Choice, abortion, motherhood

Yesterday, I published an article on the ABC about how International Women’s Day — a day that is supposed to celebrate women — rarely makes room for women with caring responsibilities. I received lots of wonderful responses from women who felt the piece reflected their experiences. I also received this email, which I would not share except that it give me a reason to talk about something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

dear ms riley
i have never written to a writer such as yourself before but at this moment i felt the need to find you and write once i read your op-ed piece about feminism. as a mature, childless by choice, single woman, i have no sympathy for what you describe. in fact, i am fed to the teeth, after being in the full time work force for more than 30 years, covering for my pregnant/new mother/mother colleagues- and never a work of thanks from any. i assume the following: to have a child was your choice, even if the pregnancy was unplanned?? where the expletive-deleted do you get off? you have CHOSEN to do this. you volunteered. you had months to change your mind but you went through with it. (you probably had to set out to do a few things deliberately as well to achieve this). and you expect/want even more than what has been very generously assigned? i would like to do some full time study once again- very useful to my work as well for as myself- i dont get time off work/paid/job held for me while i choose to do this. feminism is not about this, at all. having a baby in the current state of the world is the ultimate self-indulgence and yet you sound annoyed and aggrieved at the fact that your life is not as easy/straightforward as it was before you chose to do this??!!!! you didnt think to factor in the presence of an entirely dependent for years and years individual in your life?? WTF!!! this relates to feminism how?? entitled younger generation is what it is.

There’s much I could respond to here. First, the idea that childless women and women with children are each others enemies is tiresome and self-defeating. I’ve written about that before, but it’s always worth repeating.

But this is the part that I think is worth thinking about a little further:

i assume the following: to have a child was your choice, even if the pregnancy was unplanned?? where the expletive-deleted do you get off? you have CHOSEN to do this. you volunteered. you had months to change your mind but you went through with it. (you probably had to set out to do a few things deliberately as well to achieve this). and you expect/want even more than what has been very generously assigned?”

It’s hardly a secret that my pregnancy was, in fact, unplanned. I was on the pill. But like many others, I didn’t realise how the risk of failure increases over time. In fact, in five years of typical use, 38% of women will fall pregnant on the pill. So when that second line appeared on the test, I had a choice.

But that choice is not made in a vacuum. My personal values and beliefs informed the choice that I made in this situation.

This is something I find it difficult to talk about as a feminist who is absolutely pro-choice: abortion is not something that I felt I could do. I have a certain personal beliefs about life and they were incompatible with me having an abortion.

I don’t think laws should be made based on those beliefs. I don’t judge other women for their decision to have an abortion. I think they should be entirely funded, legal and easily available. I support full decriminalization. While I did consider it a moral decision, I don’t think it is for everyone.

But it is for some people. And I think we should respect people’s decisions to personally reject abortion.

This is why I have a problem with talking about abortion as it is always purely a medical decision. No doubt, in many cases, it is. But in others, it is not and the consequence is that it’s it socially acceptable to demand women either have an abortion or live with the consequences — no matter how much those consequences are due to discrimination toward women. We’ve made child-rearing a *lifestyle choice* rather than something that is socially and economically valuable.

The choice to have a child is not the same as the choice to go on a holiday or buy a luxury car or quit your job and move to a commune. It is far more complicated than that. Demanding that the substantial number of women who fall pregnant accidentally every year (In the US, half of all pregnancies are unplanned) either accept the ways society fails to make accomodations for the work of parenting or get an abortion is not supporting women or choice. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard the argument that if you can’t afford children, you shouldn’t have them. Forcing poor women to have unwanted abortions for financial reasons is not supporting reproductive choice.

I could make an economic case for the value of the work of raising children. I could ask who’s going to be your nurse and physiotherapist and librarian when you’re old and need the social support. But we shouldn’t have to do that.

We should absolutely support women to make the choices right for their lives. We should also understand that women should not be expected to accept the status quo outcomes of their choices.

