Women. Am I right?

Posts, Selected Posts

“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.

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What Is That Sound?

Posts, Transports of Delight

I discovered something interesting on the weekend. I have a high level of emotional intelligence.

There’s a test you can take to determine this, and my Emotional Intelligence Quotient scored pretty high. I am, in fact, probably more emotionally intelligent than you. I am definitely more emotionally intelligent than my boyfriend (who also took the test) – and I will make sure he never forgets it.

In fact, I am so emotionally intelligent – so very much so – that I knew exactly how to handle an uncomfortable situation on the bus today.

The bus was trundling toward the city, and I was sitting down the front, enjoying my window seat. It was a cold, sunny day in Brisbane today – the type that’s beautiful with a cruel, glittering kind of beauty. It was warm inside the bus, so I was content. As we plunged beneath the city, into the subterranean busway, I started to hear a small noise coming from the back. It was a faint, staccato sound, repeating every few seconds. A small ftss.

Ftss.

Ftss.

I did not turn around. The sound was getting more insistent as we swung past the Queen Street Mall bus stop and up towards daylight. There it was again.

Ftss.

I supposed we had a sufferer of Tourette’s Syndrome on board. No worries – we had someone with Tourette’s in one of my lectures at uni. Once you got past the fact that someone to your left was grunting ‘Hup!’ over every third word the lecturer said, it became nothing more than lecture hall ambience.

Now the sound had gotten out of its seat and was moving towards the front of the bus, becoming more audible.

Ftss. Fksk. FKSK. FUCK’S SAKE!

The sound belonged to a smartly dressed young man with far too much gel in his hair, who evidently wanted to disembark in the city. But this bus didn’t stop in the city – it passed right through on its way to the eastern suburbs. Now Pointy Hair had realised this, and was approaching the bus driver.

As the bus cruised through the last set of traffic lights before the motorway entrance, there was a quiet conversation. It suddenly became loud.

‘I NEED TO GET OUT HERE.’

‘I CAN’T LET YOU OUT ON THE ROAD.’

‘LET ME OUT!’

The bus driver – a tough, middle-aged woman with beefy arms and an operatic voice – yanked the bus vindictively over to the kerb. She leaned on the steering wheel and glared at Pointy Hair.

‘THIS BUS DOES NOT. STOP. IN THE CITY!’

The young man was much calmer now that the bus had stopped. He tried to swipe his Go Card to tag off, but the machine hadn’t registered the stop.

He asked, ‘Could you please turn your machine on?’

‘READ THE FRONT OF THE BUS!’

Meanwhile, two other passengers stood up, the ones who were also on the wrong bus but had chosen to bear it with dignity. Now they were rushing the doors with relieved looks on their faces.

The bus driver was livid. ‘AW LOOK,’ she thundered at Pointy Hair, ‘NOW EVERYONE’S GETTING OUT!’

‘Could you please turn your machine on.’

The bus driver finally switched on the machine, and Pointy Hair and the others quickly tagged off. They exited the bus followed by the bellows of the bus driver: ‘READ THE FRONT OF THE BUS! READ THE FRONT OF THE BUS!’

As the shell-shocked survivors of her wrath scattered on the sidewalk, the bus driver threw a foul look into her rear-view mirror – as if daring any of us to ding the bell – then heaved us back onto the road. We rode onto the motorway in a silence that could’ve combusted. I kept waiting for her to shout at us like a pissed-off teacher who’s just sent the naughty kids to the principal, but still needs to vent. I was waiting for, ‘THAT’S WHY YOU ALWAYS READ THE FRONT OF THE BUS!’ But it never came. It was probably saved up for whoever was waiting for her at home, god rest their soul.

Now, because of my heightened emotional intelligence, I was able to handle this situation very well. (Clearly these EIQ tests are extremely accurate.) When presented with a highly charged atmosphere and a conflict situation, I reacted with the grace and style of someone who has aced the emotional intelligence test.

I ducked down in my seat and tried to stop the tears from coming.

Yep. Watery eyes and a trembling bottom lip. Frightened of the bus driver. That’s the mark of an emotionally superior being, right there. Boom. Take notes everyone, ‘cos this is how we do.

 

"I'm not trying to buy the road … I just wanted to park on it"

Transports of Delight

Last week, a letter entitled ‘My Rejected Parking Appeal Retort’ went viral on Facebook. It was written by a known troublemaker a dear friend of mine, who recently received a hefty parking fine. She appealed the fine, but her appeal was rejected. (When you read the letter, you might figure out why.) Subsequently she wrote this letter to a representative of the City of South Perth – a poor man named Phil – outlining her general feelings on the rejection. This letter is about a parking fine … but it’s so much more than that.

In it, she ranges wildly in tone and philosophy, from questioning the role of government in our daily lives, to oblique (and seemingly irrelevant) Tom Cruise references. She dismisses feminism, endorses privatisation, and accuses South Perth of careening towards an Orwellian dystopia in which Big Brother is always watching. Remember, this started because she parked slightly outside the lines of a parking space.

This letter is hysterical. In every. Sense. Of the word.

