Helpful Unhelpful Tips For Women

A guy walks into a bar, slips a pill into a woman’s drink. But it’s okay you see, because he’s set up cameras. Surprise! This is a public service announcement. “I wouldn’t drink that if I were you,” he tells the women when their gaze reorientates to their drinks. “I just slipped a pill into your beverage. I’m doing this to show how easy it is to get date raped.”

The women are sobered. This guy offers to buy them another drink. The first woman feels so bad about leaving her drink unattended that she says he doesn’t have to.

What would you do if a guy performed this trick on you in a bar? Would  you feel bad? Guilty? Like you’d only just avoided disaster? For averting your eyes for a moment, or for trusting that your male companion is going to keep an eye on your drink for you?

I am so sick of this kind of public service announcement. Another recent example is Australian women being told to keep out of public parks. I kind of don’t even want to share this video, because the main thing it does is reassure potential and existing drink spikers how easy it is to do.

What is the take home message? That women should keep our eyes on our drinks the entire time? If this video is at all useful, it’s because it shows just how impossible it is to foil a person with terrible intentions. This little experiment also shows that:

  • Women are prone to feeling guilty no matter what a random guy in a bar does to them.
  • Women are still being told to ‘take responsibility’, once again, for avoiding their own rapes.

If one person wants to spike another person’s drink, the drinker might well keep their gaze on their sip-hole all evening, staring at it like a madperson, or they might not drink at all, or they might not go to bars, ever, because we all know how much less likely it is to get raped (and murdered) in one’s own home.

If that guy had slipped a pill into my drink to illustrate a point, I like to think I would have told him to fuck the fuck off.

Where are the public service announcements by young men encouraging basic human empathy in their potential rapists? A video outlining what it’s like to suffer from PTSD, or from unwanted pregnancy, for instance?

Feminist Film Review: Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar Movie Poster


As I was watching my thoughts were more about race. This story is set in the near future, when current children are about 60 years old. In that real world scenario, I am expecting the world to look a lot less white than this movie does. Sure, there is a black guy on the space ship but I’m pretty sure he gets way fewer lines of dialogue than the white characters. The odd Asian face pops up here and there. My own imagination has never stretched to a future in which white Americans will save the world. There is simply so much brain power outside America now, and other countries have more successful education systems.

The Bechdel Test

The Bechdel test was never really intended to be used as a barometer for a good feminist film and I’ve recently been noticing that many stories do pass the test but are still not all that great in regards to portrayal of women.

For the record, this film does pass the Bechdel test — two women do eventually talk to each other. Given that this is about 3 hours long, a couple of brief scenes doesn’t count for much. One of those was about a man. The other depicts two women who don’t like each other. So although Interstellar passes the Bechdel Test, some have made an amendment that ideally there are two women talking who don’t hate each other. Because everyone knows how ‘women are their own worst enemies’, right?

As for the gender breakdown:

There are 15 first-billed characters (counting as single the characters played by multiple actors). One of those characters is a robot and has a male voice, but I’ll take that number down to 13. Of those 13, 2 characters are female (played by two actresses each). So when you look at the raw numbers, this film is typical for Hollywood in its gender balance.

I’m not sure whether this is good news or not (I might just be used to the imbalance), but this cast felt like quite a balanced ensemble as I was watching. This is partly because the two main female characters have agency. Both are super smart and dedicated to their jobs and we don’t have any bullshit backstory in which they’re torn between their jobs and their families — in fact, that particular dilemma is reserved for the main male character, and that’s refreshing. In contrast, Sandra Bullock’s character in Gravity had a backstory which involved her family, I guess because it was thought a female astronaut without a sob story would not be sufficiently relatable for audiences who are used to women as caregivers. The women in this story do not have children that define them. This felt great.

That said, I am detecting that we’re in the age of The Hermione Trope, in which girl characters work behind the scenes as ‘secret protagonists’, working out complex problems for the male characters who get their hands dirty on the fictional battlefield, whatever form that might take. I’d thought it applied mainly to family movies but I may have to revise that.

