This makes me uncomfortable

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About a year and a half ago, I wrote a blog post called ‘Being comfortable is not the same as success‘. It came out of my ponderings on finding my niche after reading Sir Ken Robinson’s The Element and watching Bloc Party be awesome live. I wondered, do we have to be uncomfortable to succeed? Are we wrongly taught to seek comfort over personal growth? For example, we’re taught to prefer a career that will let us live comfortably in a nice house etc. over a career that might be personally rewarding but more difficult. Counter-culture tells us not to “sell out” and to go for the more difficult path. Is it right? Is there a virtue in discomfort?

Now I wonder if there are different kinds of “comfortable”. Like, say, there’s that feeling of being in the ‘flow state’, when you have found the thing you love and doing it connects you to the floor and the ceiling. Then there’s that feeling of curling up on the couch and watching your old favourite TV show – you know all the words, there are no surprises, and you relax into the safe familiarity. Are these different? I feel that one must be more productive than the other, but then I worry that my attachment of value to productivity is a product of my cultural conditioning to always be productive. Gah. It is hell inside my head right now.

I feel like there must be a bunch of philosophers who have already covered this topic; Plato wrote about different types of love, so surely someone must have written about different types of comfort. If there are any philosophy students out there who can point me towards some reading, I’d love to hear about it! Gimme some juice in the comments below.

In the past, I’ve let myself stay in relationships and circumstances that made me deeply uncomfortable because I had become so divorced from my feelings that I couldn’t use them as signposts anymore. Sometimes discomfort is a good sign that you should run far, far away. Otherwise, what are our instincts for? But learning to separate instinct from conditioned discomfort is difficult, at least for me. How can I tell whether I’m uncomfortable because this is a bad scene, or because I am stepping outside a culturally mandated ‘comfort zone’?

Talking about all this makes me uncomfortable, too. Yeesh, life is just uncomfortable. Thank goodness I have M*A*S*H and this deep sofa to help deal with it.

Newsletter! September is for storytelling

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I have started a newsletter! I will be emailing it out about once a month. It’s a nice, tidy summary of creative projects and events I’m involved in, which other people may enjoy also. This idea sprang from the Big Hearted Business morning tea I attended a couple of weeks ago, where Clare Bowditch gave her best advice for being a creative type. (It was an amazing day; Clare asked us all to write down our career goals, then sang to us while we were writing. It has spoiled me – now I can’t write lists without an ARIA-winning singer/songwriter playing live for me.)

Anyway, quite often people approach me at events and ask me when the next storytelling night is, or how they can find out about live poetry in Brisbane. I feel like I have so many answers to those questions that I need to find a more expedient way of letting people know. Thus, newsletter!

Here is the link to view the September edition: http://eepurl.com/D2P2D
You can find out about storytelling workshops, basement poetry, and some festival shows where I’ll be sayin’ words. There’s also a subscribe button on the top left-hand corner of the newsletter, if you’d like to receive the emails.

PS. Hope to see y’all at Yarn: Man vs Wild on Wednesday! Yarn: Man vs Wild

 

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.

Merida's fabulous hair.

Disney’s Brave New Hair

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Snapshot from a poster of Disney Pixar's 'Brave'

So, I saw Brave the other night. And, of course, I loved it. It was the kind of Disney I remember from my girlhood: moving, uplifting, and dreamily beautiful. After the movie, my friend and I whirled out of the cinema with eyes as big as hope. I felt like I wanted to say something profound about the incredible animation, or the sensitive portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship … But as we stepped into the foyer, all we talked about was hair. Merida’s hair. We leaned up against reflective surfaces and started scrunching our locks to make them more curly, wondering if we would look weird as redheads. “But then,” I sighed, “You could never get Merida’s exact colour in real life.” We both sank a little. And that was it. We were bumming out over hair.

It’s not a new observation that Disney gives girls unrealistic hair expectations. (I read it on an internet meme somewhere.) Those hair standards are simply impossible to live up to – I mean, Ariel’s fringe defies gravity at all times. Jasmine’s hair has more body than her body. And Pocahontas’s hair never tangles or gets caught in her lip gloss, even though she’s always standing on windy hilltops. Come on.

Disney has a propensity to create what I call ‘hairoines’. This means that the female protagonist’s personality is expressed mainly through her hairstyle. And while she may be a Disney-Pixar hybrid, it looks like Brave’s Scottish princess could join the Disney hairoine ranks. In Merida’s defence, she is definitely a step out of the old Disney princess mold – she has no wish to marry, she actively shapes her own fate, and she has a benevolent mother figure. (On a side note, ever noticed the lack of maternal role-models in Disney? Cinderella and Snow White had evil stepmothers; the mothers of Jasmine, Pocahontas, Ariel and Belle are ‘assumed dead’; and Rapunzel was held hostage by her fake mother … Not a great run for mothers.) Merida is a breath of fresh air.

Nevertheless, in the lead-up to Brave’s release, many of the articles about the Magic Kingdom’s newest daughter centred around … her hair. The tech blogs were abuzz about Merida’s hair. Pixar spent three years developing new technology in order to animate her hair. Apparently none of the existing technology was good enough. They needed ground-breaking hair! Tresses that would stop the presses! Locks that would really pop! (You get the point.)

I feel I should ask, why is hair so important? But I just know that it is. When Mulan disguised herself as a man, the most significant part of the transformation was when she cut her hair short. It was a symbolic act of defiance, and a demonstration of her commitment. By chopping off her hair, she changed her identity, even her gender. Such is the power of hair. Any woman who has cropped long hair, or shaved her head, or gotten a pixie cut (guilty), knows that hair is a big deal.

Often, when I think that something is a big deal, I think of Africa. Like many middle-class Westerners, that is how I get perspective. I think of Africa. But even the Third World knows that hair is important. I visited Ghana a few years ago, and as we trundled along a dirt road through some pretty rough-looking slums, I remember thinking, “Damn, these women all have perfect hair.” How did they do it? They were walking barefoot along muddy roads with stray dogs running around them, and they had Michelle Obama hair. So I asked somebody about it, and they told me: “They’re wigs.” These women had all buzzed off their own hair, and saved up their money to buy perfectly coiffed wigs. That way they always had perfect hair. This is in an area where they did not yet have indoor plumbing. Hair is a big deal.

I know, I know – I will never have hair like Merida. Or Ariel, or Sleeping Beauty, or Jasmine. (Maybe like Belle, if I had my own team of hairdressers always on standby.) Once I admit that, I feel a lot better about my own plain, brown hair. I can’t say I’m not annoyed at Disney for encouraging such high expectations in me. However, I am grateful to Brave for providing me with a Disney heroine to whom I can relate: a girl with depth of character, complexity of emotion; a rising spirit. A heroine who isn’t just a hairoine. Merida’s hair is spectacular, but next to the power of her personality, it is merely an ornament. And, really, isn’t that the way it should be?