. It’s like a bag of stale popcorn: if it’s in front of me, I’ll probably finish it. Yet, the ending never fails to make me mad. The set-up of this film is that Kate Hudson is bored with her job writing fluff pieces for a women’s magazine. She wants to write about politics, world events, substance! Matthew McConaughey is a jock with an overwrought torso who boasts that he could make “any woman” fall in love with him within 10 days. (What a catch!) Something something they fall in love something then they find out they’re both being played and things fall apart. Clearly, their relationship (which only began less than two weeks ago, I’ll point out) was built on shaky foundations. There is a lot of trust lost. Out of this fiasco, Kate finds the strength to quit her boring column, and leaves New York pursue her dream job. Yay Kate Hudson! But wait, who’s this driving his motorcycle recklessly through peak hour traffic? It’s your dream guy! The one who sees women as interchangeable and dated you on a bet with his boss! He’s telling you not to leave him, because he JUST REALISED he loves you, and he thinks it’s stupid for you to move to Washington for your job, because HE is in New York! “You can write anywhere!” Duh, Kate Hudson! Now he’s ordering your cab driver around and singlehandedly deciding that you’re not moving, after all. Aren’t you lucky that you have such a handsome, strangely-tanned man to make decisions for you? BLERGH.