Are you a Feminazi, Mum?

Incredibly revealing, the lines we’re prepared to transgress and trample, and the ones we’re not. Women are still totally fair game.

On YouTube, there’s an animation series called ‘Feminazi’. Have you heard of it? The episode #GlassCeiling scored over a million views. There are lots of other episodes: Feminazi Getting Owned. Feminazi Fail. Feminazi Gets Triggered. Feminazi gets Reckt.

Note the use of gaming language; predominantly the province of adolescent boys.

I scrolled through a few of these clips which tend to depict plump, bespectacled, trouser-wearing ‘feminazis’ raging away about their rights and gripes to some passive cartoon-bloke. Most of these clips are accompanied by a male voice-over pointing out how extreme and hilarious such women are, how hysterical and irrational.

When I hear my 14-year-old son guffawing from his room and then calling me in to watch one of these types of clips, what do I say?

“How did you find this misogynist crap? …. No, it’s not a joke, it is SEXIST. Don’t they teach you anything at that school of yours?”

I tell him that I’m a feminist, that he comes from a long line of feminists and doesn’t he realise, by the way, that feminism is about equality and equity between the sexes.

You know, things like equal pay and respectful treatment all-round.

 

“Well, who’d be against that?” he responds simply. “ Now can you get out of my room please?”

Here’s what I have to confront: sexism isn’t something that only exists amongst sociopathic, violent, shady men – it’s much more insidious than that. It’s often part of lovely, kind, open-minded boys and men in our own families, who would never think of themselves as anything other than supportive of equality. And yet there is this kind of disconnect that persists within the moral compass of many of them.

Hear it in the quiet chuckling between the fellas, enjoying Eddie Mcguire’s ‘joke’ about drowning his colleague Caroline Wilson, and hear it in the snorting laughter of my son and his friends watching Feminazi-type clips on Youtube.

See it in the plethora of sexually explicit material that covers billboards and magazines and the internet, including the vile Instagram account started up by a few Brighton Grammar students, featuring photos of girls as young as 11 (who had not consented).

The thing is, once upon a time, our culture would’ve belly-laughed at all manner of racist jokes which would now be seen as being utterly not OK. It’s incredibly revealing, the lines we’re prepared to transgress and trample, and the ones we’re not. Women are still totally fair game.

There are great, well-established programs working to engage students with issues around bullying, sexuality, racism, mental illness … and the roll-out of programs like Respectful Relationships Education gives me hope. One day, I’d love to see the history of feminism taught as a mandatory unit in history, alongside other key social justice movements like Aboriginal land rights and industrial rights. I’d love to see more schools have explicit value statements and mottos around equity, and see more English classes study feminist texts.

Helping young ones to become more self-aware is part of it too, and helping them understand the links between attitudes, language, objectification and violence against women – because we’re swimming against a mighty media current with some nasty little rips. Maybe then my son wouldn’t think that lambasting feminists on YouTube is so funny after all.

 

Review of  Fine by Michelle Wright (The Australian 16.6.16)

A middle-aged woman named Delia has just been evicted for the fourteenth time. She takes refuge in a dump full of car wrecks and meets a ten year-old boy named Jay who lives on his own in the ute next door to Delia.

‘He tells her about his collection of rust and tells her he reckons that one day the whole excavator will have turned into crumbling leaves and will fit into his box. Delia says that everything will fit into a box if you wait long enough.’

In these thirty-three finely wrought short stories Michelle Wright demonstrates impressive control of the form, every story offering a powerful glimpse into a world via the juxtaposition of a character’s inner life with their outer circumstances.

Many of these stories are told from the point of view of a child or adolescent, an increasingly common literary device and perhaps a reflection of the burgeoning popularity of young adult fiction.

A child hides beneath his grandparents’ kitchen sink. He is eavesdropping on a conversation about his delinquent mother and nibbling on a family block of chocolate he should wait to share with his mother at her next visit.

‘They sit on the pouf…facing each other with their knees touching. Then Mummy puts one end of the row in her mouth and he puts the other end in his, and they let it melt square by square…’

Wright’s style is precise, lyrical and un-tricksy even if occasionally it can feel a little too restrained: as if the hand-break needs releasing to give the writing more room to move.

In a story set in the aftermath of the Sir Lankan Tsunami, Wright endows ordinary things with fresh significance.

‘Near a hotel in Hikkaduwa he picks out suitcases, plastic chairs, a pool umbrella like a javelin in the ground.’

On New Year’s Day a paperboy is up early to do his rounds.

‘As he hops on his bike and turns from the driveway out onto the footpath, he sees the coloured lights strung up under the new neighbour’s carport, still on and looking kind of pretty against the quiet blue sky.’

There are no big shots here. There are people who want new lives. Traumatised couples stumble amidst ruined marriages. Parents grieve lost children or worry about the ones they have. There is a twelve year-old girl who sets up a street stall selling her prize collection of fifty latest fashion sunglasses to help out with family finances. School kids brave the playground bully. A man working for the dole, rather than tell his childhood abuse story to the police confides in a cleaning lady. There is a prisoner who dreams of becoming an artist and a former champion boxer who ‘fourteen broken noses later returns to his home in Ceylon and begins a new career as a king coconut seller.’

All essentially good people in tough circumstances and all just doing the best they can.

It’s hard to write good people and make them plausible and interesting but Wright can. Her dialogue is true and her voice unsentimental and despite the prevalence of downbeat subjects these stories from the ‘get in get out and don’t linger ‘school of story telling, are full of compassion.

Invariably they begin in medias res – no set up or preamble – so the reader fills in the backstory, absorbs the subtext and dives straight into the action. And there’s the cracker opening line to hook the reader in from the get go.

‘When she has burnt toast for breakfast, there’s a trace left on her fingers that smells like cigarettes.’

A woman is studying applied linguistics and her father has a PhD in Middle English. They shared a love of language.

My father is dead. My dad is dead. I decide I need to hear the words pronounced, to accept the fact of them and give them voice. Already the words my father spoke are losing shape.’

Even if sometimes Wright’s love of a good metaphor is overstated, themes are gracefully abstracted from central metaphors and minimal plots.

When a woman goes for a swim in the ocean for the first time since her husband’s death, Wright describes the natural world with its power to destroy and to reassure.

‘She turns and looks back out at the water. It’s calm now, but grey and sullen, hungover from its rage… But she knows it’s only physics, just pressures and speeds, energy and friction. And the human body in all that. Her body.’

Crucially these stories have a sense of something unravelling or unfolding so that the reader wants to keep on reading to find out what happens next and maybe, even, to understand why.

‘I read for pleasure,’ wrote Margaret Atwood, ‘and that is the moment at which I learn most. Subliminal learning.’