The frustrating thing is that we’re still not seeing many movies in which the female is the plain ole ‘protagonist’. Don’t forget that this film could just as easily have been about a woman cast in McConaughey’s role, with the young swots being male. That’s just not a story Hollywood is prepared to gamble on yet. From Peggy Olsen, Claire Underwood and Kima Greggs to the girls in Paranorman and Monster House, significant female characters are still not the main characters even when they have the brains. Perhaps this smart under-dog dynamic is thought to be more interesting. Perhaps such relationships do appeal most to female viewers, for whom it’s a certain kind of satisfying to see a woman under-appreciated and then triumph, despite the patriarchal world in which she lives. I’m still waiting for more stories in which fictional worlds of the future depict a social milieu in which women have achieved full agency, not that which comes out of the shadows, behind that of a man.


Pretty fantastic! This was one of those films which stays with you for several days. High concept stories are hard to pull off 100% but all loose ends were tied up. Viewers would benefit from seeing it more than once. Part of the ending did run to cheese in my opinion. Interstallar reminds me of Contact only it is more complex, more frightening, more exciting. I wasn’t bored at any stage, despite the length of 169 minutes.

I’m looking forward to watching this with my daughter when she’s old enough to understand what’s going on. Commonsense Media recommends the film for ages 12 and up.

Pair with the book The Never-ending Days of Being Dead by Marcus Chown for some mind-bending astro stuff presented in readable fashion.

Women and Sport

I have recently found myself in the most unlikely position: On the board of a local sports association. Anyone who knows my former real life glasses-wearing book-reading self would be surprised at the disconnect.

So I have come to sports late, in a sense. I had almost forgotten my child self, the child who did well in marathons but never actually won, who made it to inter-school athletics and the first eleven girls’ soccer team in high school and who consistently surprised P.E. teachers with both my negative attitude towards P.E. class and the ease at which I picked up certain sports.

Then I turned 14 and gave up sport for 20 years.

Giving up sport is pretty typical for teenage girls.

Instead of an amazing burst of power at adolescence, we start bleeding from our nether regions and any increase in strength is offset by the addition of several layers of fat in preparation for the creation of human life. I’m pretty sure that’s part of the reason why lots of teenage girls give up sport. Suddenly I could no longer do chin-ups. My lithe high-jumping pre-adolescent body would have looked ridiculous to onlookers, throwing itself over a pole, lying prostrate and disconcertingly vulnerable on a vinyl-covered mattress.


About a month ago I was learning how to serve a tennis ball alongside a bunch of adolescent players — all boys apart from a girl — when the coach started the session by ‘teaching’ us how not to throw a ball:

“First thing to remember is, don’t throw like a girl.” (Points at a little boy.) “Now X, you throw like a girl. You’ve got to stop that.”

Seething on the inside, I pulled the coach up on his sexism. He then explained (mansplained) to me that boys and girls do indeed throw differently, because boys go out and climb trees and exercise their upper bodies, whereas girls sit inside and do crafts, and need to be taught how to throw.

This is otherwise an excellent local coach, who does a lot for the sporting community. But I have been unable to get through to him that despite his nurture over nature logic, teaching kids that girls throw badly is a classic case of sexism. Nor does he realise that he routinely calls the girls ‘Sweetheart’ and the boys ‘Champ’ or ‘Champion’. How nice it would be, to just once be called a champion! I had a primary school teacher who called me ‘Shortcake’ and I hated it. My mother had given him shortcake as a Christmas gift. I’m sure he wouldn’t have adopted the name of a pastry for me if I’d been of the male persuasion.

In this way:


Yesterday I helped out at the tennis club open day. Throughout the morning, parents and their children dropped in to have a few hits of the ball with a variety of tennis rackets we hung on the fence to entice them in. “Look!” the little boys said to their parents, tugging at their sleeves. The little boys dashed onto the court, threw the ball, hit it badly, had fun anyway. So did the toddler girls. The older girls I played with stood at the gate and waited to be invited onto the court. (I actively solicited business.) I placed racquets in the girls’ hands and told several of them that girls tend to give up sport at adolescence, but promise me you won’t do the same. “Sorry!” they said, hitting the ball to me badly, but no more badly than the boys. And I remembered my own self, just a year ago, coming back to tennis as an adult, having to be gently reminded by the male president that I don’t actually have to say sorry for hitting the ball badly. Hell, I’ve since played with women who apologise for hitting it well.