*** EDIT***

I wrote a response to the letter writer — let’s call her K — but it bounced. Apparently she gave me a fake email address. So K, if you happen to find this, this is for you:

Dear K,

I’m sorry you feel that people in your life have not supported the decisions you’ve made. The way society treats single, childless women is often cruel and exclusionary.
I do not, however, think that mothers are the enemy. As women, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t, as I have written about previously here: http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/news-and-views/opinion/when-it-comes-to-motherhood-women-cant-win-either-way-just-ask-gladys-berejiklian-20170124-gtxhlr.html
I do, however, take exception to the implication that as I did not choose to have an abortion, I should accept the way society treats motherhood. Abortion should be available to all women, but I do not believe any woman should be compelled to have one, nor punished because she didn’t. None of the consequences of having children I mentioned in my piece are inevitable. They exist because of how we have historically understood motherhood and the way our social and economic system has been built in response to that. But that does not mean they have to exist into perpetuity nor that they should go unchallenged.
I sincerely hope that the experiences of single, childless women like yourself, by choice or otherwise, improve as we expand our understanding of the roles of women. I would hope you could wish the same for women who are parents.
Kind regards,
Erin Riley

Men: do some work this International Women’s Day

Men who live with women, there’s a simple thing you can do to show your commitment to Women’s Equality this International Women’s Day: spend an hour doing housework you don’t usually do.

Find a job that needs to be done — don’t ask, just find one — and do it. And then commit to doing it every week.

Clean the toilet, scrub the shower, plan and supply dinner, buy the birthday gift for the kid’s party this weekend, take on an extra few hours of child care: whatever is appropriate for your situation.

Because even in couples where both partners work full time, on average women do a disproportionately large amount of domestic unpaid labour. And where they don’t, the total number of hours a women spends on work — paid and unpaid — still adds up to more than men, on average. This data from the ABS is the most recent I can find, but shows the difference pretty starkly:

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-08 at 2.21.24 pm

 

You can be bold for change this IWD by doing this simple thing. Return to the women in your life something invaluable: their time.

It’s never a joke…

Last year, I came across a post about something I wrote in a BigFooty forum. My blog shows me the various links people click to reach my page, so I was interested in where they were coming from. It was a mistake. I was immediately greeted by post after post about what a terrible person I was, a disturbing number posts speculating about the state of my vagina (one suggesting “Erin Riley’s Dry Vagina” be a location status visitors could read) and a whole range of various sexist comments, many suggesting my place was in the kitchen, not in football.

My crime? Writing a couple of fairly mild pieces calling for the AFL to be more inclusive. That’s it.

But among them, one post stood out. It read: “If I ever saw Erin Riley in person, I would put a bullet in her”.

My blood ran cold at that moment. And it has haunted me since. I’m scared to ever post anything that might suggest where I live or where I am at any given moment. I get especially nervous when I’m doing public speaking events: what if he decides to show up? And going to the football, especially to Swans games, is an anxiety-inducing experience now. What if someone there who hates me recognises me?

Now this guy may have been “joking”. I have no way of knowing. I also have no way of knowing how the people reading it took it: whether they thought it was a joke or maybe not a bad idea. Because we live in a world where men kill women for doing things they don’t agree with, whether it’s leaving them or being a vocal politician. Women are killed for doing their jobs, for merely existing in a way that is unpleasing for some men.

This is an important context when talking about the comments McGuire and the Triple M team made about Caroline Wilson. People claim it’s just about Wilson, it’s just a joke, it has nothing to do with gender. But we live in a world where gender and violence are linked in complicated ways. Men joking about drowning a woman cannot be held in isolation: it is part of this gender dynamic.

And as much as people claim to just not like Wilson (remember how they claimed to just not like Goodes?), her gender is absolutely part of it. Women who talk about football are treated differently to men, especially women who talk about football in a way men disagree with. Our acceptance in football is contingent on our acquiescence: we must not push the boundaries or rock the boat. If we do, it is then we experience gendered language and violent threats.