I initially took the letter at face value, as just another eccentric thing my friend Jess did. But as more people have read it and discussed it, full-blown arguments have erupted.

“She’s making a valid point! Why do we have to pay to park on roads that we drive on for free?”

“We pay for what we use! We pay so that the City can afford to maintain the roads!”

“Isn’t that why we pay taxes? Why are they punishing us for using roads for which we’re already paying taxes?”

“It’s not punishment, it’s a clear set of consequences that you agree to when you participate in civilisation!”

“Civil liberties, blarrh!”

(And that was just the argument going on inside my own head.)

So, before you read the letter, I want to ask you: what is your opinion on parking fines? Is it reasonable for the City to issue punitive fines when we’re parking on public roads? Are roads something to which we have a right as citizens, or must we pay extra for the privilege? Are parking meters and fines a “revenue raising” scheme, as my friend suggests, or are they in the interests of public safety?

On a broader philosophical note, I would also like to ask: Do we serve the government? Or does the government serve us?

I’m going to copy in my friend’s letter for you, now. By the way, she really did send it. (The addressee’s name has been changed, because I believe in protecting privacy, even if ‘Gov’ doesn’t. Ooh, ideological burn!) After reading it, I suggest punching the air and yelling “WE ARE THE NINETY-NINE PER CENT!”

My Rejected Parking Appeal Retort

Dear Mr McKay, (if that even is your real name)

I understand that you feel that the City of South Perth could really use the $100 from my parking fine – it being “tough times” and all… In fact, I’m pretty sure there is a parking inspector in Greece that is blaming their crisis on being lenient on the Gucci laden women that park so recklessly in their suburban streets. So, how do you even sleep at night? I’m just taking a stab in the dark here Phil, but I’m guessing it’s on thousands of $100 bills that you’ve collected from poor, naive women like me; who just have terrible depth perception and can’t tell if they’re parked in the right space or not.

Surely there is a “women driver” clause that gives us a bit of grace? What about a warning to be more careful, or simply be more attentive? Or issue a forced public apology even? Now I’m all for equality, but I think the feminist movement has a lot to answer for. I’ll be honest, Phil, I don’t like lifting heavy things, or opening doors for myself; they’re just dirty.

Now, I don’t have a clever segue-way for my next point, but did you ever see that film, I think Tom Cruise was in it (shame about the divorce) Minority Report maybe? Anyway, it was about convicting people of crimes before they could commit them? Which in the end turned out to be a terrible idea and I’m pretty stoked we don’t have that kind of technology to enforce that in our society. Japan may be the closest to it – or Germany, for different reasons – but hey, I don’t live there, I live in Australia – quite possibly the greatest nation on this planet, despite it’s petty parking laws and over zealous Rangers – but alas, I digress. We just don’t punish people for victimless crimes these days, Phil! It’s just not hip! Maybe all the cool kids are working at the City of Perth or something, because they’re certainly not hanging out on the south side of the basketball court if you get my drift….

This whole spiel about parking laws being in place for public safety seems like its just bureaucratic jumping-on-a-couch-mumbo-jumbo. As if anyone has been hurt because someone hadn’t parked exactly inside the yellow lines in the first place? Enlighten me, Phil – just how are those solid yellow lines of paint on Mill-Point Road saving lives?

Let’s be honest, it’s not really about safety is it, Phil? It’s simple revenue raising! It always is! And without parking laws, we can’t create over-paid jobs to enforce them, or pay for the office Christmas Party now could we? Gina is keen to import labour from overseas – maybe you should try that to reduce your costs? Perhaps then you could issue more affordable fines, for say, twenty or even forty dollars, whilst still being able to go out for lunch on the corporate credit card. I’m sure Gina would agree that $100 for a parking infringement, in this circumstance, is pretty steep – even with the new carbon tax in place. You know Phil, I’m not actually trying to buy the four meters of road I was parked on – I was just borrowing it for half an hour.

In all seriousness, I find it pretty lowbrow to be issued a fine for parking slightly out of the space, but still within it mind you. Perhaps you should give out vouchers for parking lessons, as it looks like there is a minimum standard of competency that I have missed out on. I don’t believe this violation of your South Perth lore is fair, and I reckon it’s worth appealing.

That said, I would love to see the photos the Ranger took of my car. Please email them to my email address – I most certainly don’t have the resources to come to visit the rangers of the mighty South Perth Civic Centre during work hours to view in person, and I’m sure the photographic evidence is already on your system. Surely your department isn’t still taking snaps with Polaroid’s? Well, it seems there are so many of these wandering Rangers about – can’t one of them just bring the photos over to me? Alternatively I am happy to send you a self-addressed envelope for you to send them to me via post. You already have my address, license plate number, car description etc. – so finding my postal address shouldn’t be too difficult.

It may be worth noting that my blood type is O+ just incase you need me to sign another form with it – I know how you local government types love to see things jump through hoops; whoa, hold up – is that why the City of Perth has a circus camped out on the foreshore?! My God, is that what it’s there for??!!!

I’m not a believer in ponsey appeal processes and I am looking forward to writing to you for the long-term.

Kind Regards,

Jess