Media Coverage

In New Zealand where I grew up, media coverage and general interest in sport is very high for men’s sport, but women’s sport hardly gets a look in. NZ is of course completely typical in the disparity. It’s possible that coverage of women’s sport is even decreasing in relation to men’s despite feminism:

There are so many ways in which the UCI could support the sport for women, but instead they have acted, regardless of their intent, in a way that has caused the sport to lose events. Gone are the women’s Milan San Remo, the Amstel Gold Race, Tour de L’Aude, Tour Midi Pyrenees, and Tour Castel de Leon. No HP tour in America. No Tours in Australia, New Zealand or Canada. Instead of a 2 week Tour de France we have nothing. Today, in January, the major race in the women’s calendar this year, the one from which I have the pink tee-shirt, has no organizer and no route.

– from Nicole Cooke’s retirement statement (cycling)

In Australia, there is more coverage of horse racing than of women’s sport.

In NZ and Australia there is too much media coverage of sport in general. I’m arguing for less coverage of male sport rather than more coverage of women’s. The percentage of air time is disproportionate to how important sport actually is. (It’s not very important.) But as long as we’re all gawking at groin injuries, our eyes are averted from bigger social justice issues that Australia is facing right now. If we all directed as much attention to the asylum seekers as we do to sport, I’m sure enough voters would be horrified enough to do something about it.


sport is undeniably a significant part of Western culture

Sport is one of the major means by which values and attitudes are shaped in Western culture. Governments spend large amounts of money in the pursuit of national sporting success, successful sportsmen are idolized and imitated, and televised sport is avidly watched by millions. Those sporting activities which arouse the most passion are constructed as ritual re-enactments of the myth: ‘our’ team, or ‘our’ Olympic representatives go forth to do symbolic battle with their opponents. They are expected to be strong, brave and dedicated to the cause. They are expected to win. If they succeed they are awarded a glittering trophy and we welcome them home as national heroes. Significantly most of the sport which is widely promoted through the media is male sport. In a paper delivered at the University of Technology, Sydney, in 1995 Gay Mason argued that sport, in general, plays a central role in the development of masculinity and that ‘sporting discourse offers a prime site for the construction of ‘maleness’. According to Mason the images of male bodies engaged in sporting activities constitute one of the main ways in which the superiority of men becomes ‘naturalised’, and the media, in their reporting of sport, ‘conspire in naturalising hegemonic masculinity’. The notions of male physical strength, force, potency and skill constructed by sport are translated into social concepts of masculine authority and power.

Deconstructing The Hero, Marjery Hourihan

We can’t be what we can’t see

“You know what, Dad? I’ll just become an umpire. There. I’ve figured it out!” He laughed, wished me good luck, and said “I’m not sure how well that would be received by a lot of the people who watch the games, Caitlin.”

– from Why aren’t there more women officials in sport? from Persephone.


Double Fault by Lionel Shriver

Note the headless female body, even on the cover of a feminist novel by a feminist author

60% of girls have quit a sport because of the way they look, from Policy Mic. (How many have never started?)

Eugenie Bouchard Asked To Twirl by [Australian] Male Reporter from SBS

Sports Illustrated Loves Models. Female Athletes? Not So Much. From Jezebel


…here in Sydney: a portrait photographer submits a range of photos for an exhibition about women’s sport. Her folio includes – among others – portraits of a surfer, a footballer, a basketball player, and a pole dancer, but the gallery decides to reject one of the portraits. [The pole dancing one.]

What do you think? Is pole-dancing a sport? Is it a ‘women’s sport’?

Is pole dancing a ‘women’s sport’? from Daily Life

Yes, pole-dancing is a sport in that it requires much physical prowess and fitness and dedication. But I note with interest that straight men are not taking it up in droves. Why not? Because pole dancing is for women, or because being sexually objectified is for women?

How do women and girls feel when they see sexualised or sporty images of female athletes? from BPS

LFL is Not a Sport! It Is Glorified Sexuality (I would amend that title to ‘Sporty-Fetish Porn’

The truth is, audiences are happy to watch girls playing sport. But audiences are not so happy to watch women playing sport. Teams of unaccessorised, sweaty women playing games at the top level is harder to market.