I’m very confident saying this because I have plenty of male friends who are professional sports writers. When they say literally the same thing I say, they experience very different responses. To my knowledge, none of them have received death threats or rape threats, and certainly not on the scale I have.

I’m a pretty small fish in this pond, and very happy that way — I earn a living writing and it works for me. Yet I personally have experienced torrents of hate and vitriol for what I’ve written. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, they’re clearly just abusing you online. But every now and then, one stands out.

I can’t imagine the scale of the abuse that Wilson receives considering her profile. I can’t imagine how many of those genuinely scary messages she gets, that ones that make you look over your shoulder. The ones that make you scared to go out of the house.

It also has a silencing effect. I can’t tell you how many women I know who love sport who are either afraid to speak about it or who have given up speaking about it because it isn’t worth the abuse. It drives women from the game, and it drives women from the profession.

So when McGuire and co joke about drowning Wilson, they are feeding this culture. They are feeding a culture that says it’s ok to abuse those who aren’t like us if they say or do something we don’t like (again, remember Goodes?). They are absolutely culpable in making the world a little bit scarier and a little bit worse for women.

And if the AFL wants the game to be more inclusive, to truly be everyone’s game, they can’t just accept this. They need to show that the culture of misogyny in football will not be tolerated. Nothing short of bold action will do.

 

Not going to sit well with feminists or footballers: Anna Krien's Night Games

Maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe there is no common truth. The trial is black and white, Sarah and Justin are as one-dimensional as their competing story lines make out. You’ve got the rapist or the liar. A Law and Order version and, by trying to seek out a shade of grey I’m protecting one of them. There is not going to sit well with feminists or footballers, I think, a knot of dread in the pit of my stomach. I prepare myself for the accusations…

Anna Krien, Night Games, 258

Anna Krien’s “Night Games” is many things, but black and white is not one of them. An incredibly impressive work, it delves into issues of gender and power, and the way they manifest in sport.

It’s not an easy book. Split into four sections, it is structured around accounts of the trial of a minor footballer, whom she calls Justin Dyer (protecting his identity, a strange decision since it is widely known),  accused of raping a woman in an incident after the 2010 AFL Grand Final. She starts with the end, with the accused being found not guilty, then jumps back to the beginning. The first section, titled “The Footy Show”, introduces the case, those involved, and delves into the culture of football and its role in the expression of a certain kind of Australian masculinity.

The second section, “The Grey Zone”, deals with rape and consent.  The discussion on rape is, frankly, as nuanced as any I have ever read, but that nuance makes it difficult. It does not deny the scope or severity of rape, but rather confronts the real and complicated issues about consent, and asks questions about the role power has in those dynamics. It goes beyond “no means no” and “yes means yes” to talk about the awkward and real experiences of sex many have. At one point, reflecting on part of the testimony of the accused, she said:

Can you finish me off?

When we heard that line, I and the young female ABC journalist sitting beside me flinched.

During a break, I found her outside the court, watching as the photographers and TV cameramen rallied to get a picture of Justin as he emerged from the building. She pointed him out to her photographer and then stood back. We started chatting and I asked her what she thougth about Justin’s account, in particular the Can you finish me off? line.

“Well, you know…” she said, trailing off.

“Heard it a million times before?”

She laughed. “Not a million times! But yes, definitely heard that one before.”

I nodded “Me too”.

The Crown prosecutor had scoffed at the ridiculousness of Justin’s version of the evening – but it hadn’t sounded that ridiculous at all. In fact, I thought with a shudder, it sounded all too familiar.

Such is Krien’s ability to take a complicated idea and communicate the complication with both perspective and grace. It’s not a dry, academic take, but that does not make it any less intelligent, reasoned or well-researched.

It’s difficult to talk about these issues with sensitivity, empathy and perspective, much less with humility. When Krien says, later in the book, that what she says isn’t going to sit well with feminists or footballers, much of this is why. She places what happened in the context of other, similar events, some more clear cut, some far less so, and she draws no conclusions.

