Saturday 29 June 2019

Kim - Oh - Nooooo!!!!

About 4 weeks ago I got huffed up enough to start writing many pieces about my opinion on whether the use of kimono by non Japanese was a disrespectful cultural appropriation. After a month of picking up the issue, examining the top, bottom, sides and lots of hidden facets I still have the opinion that while it may offend some people, particularly those of Japanese – American heritage, and it may even qualify to a degree as an “appropriation” it just cannot be stopped, legally or morally. 

Essentially kimono has been used in the english language for around 200 years and has gradually segued into a generic descriptor word. Outside of Japan most people regard a kimono as a robe type  garment usually having wide sleeves and banded edges. 

I think the most heartening thing I can say to the Japanese who find it’s hijacking offensive is that the vast majority of people still understand what the traditional Japanese garment is and don’t confuse it with contemporary iterations of the style.

Hitting the headlines in the last few days has been the American celebrity Kim Kardashian doing her own version of cultural appropriation by suggesting she is going to trademark kimono as part of the name for her underwear collection.

Ugh, that really is awful. 

How many of you might agree with my cynical impression that she is welcoming the uproar because it makes so much free advertising for her product worldwide?

Personally I do find her appropriation in this case quite offensive because her undies don't have even the vaguest relationship to a kimono - but there is nothing that can be done to prevent her using kimono to peddle her wares. It is a generic word that can't be protected and you can bet your last buck that Ms Kardashian has access to top level legal advice and would be well aware of that. 

Perhaps she is relishing all the uproar and laughing all the way to the bank....?


During my writings I’ve become aware that examining anything to do with cultural appropriation will inevitably lead to touching on racism. Several of my blog posts did poke the beast and made me feel defensive. In honesty racism isn’t a thing that is much present in my daily life. Though I’ve lived in Australia for 34 years I’ve barely met any indigenous people and never had a friendship with an aboriginal person. 

In the tiny bush town where I’ve lived for 11 years, with a population about 900, I’m told there may be 3-4 people that identify as aboriginal but I don’t know any of them. Over the last decade a lot of Indian families have moved here and now run possibly half the local businesses – the Chemist shop, our only grocery shop (which includes agencies for the Post Office and Bank), 2 petrol stations, 2 motels and our medical doctor and hospital consultant is Pakistani. I welcome them all very much and would be totally comfortable to have more Indian people than white Australians in this town. They run their businesses professionally, have many children in the local primary school and contribute their time and resources to our local community organisations such as meals on wheels and the volunteer Fire Brigade. What more could you want of any citizen in your community?

Without question I acknowledge racism exists and is a hideous institution that needs to be dismantled. Because I’ve been a bit bewildered getting comments pointing out my white privilege lately I knew it was time to have a look into why it stung me. 

Recently I described myself as a good “listener” and a person who is trying to live in a conscious paradigm of integrity. We all think we are “good” people of course, but sometimes you must scratch off the surface to find out if any borer has got into the wood behind….

A week ago I launched a reading project. This is my reading list at the moment. Most are audiobooks so I can work in the studio and listen at the same time. Some weren’t available in that format so I bought them for Kindle.

A Haven Amongst Perdition, by Sidra Owens (this is actually a novel)

Not purchased yet but I intend to get “Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia” an anthology by Anita Heiss  and Stan Grants “Australia Day” because I need to keep in touch with how racism manifests in my own community.

White Fragility was the first book read and I found it shattering. I listened to the whole book over one day and was left feeling gutted. For me this book is one that has reset my world view. There is now a pre White Fragility world and a post White Fragility world.

I had read We Should All be Feminists a few years ago and re-read that.

At present I’m half way through listening to Ileoja Oluo’ So You Want to Talk About Race and this is great too. Its nearly 20 years since I did a year of Sociology at the University of Newcastle when I was doing my Visual Art degree so I’ve had to dust off some of my feminist theory. I’ve re-listened to Oluos chapter about “intersectionality” 3 times. This has intrigued me enough to do some additional research as I don’t feel this fits me well.

If anybody would like to recommend me some more good contemporary writing about racism I welcome your suggestions.

Friday 28 June 2019

Pants down ladies

Lately I've hardly spent any time in the studio doing hands on making. All the one sided debate I've been carrying on for the last month has stimulated the thinking and theory side of my brain. I've spent most days reading, researching and writing screeds of stuff. Some of it was published here and some was for my personal diary or other bits and pieces were written just for personal enjoyment.

At the beginning of this year I discovered Medium, an online platform for writers and independent publishing. I spend many hours a day reading there along with my usual checking in with the New York Times, Washington Post, Sydney Morning Herald, Guardian and Crikey.

Today I published my second essay on Medium. As ever there was the link to publish on FB and I did so, completely oblivious to the fact that included in the essay was a medical photograph of a female vulva. This had been a copyright free image I'd googled up along with 100s of other similar pictures. It was relevant to my essay so I put it in there.

About a half hour later I got the notification from FB about my content having been censored. I forgot that FB is fine with publishing every horrendous bloodthirsty graphic way of being killed but is childishly coy about seeing the vagina the vast majority of humans are born out if.