No, Female Athletes Don’t Have To Be Girly, Thank you, from GOOD


ESPN Cricket News, about India’s female elite cricketers

This is also from Jezebel, so take the title with a dose of irony

Sexism, LBGT and Sport from FTB

Is Women Playing in Men’s Leagues a step forward? from Daily Life See also: Girls and Sport by Chris Scanlon

The ugly truth is rules are different for girls in sport from The Age

President Obama Is A Big Fan Of Girls’ Sports, from Jezebel. (Notice they didn’t say ‘women’s sports’.)

One! Two! Three Strikes, You’re Outdating Yourselves With Your Views on Women and Sports! from Persephone Mag

The Ladies’ Guide To Football Promises To Tell You Dumb Broads What All The Man-Fuss is About from Jezebel

Women in Sports Week: Because Being Girly Doesn’t Mean Being Weak: ‘Bring It On from Bitch Flicks

Sexism and blogging in the hockey media: Puck Daddy roundtable debate


On Little Red Riding Hood

I am currently a bit of an expert on Little Red Riding Hood — self-described — having just done a bunch of reading from the world’s experts, and making my way through Jack Zipes’ anthology of all the most famous versions throughout history.

I summarised the most interesting bits over at my other website. (Okay, yes, I have been two-timing you.)

Why would one want to know so much about Little Red Riding Hood? I hear you mutter, noting that my lawn could really do with a mow and my fridge definitely wants to be caressed with an antiseptic wipe or two. Well, I have been head down bums up illustrating a modern re-visioning I co-wrote with my friend Liz and now it’s done and here it is if you’d like to download the pdf (for free) on Scribd.

And why would anyone want to rewrite a tale which has been re-visioned and retold thousands of times before? I used to think the same thing about fairytale rewrites, but then I thought, Hey, THAT hasn’t been done before.

Maybe it has and I just never found it. Take a peep and decide for yourself.

Lotta Red Riding Hood Cover

Click through for the link at Scribd.

Or if you happen to own an iPad, here is the slightly more beautiful version over at the iBooks Store, also free.

The Male Gaze

  1. One of the most important essays in contemporary film theory: Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema by Laura Mulvey (1975), which has some weird Freudian stuff in it but is still relevant for the pretty standard dichotomy between the watched and the watchers.
  2. Fashion As A Way Of Avoiding The Male Gaze from Merf. Thinking Is Hard
  3. The Peeping Press: Understanding the Male Media Gaze from Jessica Valenti
  4. The Omniscient Breasts: The Male Gaze Through Female Eyes by Kate Elliot
  5. From the classroom to the boardroom, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And the beholder is always a man, from Soraya Chemaly
  6. Opinion: Video games and Male Gaze – are we men or boys? from Gama Sutra
  7. Six Reasons Female Nudity Can Be Powerful from Salon
  8. Why Do Actresses Have To Do The Orgasm Face? from Daily Life
  9. How Can You Tell if You’re Being Sexually Empowered or Objectified? Ask Yourself This Simple Question from Everyday Feminism

Are TV Crime Series Becoming Less Sexist?

Desire is the main reason almost all TV shows are set in the cop, lawyer, and doctor arenas. These jobs give their shows a simple and repeatable desire line that tracks the episode every week. Catch the criminal. Win the case. Save the life. But of course this is extremely limiting. Most people don’t spend their daily lives solving crimes, prosecuting bad guys, and saving lives.

– John Truby

I wouldn’t call myself a fan of crime fiction. I have a grim fascination for true crime, so long as it’s done well, and if you curate your true crime well, you can achieve a fascinating insight into the human psyche, even if it doesn’t do much for your generalised misanthropy.

Related: Why Do We Love Grimdark TV? from Bitch Magazine

Since so much horribleness goes on in the real world, I’ve reached the age where I have no time for stories about men whose motivations are spurred by the torture and murder of women. I can enjoy a good crime series, but if the crime is going to be against women, I want to see a certain amount of female agency. Sometimes this agency comes from the victim/survivor herself; at other times the focus is on the women who work to solve the crimes.