It’s really not an easy book to read.

But it was the third section, titled “The Winmar Moment”, that caused me to stay up into the wee small hours of this morning to finish it. Krien does what nobody (at least, nobody I am aware of) has done before: she draws a connection between sexual assault allegations, a culture of heightened masculinity, and a “culture of servitude” that reduces female participants to playing only supporting roles. She suggests what happens in the boardroom and the media is a result of the same culture the leads to these off-field incidents. She suggests that footy’s culture of a specific kind of performed masculinity excluded and marginalises women in many ways, and that the many manifestations of this are linked.

***

It’s a special kind of feeling when, suddenly, something you’ve been thinking about for a while becomes perfectly clear, and two-third of the way through Krien’s book, I had one such experience.

I’ve never been able to properly articulate why, after years of working towards getting a position in the Communications side of a sport team, I resigned after just two seasons in the job. I couldn’t adequately explain why the experience led to me embracing feminism and calling myself a feminist for the first time. I left sport with little idea of what I wanted next, but certain that my perspective on gender had forever changed. Not long after I resigned, I did a DIY feminist reading course, learnt the basics of gender theory, and the world opened up to me.

But even then, having learnt all about structural sexism and power and patriarchy, I still couldn’t quite put my finger on it. There was no sexist moment in my time there, nothing that was specifically about gender, at least not at the surface. And for the five years since, I’ve thought about it, about why I left, about where that discomfort came from. While the lack of women in leadership positions grated at me, it wasn’t a sufficient explanation.

Then Anna Krien perfectly articulated it.

It’s all in Chapter 15 of Night Games. I can’t, in summary, do the chapter justice, but Krien elegantly and eloquently links “celebrations” of women in football that are frequently gendered, double-standards applied to male and female administrators who have never played elite football, unpaid female labor, the way the media talks players’ partners, and the maginalisation of women to minor, supporting roles within football clubs. And then she caps it off with this one, perfect passage:

While I understand that employing more female support staff helps chip away at an entrenched and blinkered male society, and that the presence of professional female can help re-humanise women in the eyes of these young men, it’s the absence of females at the two most powerful ends of  football that stands out: at the top and on the oval.

There is a gender imbalance and there is a power imbalance. And without fixing the latter, the former will continue to stink of servitude.

And there it was. That word. Servitude. I don’t know where it had been, in all my years of thinking about it. Everything about that time felt like servitude. The fit-in-or-fuck-off mentality. Being constantly told to suck it up, that someone would happily fill our place in a heartbeat. The seven-days-a-week of work. It would have all been worth it, if I’d felt valued. But I didn’t. I felt like a servant. There were certainly men with us in those servile ranks, but all of those we were serving were male. And just like that, there was the reason I’d felt so uncomfortable.

***

There are three stories from my time working in sport that come to mind.

The first is the CEO telling us that we’re one club, on and off the field. That one rule should apply for both players and admin staff. That’s how they justified changing our pay periods to be the same as players, and how why it was ok to institute new rules for drinking when we were off duty. But the “one rule” thing didn’t apply to salaries. Or to annual leave (Players got 6 weeks, we got the standard 4). But to me, the biggest insult was when players complained they had to pay to bring their partners to our end-of-year dinner, so were each given a free plus-one. Because it was tough on the players’ partners, them having to work every weekend. Staff? We still had to pay to bring ours.

As though we didn’t work match days too.

***

The second related to the senior coach. I’d worked as a journo for a while, before I went to the club. I’d attended every major press conference, and most minor ones, for a full season. Often it was just me, a writer each from The Australian and the SMH, and the Senior Coach.

Once I took the job at the club, after a couple of months during which I still attended every presser, I had to join some fans for their tour with the coach around the rooms. One by one, he introduced himself to the supporters. “Hello” he said, “I’m X”.

They all smiled and were excited for his attention.

