Love Is… Australian Wedding Fashion 

I’m at the “Love Is… Australian Wedding Fashion” exhibition at the  Powerhouse Museum.

This was a very interesting exhibition but it’s not really about “Australia.” It’s about White Australia. It starts with a room about “early history” – which begins with “convicts.” Already Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are erased, but to add injury, the room uses an unnamed Indigenous song that plays in the background to a room full of White colonisers. There is only one Aboriginal designer in the entire exhibition – Dharruk and Darkenjung woman Robyn Caughlan (in this video) – but no couples. Continue reading Love Is… Australian Wedding Fashion 

Gender, Race, Power and The Beguiled

How do White women perpetuate gender and racial inequality in film? A new adaption of the 1966 novel and 1971 film, “The Beguiled,” is hitting the silver screen. The original story opens with a limping, dirtied White man, John (also nicknamed “Mr B”), played with relish by Clint Eastwood. The audience knows the violence and lies he’s capable of, as we see flashbacks that contradict his charm. He is an Unionist soldier injured in battle towards the end of the American Civil War. He staggers his way to a secluded boarding school for girls and young women, where he is nursed back to health by the older women, a mixed group of begrudging and bemused ladies who are stifled by their secret desires. The 2017 version has already built up high praise, with director Sofia Coppola being awarded Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival. This is the first time the prestigious award has been given to a woman. Coppola explains why she chose to erase the character of Hallie, a slave woman who features prominently in the original. I emphasise Whiteness in her language below. Whiteness is a concept describing how White people don’t acknowledge how their race is central to their worldviews and contributes to racial oppression:

“I really thought it was interesting because it was a group of women all living together, all different ages with different stages of maturity, and how they interact. It’s a group of women kind of isolated in the world… I’m definitely attracted to stories about female characters, and characters that I can relate to. I’m interested in stories of groups of women together…  At the heart of the story, it’s really about the power dynamics between men and women that are universal, but that are sort of heightened in this kind of premise.”

Copolla makes two points in this interview:

  1. She loves women’s stories (read: White women’s stories).
  2. By saying she chooses stories that she relates to, and having omitted the only Black woman from her script, she is saying she only relates to White women.

This may seem “natural” to White people: why would a White woman relate to a Black woman character? This logic is how Whiteness works: by taking for granted the power dynamics of race. Continue reading Gender, Race, Power and The Beguiled

Equity and Race in Discussions of “Gender Balanced” Panels

There is increased pressure for conferences and events to stop excluding women as speakers, in science and in other fields. Yet there is less public attention on racial equity and representation of other minorities on panels. I take a look at a few recent examples where White people will focus on lack of “50/50 gender balance.” This phrase is often a proxy for seeing White cisgender people as the desired equilibrium. This excludes Indigenous people, other racial minorities and other under-represented groups. Let’s review what happened when the Royal Society of New Zealand announced its 150th anniversary celebration, the committee debating Brexit, and the pattern on social media, where White women unfollow gender discussions that focus on racial justice.

Continue reading Equity and Race in Discussions of “Gender Balanced” Panels

Whiteness in Childfree Academic Discourse

In a typical example of whiteness, the process by which White people leave their racial position unexamined, a psychologist draws “parallels between my research [on racism &sexism] and my experience as a childfree woman.” The researcher argues that she faces social stigma as a childless woman that is akin to racial discrimination.

As soon as I read that line, I knew this researcher was a White woman. Continue reading Whiteness in Childfree Academic Discourse

Resist Narratives of “the Good Rapist”

[TW rape] Resist narratives of “the Good Rapist” who is absolved of guilt and who is rewarded for being forgiven. Reject discourse of “the Good Survivor” who is serene and does all the emotional labour to educate their attacker. This is not the model for transformative justice. Liv Wynter writes:

“I have my fears about the trickle down affect of this man’s success story, I can already see misogynists sharing this story with descriptions of what they believe a ‘Good Survivor’ looks like. I fear for Tom’s pedastooling by Men’s Rights Activists who believe a woman’s body is theirs to own and use as they see fit. I fear the people who will send this video to their friends who have been raped. Mostly, I fear the rapists who will be encouraged to contact their victims off the back of this video.”

