Pro-choice actions and wearing in the activist groove

September 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

My life was full to the brim with activism for a few months, and for the last week or so I’ve been staking out some more time for academia, my day job, helped along by a self-enforced sabbatical in the ACT.

I have three new posts from the F Collective site that I’ve been meaning to share here, but I’ve left it a little long, so two in one hit today (don’t say I never treat you nice). The first post is about a protest I was heavily involved in planning and took a key part in, the second I helped organise but couldn’t attend. Lived vicariously through the photos, and you can too.

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#Occupied: The NSW Right to Life Conference

On Saturday, this Right to Life event took place. Except that it didn’t, because feminists occupied it. Or, if you like, #destroyedthejoint.

NSW Right to Life invited the lovely David Bereit (pronounced bee-rite) to speak at their conference dinner on Saturday night while he does a speaking ‘tour‘ of Australia.

If you’ve followed any of the links above, I don’t have to tell you that this man is proud to announce that he has closed 23 abortion centres. He was national director of Stop Planned Parenthood. He started 40 days for life. He is vile and he wants to take away women’s control of their bodies, and trans* folks bodies too.

*Some feminists* (no names) were motivated enough to want to interrupt this guy. We wanted to let him know that he is not welcome to fuck us over, to try to change the culture of reproductive rights in Australia. We wanted to take direct, non-violent action to make sure the people peddling this stuff know that they are not unopposed – in fact their opposition (that’s us) is strong, tough and amazing. We wanted to take our glittery, beautiful, feminist fight to those who want to take away our control of our bodies. So we did.

We went to North Ryde RSL and threw a glittery ballet flat at him, in homage to other inspiring activists who have used this symbol to make their voices heard. We yelled “this is for all the women who’ve died in backyard abortions.” The room went silent. They heard us.

Two feminists then occupied the floor in front of the lectern. Our comrades rushed in to join us at the front. One of us took over the lectern and spoke about women’s rights to control their bodies. We played Peaches (fuck the pain away). Some of us gave attendees at tables our ‘prayer for women everywhere,’ which you can see here (PDF): Prayer 1.

We stood proudly in a row in front of the audience. We ruined their meal.

We glitter bombed the audience. We used glitter and pink shoes and music to have fun and show that resistance against oppression is beautiful. We did it to contrast their conception of femininity as passive, a chalice for ‘new life,’ with our ideas of liberated femininity. Our femininity is empowered, and on Saturday night, it was about action, fierceness, non-violent resistance, solidarity and strength.

Mary Lee Sargent, a mother of feminist direct action, says of women (this web page is poorly formatted but worth reading!):

We have been socialized to fear physical danger, discouraged from taking risks and engaging in deeds of daring- do… Despite these obstacles, what leaps out at anyone who reads the newspapers is that women are resisting injustice. For those who look, it is also evident that women have always resisted injustice and will continue to resist it in the future.

We did it. More on this soon.

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Though shalt not mess with my reproductive rights

That protest we invited you to – did you make it?

If you didn’t, here’s what you missed!

If you did, here’s a selection of photos to remember it by. They’re beauties, all taken and provided by the excellent Kate Ausburn, of coal seam gas reporting fame. You can check out her full set here.

F member and attendee Emily said:

It was fun!

Turnout was good. Around 30 – 35 on my rough head count, which is amazing for 7:30 Monday and with such a short build up. There also seemed to be a lot of women who were not necessarily there from F directly. I think that is pretty exciting.

Interestingly Notre Dame had security guards at all of their entrances and you could only get through with Notre Dame ID. It has clearly stepped up since Saturday night 🙂

We were highly visible and George and Mac did a great job with signs, leaflets and posters. Oh and we also got pretty noisy with some chanting with the two giant mega phones and the accompaniment of horns as people drove past.

All in all I reckon it was a pretty successful action and a nice accompaniment to the Saturday night disruption.

Enjoy!

On body hair, that trivial beast

April 28, 2012 § 1 Comment

Cross-posted at F Collective.

Recently I’ve been reading about body hair, on one of my favourite corners of the lady-internet, Already Pretty.

I don’t shave at all most of the time. This habit formed sometime at university. During the second year of my arts degree at the University of Newcastle, despite my avowed feminism, I still felt compelled to shave. I saw body hair on women as ugly, and ugly was (is) a powerful thing.

Then I started spending a lot of time with another activist. Let’s call her J. J wasn’t so much an outspoken feminist like me, but she was an amazing part of Newcastle’s environment movement, and a bit of a hippie. J was hairy, and she was beautiful.