And when he got round the circle to me, a person he’d seen in pretty small groups, day in, day out, throughout the entire season, a person who’d held up a microphone and asked questions at training sessions and recovery sessions and after match conferences, you know what he said?

“Hello. I’m X.”

“I know,” I replied. “I work here.”

I don’t think I have ever felt so small.

***

The final was the reason I ultimately starting looking for other work. During a big Saturday night game- which I, of course, had to work, despite working Monday-Friday, Player Y got a bit angry and took it out on another player. He was suspended. The next day, the one day of the week I had off, I spent 9 hours helping with the damage control. And Player Y was sent off on a week’s vacation to get his head together. Meanwhile, I still had to be at work first thing Monday morning.

***

When you work in sport, all this is par for the course. It’s pretty much what you sign up for. But what I wasn’t expecting was how uncomfortable that made me, playing upstairs/downstairs when upstairs is exclusively male. And it didn’t need to be; executives, senior staff: there were plenty of places for female leadership and participation. But all of those places were filled by men.

It’s funny that, often, when I talk about footy online, I get comments from men like “there’s no place for women in footy: go back to the kitchen” or “make me a sandwich” or one of many variations on the request for head. Not all men, of course, but there’s more than a few. Servitude. Women existing for the pleasure of men. The ultimate way to shut us up isn’t to criticise our ideas or write us off because we barrack for the wrong team or even just call us a dickhead or a bitch and leave it at that: it’s to suggest our place is in servitude.

***

There was another word in that passage that struck me: “re-humanize”. That, too, clarified my feelings of my time on the sidelines. Most of the time, I felt transparent, less than human. It was undoubtedly partially my own fault, allowing myself to be held captive by awe, but the lack of small kindnesses were telling.

Telling, too, is enduring power of the memories of the few small kindnesses I experienced. The one player who bothered to learn my name and use it when he said hello when we were in the lift. The one who, when I interviewed him for a piece I was writing, stood on the step below so we could be eye-to-eye. It’s not a monolith, this culture, and there are great people within it.

But footy’s gender problem is big, because it expects women to be small. Anne Krien’s book is a wonderfully insightful take on it, on its many manifestations, and the way they work together.

On footy media…

There are so many things that are great about footy. The game itself is unparalleled: it’s elegant and tough at the same time, and a game can turn in a moment. The atmosphere at games is incredible. And club membership is diverse: looking around at games, there are men and women, children and grandparents, people of all races and from all over the world.  You usually can’t actually see the diversity of sexuality, but it’s there too.

But you’d never guess that from footy media. Footy media is primarily white, straight and male.  It’s focused on the players and coaches.  It spends little time talking about the many people in clubs big and small who make our game great.

This is a particular hobby horse of mine, I admit it. One of the things that first drew me, a native New South Welshman, to the game was the early participation of women.  I read Rob Hess’ chapter on “Women and Australian rules football in colonial Melbourne” and was captivated that women had always been passionate supporters of the game.

I write and talk about this a lot. For example, “Football, Feminism and You” was my attempt to explain why I think diversity in football media is important. Last year I wrote about how Fox Footy ignored Women’s Round, instead labeling the week “Christmas in July”.  Women’s Round is a truly great opportunity to recognize some of those who work off-field for the game yet, beyond an interview with Chelsea Roffey, Fox Footy did nothing to commemorate it.

I believe it does a tremendous disservice to the incredible men and women who give up so much for the game to focus solely on players.

And I’ve tweeted at many journalists about this lack of diversity. I’m not trolling: I genuinely want to bring attention to this issue and talk about it, because I think it’s important. Just yesterday, I tweeted at Backpage Lead that their home page had photos of 27 people, all of them men. To their credit, they replied and admitted that was a problem.