If you'd like to see the picture that was originally included in the essay here is the link to hop over to Medium.

I hadn't planned on publishing this to my blog but as it can only be published to FB without the "offensive" image, here it is...

Get a Grip on your Vulva
Young women should be empowered to know the physicality of their bodies and educated how to masturbate. They need to know that self stimulation is a healthy and good thing and not be anxious or fearful that there is something wrong to pleasure yourself.
The first time I ever saw my own genitalia was around age 23 when I got a mirror and examined myself. Nearly 40 years later that does seem weird! At that time I’d already had a baby and was pregnant with my second. So a lot of people — parents, doctors, nurses and boyfriends had already seen what I hadn’t. Yet I felt bizarrely guilty and kind of kinky for wanting to see the only part of my body I’d never seen. There is every possibility that millions of women have lived their entire lives never having seen their own genitalia or that of other womens.
Nowadays I believe its really important for young women know what their own genitals look like. Being familiar with the appearance of their healthy genitals is one of the important ways women can monitor their sexual health. Regular observation means they will be alert to changes, such as unusual discolorations, warts, sores or injuries.
Furthermore I would encourage them to go to medical type websites where they can see the huge range of diversity in genitalia among other women all around the world. Regrettably such searches will inevitably cast up the mountain of pornography created for the sexual stimulation of men where the vulva shown often have little in common with the physical reality of most women. In those places they will see female genitalia with little or no pubic hair and vulva with tiny labia. It is part of the unhealthy pathology of male sexuality that the vulva mostly seen in mainstream pornography more closely resemble that of pre adolescent female children than fully grown and appropriately sexually active adult women.
If this makes you curious about the physical diversity in vulva here is a link to an extraordinary photographic essay by Laura Dodsworth

Why I photogaphed 100 vulvas

I am often irritated to hear so many people refer to female genitalia as the “vagina”. This is technically incorrect. When referring to female genitalia the correct words are the genitals, vulva or pudendum. The vagina is the canal that has an opening at the bottom of the vulva extending internally for approximately 10cm. At the top of the vaginal canal is the cervix which segregates the external from the internal. The vagina has two main functions — it directs the ejaculate of the erect male penis into the cervical opening allowing the sperm to progress to the fallopian tubes where potentially fertilisation may occur. The other important function of the vagina is as an exit for the contents of the uterus. That usually consists of menstrual blood at the end of an unfertilised monthly cycle or occasionally an unviable fetus or a full term baby.
Without doubt there must be whole fields of science explaining the weird evolution of how our genital region developed into a multi functional site. It just seems such an unlikely confluence that in an area of a few square centimetres we have openings for defecation, urination, sexual intercourse, menstrual evacuation and childbirth. Our anus and vagina can simultaneously be regarded as shameful, embarrassing, disgusting, precious, sacred and profane. Acts of childbirth, menstruation, intimacy or violence to the vagina occur within a palm span of where we defecate solid waste from our bodies. Some sexual partners regard the anal opening as just as interchangeable for penetration as the vagina.
However, because the vagina is mostly what men are interested in all our other genital bits are largely ignored. I contend that the vast majority of men will know the correct names of only 2 structures of the vulva — the vagina and the clitoris. More than likely there are also a great many young women out there equally ignorant of the correct names for the distinct structures of their vulva.
We are all entitled to know every bit of the skin we were born in and exist in for all our lives. It is a normal part of self respect to properly care for, nurture and maintain the cleanliness and health of our bodies. Young women and girls need to know the anatomy and correct names for their genitalia— mons pubis, pudenda, labia minora, labia majora, urethral opening, the vaginal opening and the anus and most importantly where their clitoris is! They should be encouraged to learn how to pleasure themselves and have orgasms.
I suspect enormous outrage will be generated from some adults who think there is something sick or illegal to encourage 11–12 year old girls to masturbate. But really - who is being harmed?
I recall discovering my clitoris around 13 years old and learned quickly to masturbate to orgasm. I was probably in my mid 30s before I had enough courage to show my sexual partner how to stimulate me to orgasm. I’m not one of those women who orgasm with penile penetration. I think its pretty sad that I’d never had an orgasm with a sexual partner until then. By 35 I was so over with faking vaginal orgasms. The fakery made the genuine giving and receiving of sexual pleasure between intimate partners a fraught and awful thing for me because I had to lie about my real experience in an effort not to make my partner anxious. In the 1980s most people were still so ignorant about female orgasm it wasn’t common knowledge that women who orgasm with penile penetration were in the minority and that was not the experience of most women.
I am glad to have learned the pleasure of self stimulated orgasm as an adolescent. Knowing that I was capable of orgasm kept me perservering to have this experience with intimate partners. Sharing the experience of having a male partner go through their visceral ejaculation into/onto my body often created a deeper level of communion. Regrettably, for way too long I believed the ignorant and incorrect information that women could and should have orgasms induced by penile penetration. Being unable to do so convinced me that there was something wrong that I needed to hide or change. It is a good thing to live in a world now where this information has been debunked and I go about honestly having intimacy and orgasms with partners.
That our bodies have this amazing facility for pleasure known as the orgasm is something to be celebrated and enjoyed. Masturbation should be taught and encouraged for young people to do in appropriate and safe situations as part of a normal mental and physical health regime.