I spent a lot of time with J, working on things we both cared about. After a while, I just couldn’t see body hair as ugly anymore, when she was so lovely in every way. I stopped shaving, and found I rather liked my underarm hair, despite the fact that I am very hairy, and dark-haired.

I realised shaving and hair-removal had taken an enormous amount of time, and cost me a lot of money. More importantly, it had always been painful, itchy and uncomfortable.

I came to be glad I had stopped shaving.

Nonetheless, I still find my hairy body a challenge sometimes, in how I dress and in how others perceive me.

Body hair is intimately connected to other aspects of bodily presentation. It impacts what I wear, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. I love art, I have a sometimes grudging love for fashion and clothes, and aesthetics remain important to me, and to how I engage with the world. Different clothing styles play differently with body hair – and since I love to play with aesthetics, I notice. I find that while body hair ‘goes’ with some things I wear, it’s jarring against some of the more vintage styles I like, which are otherwise comfortable and suited to my body type. Body hair seems to clash with the more ‘classic’ dresses I might wear to formal  occasions, like a friend’s wedding or farewell.

Photo by Tinker*Tailor Loves Lalka

These styles and occasions are socially constructed as much as as my body hair or lack thereof. A 50s style dress on a body that isn’t playing by the rules of the traditionally feminine can be seen as ironic, and sometimes I’m ok with that. At other times I wish my body wasn’t a small-scale visual, stylistic and representational battleground.

To say my body’s appearance and indeed, my body, is socially constructed, isn’t a dismissal of the power of the constraints on women’s bodies I’m discussing. As Stephen White (1) puts it, what could be more powerful than social construction? We are all social animals.

My body hair can be an affront to others without me saying a word. Sometimes other women look at me with distaste in the gym. Woman on woman misogyny is very real when it comes to appearance.

At least two of my more serious partners, while not daring to tell me to shave (cue fear of my feminist outrage!) have used their ‘preference’ and social pressure to indicate disapproval. What to do, what to do? I try not to blame myself in these situations, for whatever choice I make (hypocrisy be damned if you want or need to remove hair – feminism teaches us our bodies are our own!). But for all options there are costs, however minor. As I said, it’s physically painful for me to shave, quite apart from how torn it makes me feel.

I think that even though it’s popular to believe we have agency on the body choices front, women’s bodies and body hair are powerfully socially disciplined and constrained. I do have agency when it comes to my body, clearly, as do you. Yet my preferences and those of others are shaped by beauty norms and the beauty industry, an industry that under capitalism needs to sell us stuff to make a profit. This is a powerful motivation to keep people unhappy with their bodies. So I have a constrained agency, and there are social costs for my ‘choices’ not to shave.

That my agency is constrained is the case for me even though my body is privileged in a lot of ways – white, buxom, medium weight, cisgendered. As a white woman, I can be seen as ugly or angry or making a statement if I don’t shave. If I were not white, I might be seen as representative of a ‘people’ who are ‘naturally’ ugly or dirty. For trans women, body hair might be seen as validation of the notion that they are not real woman. The threat of violence in this case is never far away.

One thing I think we can do as feminists, is take responsibility for not shaming other people for their choices about their bodies. This is especially important if we are in a position of looking like the ‘norm’ or are otherwise privileged. Those odd looks and judgements about my body hair are responses I could do without.

I have questions unanswered.

How are feelings about body hair influenced by different social scenes and identities?

What is it like for YOU being feminist and negotiating your body hair?

Hair, elsewhere: Hair/VeilAll locked up, Body hair revisited, There’s a DMZ in my knickers, Quick Question.

(1) White, Stephen K. “As the World Turns: Ontology and Politics in Judith Butler.” Polity 32, no. 2 (December 1, 1999): 155–177.

The F Collection: Women’s Abortion Action Campaign

April 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

From the WAAC facebook page

My latest on the F Collection is up. This week it’s on WAAC, the Women’s Abortion Action Campaign. They’ve been campaigning in Sydney for 40 years, and have had some incredible achievements.

My post also includes a brief intro to the politics and law of abortion.

An excerpt:

Though some women claim it is possible to be a feminist and to be anti-abortion, bell hooks, feminist, anti-racist activist and scholar, puts a counter argument:

The abortion issue… called the (US) nation’s attention to a woman’s body as no other issue could have done. It was a direct challenge to the church… While it is possible for women to individually choose never to have an abortion, allegiance to feminist politics means that they are still pro-choice, that they support the rights of females who need abortions to choose whether or not to have them.

This point was brought home to me when walking to an International Women’s Day event recently, I stumbled across a prayer circle chanting loudly outside the Preterm Foundation in Surry Hills. The prayer group held models of fetuses suspended in air, with no woman attached, as though these fetuses were somehow separate to the lives of the person bearing them.

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