One of the people I’ve tweeted at is Mark Robinson from the Herald Sun. It wasn’t one or twice either- it must be at least a dozen times over the last year, as recently as this week, including my question about Fox Footy ignoring Women’s Round.   So today, when he tweeted:

“people believe its players and coaches who make up footy clubs when in fact it’s people like essendon’s Bruce Heymanson. RIP”

I was, I’ll openly admit, a little frustrated, so replied

@Robbo_heraldsun So I trust you’ll have fewer players and coaches, and more people like him on AFL360 this year…

And then all hell broke loose.  Robinson posted:

@erinrileyau even at a time of death u try to be a smart arse. pull your head in. A great man dies & you want to pick a fight. no class

And then proceeded to retweet every nasty thing that people said in reply.

It’s important to note that Robinson was the one who first used the occasion of Heymanson’s death to make a point. He didn’t just tweet “RIP Bruce Heymanson”. It was he who chose to use the occasion to talk about what people think football clubs are. I simply wanted to call him out on the fact that, as a prominent member of the footy media, he was complicit in that, that he has the power to change it.

Furthermore, I fully expected to be ignored. There was precedent for that as he’d always ignored me in the past.

Rather than engage with the substance of my critique- that by hosting a show that is all about players and coaches, he’s perpetuating the idea that it is they alone that make up footy clubs- Robinson chose to be rude, to call me classless, and then to echo the insults hurtled toward me, many of which suggested I was seeking attention.

I understand why some people may consider the timing of my comment disrespectful, but I can assure you, that’s not the way it was intended. I genuinely want people like Mr Heymanson to receive more attention, to be talked to and about in life as well as death. I want the football media to represent footy for all it is: a diverse, interesting, exciting and passionate world in which men and women spend years working quietly behind the scenes to help make the game great. That was my motivation for my tweet, nothing else.

As for Robinson’s motivation in choosing this, of all my tweets, to retweet? Well, only he can answer that.

And what do you think the chances are, after all the vile things he retweeted today, of him retweeting the link to this?

Paul Ryan and PCOS

This is a bit of an overshare. It’s the kind of thing that would usually be private. Unfortunately, by co-sponsoring HR 212, Paul Ryan has made my private health issue a matter of public policy.

I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. It’s pretty sucky. Basically, it means that I have a hormonal imbalance that does all sorts of really unfortunate things to my body- acne, extra hair, weight gain. On top of that, I get my period really rarely. Like, maybe three times a year. That may sound alright (the fewer periods the better, am I right ladies?), but when I do get them, I have incredible amounts of pain. Plus, and this is more important to me, my chances of getting pregnant naturally are pretty tiny.

One of the problems with getting a period so rarely (which is actually a condition called oligomenorrhea) is that it puts you at a higher risk of getting uterine cancer. So on top of all the rest of the horribleness that is PCOS, you are at a higher risk of cancer.

PCOS is pretty common. It’s estimated that between 5 and 10% of women of reproductive age have it. It’s the most common endocrine disorder for women in that age bracket. It’s also incurable.

But it is treatable.

One of the most common and effective treatments of the side-effects of PCOS is the Pill. It treats a bunch of the symptoms. My skin clears up. I lose weight. But, more importantly, I get my period regularly, which means it hurts less and, best of all, reduces my chance of getting endometrial cancer.

But Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan doesn’t care about any of that. He doesn’t care about preventing pain or reducing the risk of cancer. He wants to ban the oral conceptive pill because he thinks a fertilized egg should have all the protections of a human being.

You can see how ridiculous this is in my case. He would ban me from being able to access medical care I need because of a POTENTIAL fertilized egg. The fertilized egg doesn’t even exist. The fertilized egg has a very slim chance of ever existing naturally, due to my PCOS. But he’s so concerned about that potential, he’d prevent me from having access to the care I need.

And you know what, if I did want to have a kid, he’d like to sincerely limit my options there too, because he’d ban IVF.

Paul Ryan is an extremist. For all the talk about small government, he’d like to interfere with my doctor’s capacity to treat my chronic condition. That’s about as big as government gets.

Vote Obama in 2012. Do it for the women with PCOS who deserve access to medical care.