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Knit this

It’s fantastic that the worlds biggest knitting and crotchet online group Ravelry has come out clearly stating they won’t allow political commentary on their website supporting American President Trump. I’ve been an inactive member of the group for many years only going there occasionally to buy knitting patterns. I’d been unaware of the simmering tensions until things went viral a couple of days ago.

The statement of their revised policy and removal of a number of disruptive members who were breaking the policy created a huge surge of feedback in many online forums. The disruption even captured the attention of many mainstream news media, like the Guardian, where it was reported.

The Ravelry discussion unfolded with the usual predictable polarisation between right and left, democrat and liberal, conservatives and progressives. A few hundred years ago the group that felt (or was being) persecuted could get on a sailing ship and head over to the new world, kick the natives out and begin to set up their own version of utopia. But theres no elsewhere on the planet left to go to in the 21stC and now we have to learn to live with each other without starting a revolution and shooting all the people we disagree with. Can we do it?.....uhhh-ohhh…is that the sound of knitting needles and crotchet hooks being ground into sharp pointed spears…?

There is little point in gnashing the teefs, slapping yourself on the head and crying “woe is me, why are you turning my knitting hobby into a political forum?!!” The first political act we all do is to be born. It amuses me how anxious moderators everywhere think they can keep politics out of their friendly little circles. They quake in fear that an outbreak of political discussion will destroy their happy crafting idylls. And it is a well founded fear, many forums have crashed and burned when the flinging of incendiaries got out of hand.

Making the pretence that you or your group is not political and that you are somehow entitled to take the virtuous position of “neutrality” in refusing to state a political position is both arrogant and privileged. If you are genuinely uncertain of what your position is then, listen, learn, educate yourself and work out what you think. No such thing as a little bit pregnant.

People who say that they aren’t political are likely living in the comfortable cocoon of middle class income, white skinned, sexually normative, adequately educated, able bodied world of the Star Bellied Sneetches. They can hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil because in their lives they don’t have to take a step in the shoes of minority groups, BIPOC or the disabled.

It is uncomfortable to take a position and tell people what it is. Especially if you are part of the group that is being criticised and disparaged. I recently had the bizarre experience myself of being dismissed as a troll, a Trump supporter, a racist privileged white woman and white supremacist. For several days I went through the bewildering experience of having people I’ve never met or had only the slightest contact with through the internet make assumptions about who I am and what I stand for because I disagreed with someones assertion that naming a sewing pattern a kimono is an unacceptable cultural appropriation. Not a one those people bothered to read what I wrote and make a comment or make any other reflection on why they thought I was wrong.

These issues – racism, hate speech, denigrating people on the grounds of their sexual identity, et al - have to be bought into the open and discussed. People should be allowed to say what they think and why. Personal abuse should never be tolerated in these debates. That is simply expressing rage and frustration and not furthering understanding. Sometimes people need to have the humility to admit they don’t wholly understand all the issues and that some views they hold need to be more closely examined.

Regrettably the outcome of trying to instigate a public discussion platform almost always means people will be polarised and retreat to groups of same minded people to avoid the unpleasantness of confrontations. I’ve just experienced this myself in the last few weeks when I tried to have an open discussion with people advocating a point of view and had the door firmly slammed in my face….the door slammers still have a conviction that I’m a privileged white supremacist. My view is based on knowing what a credible "cultural appropriation" issue is, nothing to do with racist attitudes towards Japanese. All the many hours I spent researching, educating myself and trying to present a reasoned point of view have been totally ignored and dismissed.

I wish I knew what the solution was to keep the debates open and to keep people discussing with minimal rancour.

I’m not a person who follows institutional religion but remain deeply influenced by the Buddhist philosophy that I was attracted to investigate when I was younger. All my life I’ve read a lot of sociology about art, gender, politics and race and my favourite writer about spirituality is the Korean Buddhist monk Thich Nat Thanh. I spend time every day contemplating and acting to live my life with the smallest environmental footprint I can practically effect and doing the least harm I can to other beings.

I’m no saint! I still drink too much, eat meat at least half the week and have a truly gutter sense of humour that won’t give up on believing that fart jokes are clever and hilarious….At least once a month I get really drunk, stay up to 3am in the morning by myself playing loud rap music on youtube and google all my old boyfriends from forty years ago to cyber stalk them. I am flawed. Just like we all are. 

But what I am proud of, and admire in other people, is caring enough to listen to others and trying not to kid myself too much that everything I believe must be good and right. The one certainty I do have is that whatever activity leads to expansiveness, inclusiveness, diversity, compassion and comes from a place of LOVE is probably a good thing to be propagating.

For those readers who wish I'd just talk about my art and sewing here's some beaded earrings I made a few days ago.