What Wynter doesn’t say in her excellent article is the only reason this rapist is invited onstage and gets book deals is because he’s White. A man of colour would simply be fulfilling the stereotype of the so-called “bad hombre” if he’s Latin or an “oppressor” if he’s Muslim and there’d be calls for deportation. Otherwise he’d be the “dangerous Black man,” and White supremacists would descend upon these public appearances. Race mediates public forgiveness and rewards heaped upon rapists. See Casey Affleck, who sexually harassed multiple women, and yet just won an Oscar.

Race and the Head Wrap in Brazil

Racism in Latin America is deep and complicated by the way in which colonialism is internalised in national narratives. In Brazil, the official discourse is one of perfect multicultural, multiracial togetherness, however, the fact is that race is intertwined with class inequality. Black and Indigenous Brazilians are treated like second class citizens and their cultures are appropriated and fetishised by the majority groups and elites. Continue reading Race and the Head Wrap in Brazil

Sociology of Abortion Politics

Women protesting, with a sign that reads "My body. My choice."

This week, on 11 May 2017, a bill two-years-in-the-making to decriminalise abortion in the state of New South Wales, Australia, was defeated 14 to 25, meaning abortion remains a crime under the Criminal Act. Greens MP and Spokesperson for the Status of Women, Dr Mehreen Faruqi MLC, who led the campaign to decriminalise said: “This bill was not about promoting or not promoting abortion. It was about choice.”

Another separate bill to establish 150 metre safe zones to protect abortion clinics has been introduced by Labor MP Penny Sharpe. This bill works to eliminate harassment and intimidation by anti-choice lobbyists who film and degrade women who walk into clinics.

In NSW, women can access abortions only with their doctor’s consent that there are “reasonable grounds” for the abortion, linked to physical and mental danger. Otherwise abortion is punishable by five years in jail.

This law has been in place since the 1970s, but stems back to 1900. Counter to national myths of our egalitarianism, abortion laws unearth how gender inequality is maintained by White, conservative Christian patriarchal ideology that seeks to control women’s autonomy. Sociological studies show how medical professionals have long been at the vanguard of change, by shifting understandings of abortion from moral arguments, to a medical choice.

Christian lobby groups, who hold strong political power, push back against medical and community views, using emotional imagery to influence abortion laws. This has proven effective over time, and continues to hold back progress in New South Wales (and Queensland, another conservative stronghold). Despite this recent set-back, momentum towards progressive change continues. A better sociological understanding of religiously conservative ideology and tactics may hold the key towards the next legal breakthrough.

 

Continue reading Sociology of Abortion Politics

Racism and Sexism in the Media

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Rugby star Sam Thaiday (above) who is Torres Strait Islander, made a sexist and racist comment during The Footy Show, a very popular, long-running TV show that is dominated by White male athletes and comedians who are infamous for racism and sexism. Thaiday “joked” that he once had dated “dark women” as part of a “jungle fever phase” that he then grew out of (his wife is a White Australian woman, with whom he has children).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander commentators, artists and researchers were swift to condemn Thaiday’s words. Their activism was effective: they called on action from Deadly Choices, an Indigenous-led health initiative in Queensland that promotes Thaiday as one of their key ambassadors. This led initially to a statement denouncing Thaiday’s damaging message, and today they announced that Thaiday was removed as their ambassador. Continue reading Racism and Sexism in the Media

Interview: Race and Conscious Dating

I was a panellist on a thoughtful discussion about race and dating with journalist and documentary filmmaker Santilla Chingaipe and multi-talented author and editor Andy Quan. Continue reading Interview: Race and Conscious Dating

The Institute of Sexology

This exhibition was held in London. It covered the early work by Western scholars to study sexuality and diverse sexual identities. Featuring various social scientists from anthropology (such as Margaret Mead) to psychology (Freud), I was ecstatic that two sociologists, Prof Kayle Wells and Prof Julia Field, are featured prominently in the final section of the exhibit.

Wells and Field are two of the lead investigators of the longitudinal National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles.

The exhibition ends with an invitation to participate in the exhibition survey and also contribute a question. One of these is chosen to be added to the survey each week and the aim is to replace all the original questions with public questions. Some of the anonymous answers are on display and they change constantly.

My favourite that I’m still mulling over is by a woman in her 20s (paraphrased): “You can tell whether a man is feminist or not by the way he has sex.”