No Women’s Round at Fox Footy Channel

This round’s clash is the AFL’s annual Women’s Round, where the contribution of women to Australian football’s wonderful and diverse culture is celebrated.

At least, it is if you’re not watching the Fox Footy channel.

Since its colonial beginnings, women have always been a significant part of Australian Rules football and its culture. As early as the 1800s, women passionately barracked of the clubs they loved. One of my favourite stories about that early influence comes from a writer for The Argus in 1896, complaining about how involved female fans had become:

“The woman ‘barracker’, indeed, has become one of the most objectionable football surroundings. On some grounds they actually spit in the faces of players as they come to the dressing-rooms, or wreak their spite much more maliciously with long hat pins. In the heights of this melee some of the women screamed with fear. Others screamed ‘Kill Him’. One of these gentle maidens at the close of the struggle remarked regretfully that it was a pity they ‘let off’ the umpire in the Geelong match, as they should have killed him.”

Naturally, I’m not suggesting we revoke to anything that barbaric, but it really is important to realise and to celebrate that women have always been passionate Australian Rules football supporters, and are a big part of the vibrancy, charm and longevity of our regional game.

Which is why it’s so disappointing that Fox Footy, instead of devoting this week to celebrating Women’s Round, have instead re-dubbed Round 17 “Christmas in July”, and have focused all their advertising around men dressed up in Santa hats.

I don’t suppose it’s really that surprising from network that does not have a single woman in a regular commentator or panelist role, but it does seem a fairly egregious example of how little respect Fox Footy shows to the women who love our game.

Imagine, for a comparable example, the outrage if Fox Footy had chosen to ignore Indigenous Round, and instead called it “May Madness”. It’s unfathomable that they would even consider doing such a thing in the 21st Century, yet Women’s Round has been disrespected in a similar manner. As a Club Member, and a Foxtel subscriber specifically in order to maximize the number of AFL games I can watch every weekend, I am particularly disappointed.

There’s an argument that inevitably comes up in this kind of conversation: that things like Women’s Round are some kind of reverse sexism, and by ignoring it, Fox Footy are doing the cause of equality some great service. The problem with that argument is that it ignores the tremendous structural inequality in sport broadly, and specifically in Australian Football.

Structural inequality is about recognising that often it isn’t any single act or appointment that is specifically sexist, but that when you consider the sum total of the way groups and organizations act toward women, the culture more broadly favours men. It’s not the appointment of, say, Andrew Ireland, but the fact no AFL club has a female CEO. It’s not the appointment of Gerard Whateley, but the fact there is no regular commentator or panelist on any of Fox Footy’s shows.

Things like Women’s Round help to draw attention to that inequality and celebrate the often-overlooked contributions of women to Australia’s football culture. By making a conscious decision to ignore it, Fox Footy have been incredibly disrespectful to women and to the 43.1% of the AFL audience that is female.

On Taylor Swift and Feminism

It’s easy for feminists to hate on Taylor Swift.  She sings about wearing dresses and plays a sparkly guitar, and worries a lot about her love life. There’s a tendency to call her “anti-feminist” because of these things.  It’s silly and pretty contrary to the ideals of feminism to suggest any kind of expression of female identity is illegitimate. A big part of that is the tendency to read anti-feminist messages into Taylor Swift: she’s often accused of slut-shaming and a celebrating virginity.  But if you take more than a passing glance at her lyrics, and at the identity she constructs, it’s pretty clear that those things aren’t actually in the text.

Take the above example of a section of her song “You Belong With Me”. It’s often read as Taylor slut-shaming a girl who is dating a boy she likes.  But it requires several assumptions in order to get there, which aren’t actually backed up by the text.

For starters, short skirts does not always code for “slut”. It’s amazing how often people who get angry when people overtly make the connection between sexuality and clothes then do the same thing when it’s the other way around. Saying that “short skirts” automatically codes for “slut” in reinforcing a really stupid and dangerous idea, and assuming Taylor does so – despite CLEAR evidence from the rest of the text otherwise – is silly.