If, like me, you would like to see some more feminist crime, here are three series for your consideration:

THE FALL (belfast)

The Fall Gillian Anderson

A lot has been said about The Fall, which is what made me watch it in the first place.

See: You Should Be Watching The Fall, a Serial-Killer Show Like No Other from Wired

The Fall: The Most Feminist Show on Television from The Atlantic

This is a story comprising two short series, both available now on American Netflix. Gillian Anderson plays the SIO (Senior Investigation Officer) looking for a serial killer of women. From the start, the audience knows who the serial killer is. He is not the serial killer of the popular imagination. Gillian Anderson’s character has some great lines, which show she isn’t wearing the rose-tinted glasses; she knows sexism when she sees it and she calls it out. This is immensely satisfying. Needless to say, I really enjoyed it.

TOP OF THE LAKE (new zealand)

Top Of The Lake

Are you a Jane Campion fan? This is like watching a mash-up of The Piano (scenery-wise), Once Were Warriors (plot-wise) and Twin Peaks (creepiness-wise).

I predicted the outcome by episode three, but I think you’re supposed to. You’re certainly given enough clues. As I said, I’m not a crime fan, so a lot of viewers will probably work it out before I did.

Unfortunately I’m from New Zealand and Australia and Elisabeth Moss doesn’t do a fantastic job of the accent. You’d think they could find some decent local actresses, wouldn’t you? Then again, Elisabeth Moss would introduce this series to an American audience, thereby expanding it many times over. I guess this is how it works.

What makes it feminist? The drama is focused on Elisabeth Moss’s character, oftentimes on her relationship with her mother. There is also a community of battered women — a sort of cult, lead by an aged Holly Hunter — so it definitely passes the Bechdel Test. There are times, though, when I feel the scenes at the commune are unnecessarily comic. (Monkey? Did it have to be a monkey?) But that seems to be the nature of TV that’s made in my home country. Even the darkest stories inject these comic scenes which, to me, often feel out of sync with the vibe.

This show features more diversity than seems usual, too.

Double X presenters (in particular June Thomas) wondered what on earth an Australian police officer was doing, seconded into the New Zealand police force to fight a New Zealand crime. I wonder the same thing, but I’m willing to put it aside for the sake of a story.

Looks like there might be a series two coming? Season one certainly doesn’t feel entirely wrapped up.


Happy Valley

The thing that makes this a standout for a feminist audience is:

1. The drama focuses around the female police officer just as much as it focuses on the life of the male criminals.

2. Whereas in The Fall, everyone rushes around Gillian Anderson’s character because she is senior and because she needs to be listened to (also refreshing) this show very accurately depicts some of the problems with being a female working in a mostly male environment. Part of this police officer’s problems stem from the fact that she used to be a detective, but took a demotion for family reasons (also relatable to many women), and is struggling to work under people who have vocational deficiencies.

3. The main confidante of Lancashire’s character is her sister. (Cue: Bechdel.)

4. The main character is far from perfect. (Watching a martyr would be unrelatable.)

I absolutely loved Season One of Happy Valley and can’t wait for Season Two.

No, you are not entitled to your opinion

Huffington Post publishes some crap, sure, but recently published a list of Books Women Think Men Should Read and I happen to have read a lot of them and it’s a pretty good list. It includes Delusions of Gender, which I regularly bring up if I can’t be assed, and I can never be assed. Because after all, there’s this thing called the Internet. I’m fed up justifying my position on this issue.

Conversation with middle-aged man at tennis just two days ago:

Him: “Teenage boys and girls do everything together these days,” he says. (I can’t remember the prior context.)

Me: “Not like the 90s, then.” (Inside, feeling rather glad that sex segregation is going the way of the dodo.)

Him: (I think misreading my tone) “Boys and girls aren’t allowed to be different these days, of course.”

Me: (After a suspicious pause) “Oh, I don’t know. I see neurosexism everywhere.”

Him: (After a pause and a side-eye) “Are you one of these people who think we shouldn’t recognise differences between males and females?”

Me: “No, I think we should recognise the differences, with the aim of moving past them.” (Secretly thinking I’d rather be discussing politics or religion.)

Him: “Hmm. So you’re telling me you think men and women are exactly the same?”