But if you go further than the above phrase, and actually look at the whole song, this is not a song about a virgin/whore dichotomy. It’s a song about a popular and fashionable / geeky and awkward dichotomy.  In the context of the song, it clearly “short skirts” codes for “fashionable and popular”.  Taylor’s not talking about sexual experience here, she’s talking about popularity and peer groups and teenage identity. A geeky awkward girl feeling overlooked for a popular girl is not slut shaming: it’s an expression of a very common teenage experience. The second time the cheerleader/bleachers contrast is used, in which Taylor sings: “She wears high heels, I wear sneakers”.  Short skirt and heels vs. sneakers and a t-shirt is an image, but it’s not an explicitly sexual one. Fashion, especially when you’re a teenager, is more about your social identity than anything else.  Reading it as being inherently sexual is looking for something that isn’t there.

Beyond the teenage experience, the song is about a more universal feeling: feeling that you’re a better match for someone than the person they’re with, but feeling overlooked because of the way you present yourself. There’s nothing inherently antifeminist in that. Who hasn’t felt like that at some point? Feminists shouldn’t be in the habit of telling people their emotions are illegitimate.  You can dislike another woman and still be a feminist. You can want to be in a relationship with someone who is in a relationship with someone else and still be a feminist. You can feel like people who are more fashionable than you get opportunities you don’t, and still be a feminist. None of these are inherently non-feminist attitudes.

The urge to identify Taylor an antifeminist because she is pretty “girly” is incredibly irritating.  It undercuts the core message of feminism, which is that women people should be able to be whatever they like and to construct the gender identity they choose.  There is nothing in any Taylor song that implies “you should me more like me”.  Taylor’s music tells personal stories: Fearless is a really wonderful take on being a teenager, and specifically being a teenage girl, and all the confusion and frustration that accompanies it.  It isn’t trying to be universal or a how-to: it’s one person’s memoirs of their teenage life. “Speak Now” is a really powerful collection of stories about the first phase of adulthood: its loneliness, its disillusion, its excitement. It’s a whole album about making mistakes and learning and forging your own identity.

There’s something, to my mind, incredibly empowering about a woman telling stories about her lived experience and becoming massively commercially successful in doing so.  She might not be your idea of what a woman should be, but really, who gives a fuck. The point of feminism is that we all get to be our own kind of woman, and we shouldn’t say Taylor is anti-feminist because she’s not “our” kind of woman.  There’s nothing wrong with pink and sparkles.

Contrary to popular opinion, nothing in Taylor’s music promotes the virgin princess ideal.  And don’t give me the “Abigail gave everything she had” thing, because it’s wrong, andJonathan has written the definitive takedown of it.  If you read that as being about sex, you’re projecting.  There is implicit sex in many of her songs- and given her audience, you can hardly blame her for not being explicit.  Sex is part of relationships, and Taylor sings about relationships, and there is sex in her songs. In “Tim McGraw”, she’s hooking up with a guy in a pickup truck, in “Mine”, she’s at least somewhat living with her boyfriend.

But even if there were hints of virginity in Taylor’s music, saying that renders them illegitimate is as destructive as slut-shaming.  Feminism is about people being free to make the choices that are right for them, even if they are to not have sex. There is nothing inherently wrong with the decision to not have sex, just as there is nothing inherently wrong with the decision to have sex. If you are saying one is better than the other, sure, that’s a problem, but Taylor doesn’t do that. At all. Ever. In any of her songs. But art doesn’t just exist for publicly-sexually-expressive people who have expressed their gender identity in nontraditional ways. It’s for everyone.

I’m a feminist because I believe people are equal, regardless of their gender identity. I am a feminist because I believe people should be free to express their gender however they choose. I am a feminist because I believe people’s choices about their sexual activity are up to them. But that goes as much for the girl in the pink sparkly dress as anyone else.

Taylor is a woman who is telling moving stories about her lived experience. As feminists, we should celebrate that.

 

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