Me: (Fed up, wanting to play tennis) “There’s a book called Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine. I agree with pretty much everything in that book.”

Him: “I don’t think I’d like that book.”

Me: “But you haven’t read it.”

Him: “I haven’t got time to read that.”

It amazes me how many people form strong opinions without actually doing the heavy lifting of reading, processing and reflecting.

Feminist Film Review: Liberal Arts (2012)



If this film annoys, it’s probably because the audience needs a certain tolerance for liberal arts majors falling in love over books. I started off thinking I’d be annoyed for the usual reason: 35-year-old man falls in love with a 19-year-old young woman. In modern romantic dramas, the writer needs to come up with something, often contrived, to keep two romantic leads apart, for at least the length of a movie. So I thought that the obstacle, in this story, was going to be the 35 year old’s reservations about the 19 year old being too young for him. Then, of course, they’d realise they have a lot in common, cue Big Theme: Age Doesn’t Matter, kissy kiss, the end. Elizabeth Olsen’s character looked in serious danger of being a manic pixie dream girl for the leading man for a while there. She even has the name ‘Zibby’ which would fit the profile.

The great news is, this film doesn’t go like that.


Well, no. This is a romantic drama from the close third person of the male lead (to use a novelistic analogy) and the audience follows the inner thoughts and life of a 35 year old man. This is about his journey from man-child into early middle age. Following on from that, the various female characters talk to him, not to each other about anything at all, let alone about something other than a man, so it definitely doesn’t pass the Bechdel test.

Asking myself if this film would work if the genders were flipped, I immediately thought of Young Adult, written by Diablo Cody. And now I’m trying to work out if that even passes the Bechdel test, because the confidant of the female lead in Young Adult was a man. If you watched Young Adult and were put off by the sociopathic personality of Mavis (Cameron Diaz), the male lead (Josh Radnor) in Liberal Arts is more likeable, but that’s mainly because the surrounding characters seem to love him inexplicably so. Maybe related: The guy who stars in it also directed it. Josh Radnor also seems to have written it, and I got to admit, I wondered if maybe this one had been written by a woman, so that’s a good sign. According to imdb, it’s a mainly male creation.


I liked Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene, and that’s what prompted me to watch another of her films. I was pleasantly surprised by this one. I generally don’t enjoy films with posters like this, because saturated colours and full-body shots of a white couple (almost) holding hands so often means cheese. But actually, I would recommend this one if you’re okay with romantic dramas in general. A hearty thumbs up, as long as you can ignore a few annoying stock characters like the guru stoner guy and the disillusioned old academic. (And after that last sentence I realise, this film could have so easily passed the Bechdel test, for something truly groundbreaking genderwise.)

Feminist Film Review: Mud (2012)

Mud Movie Poster


I really don’t know what to make of this film. I can’t even guess at the politics of its creators. This is one of those stories which will be interpreted quite differently depending on the existing politics of the audience. Sexist viewers will have their opinions unchallenged, if not confirmed.

On the other hand, for viewers who have their eyes open to the way adolescent boys can be inducted into a world of violence and some pretty darn dodgy ideas about women, and the ways in which real men protect them, this film offers insight without redemption.

The end of the movie suggests that nothing about this macho riverside subculture is about to change. The final scene definitely left me with an icky feeling, which is nevertheless probably true to life.


Nowhere even close.

This is a film specifically about male adolescence, and about a boy (Ellis) trying to find an adult role model. He has two to choose from: The first is his father, disillusioned about love and woman after being left by his wife. The second is Mud, the religious nutter vagabond who is the opposite, unconditionally loving a woman who doesn’t feel the same way about him, and losing his freedom because of it.


Despite everything, my husband liked this less than I did. His main problem is that this film is plotted in a particularly lazy way, relying far too much on coincidence. I tried to ignore the coincidental run-ins by telling myself that in a small town, everyone really does bump into each other all the time, and that in real life you are (not unreasonably) likely to happen to live across the river from a key character.

We both agreed that this film was far too long.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with the performances, and there’s something intriguing about the setting. At first I thought this was set in the 1980s or early 1990s, but we are eventually given enough information to realise this is set in modern times, yet there is a real retro feel about it, almost Huck Finn in nature.