A QUICK WORD
A weekend of protests for Earth Day (What do we want? Scientific evidence! When do we want it? After careful peer review!) has left us thankful that, while the leader of the free world denies climate change, more than 600 groups were galvanised to march in support of scientific (not alternative) facts. We want our kids to get seasick on the way to see the Great Barrier Reef, dammit! (The Climate Council is a good place to give your anxiety money, if you’re wondering.)
This week, we bring you protest in a variety of forms. We chat to Brenna Harding, the Puberty Blues star whose appearance on Play School with her two mums made her a “poster child for same-sex families” as a kid and a lifelong ally/advocate for LGBT rights; and Oromo spoken-word poet Soreti Kadir, who explores identity, power, and the experience of living in the African diaspora.
Also: Scroll down for a Q+A with the irrepressible Helen Razer about the difference between dating men and women (mostly, penises), plus a thoughtful piece on the link between anti-immigrant BS (see: new 457 visa changes) and diversity on our screens.
Until next time,
Mia and Grace
PS. If you’re a woman or non-binary scientist, shoot us an email. We’ve got a proposition for you.
“I BECAME A SORT OF POSTER CHILD FOR SAME-SEX FAMILIES”
At 20, Sydney-based actor Brenna Harding has already graced Aussie TV screens with her acclaimed roles in Puberty Blues; toured with the Sydney Theater Company in Jumpy; starred in Foxtel TV shows A Place To Call Home and Secret City; and carved a name her herself as an advocate for LGBT rights. We grabbed a moment with Harding to ask what else has been keeping her busy.
By Grace Jennings-Edquist
Photo: Lucy Deverall
On how she became an LGBT activist.
I was sort of born into that one, because I have lesbian mothers, and when I was about eight or nine I was on the set of Play School with my mothers and there was as lot of backlash from some other parents. That meant there were quite a few media opportunities for my parents and I to talk to media, and I became a sort of poster child for same sex-families for a while there in my early adolescence.
As I got older, that translated into my volunteer work with an organization called Wear It Purple, which ran mufti days at school where people wore purple to support LGBTI youth. I guess it was a natural progression.
On turning down roles for being sexist.
It’s hard, because there’s not a crazy amount [of work] in Australia anyway, so yes, I have had trouble finding roles.
I’ve noticed particularly recently when I’ve been reading scripts, I’ve had to tell my agent, “I’m going to be picky and I’m sorry.” Little things matter to me, like the way characters are introduced into the story. If I get a project and the lead roles are all men, and the character I’m going for is going to be simplified, I’m not going to go for that… I don’t want to do acting work unless it fits my values and principles.
On Moonlight Feminists, the collective she started with friends.
[We invited] women only to start off, because I was really aware of making a safe space for women to be able to talk about women, and that includes trans women and genderqueer, non-binary people.
We ran it out of the women’s library in [Sydney suburb] Newtown and it was just totally delightful. All the women would breathe a sigh of relief when they came in the door, and we would talk about all the things that had happened in the last month, on both a micro and macro level. We’d support each other, and [discuss things like] not knowing how to approach situations; like if we had a situation of misogyny at work, girls would come up with solutions.
Now there are about 60 girls. It’s unfortunate that because its such an intimate scenario, it can’t really grow that enormously. But what we have done so we can reach out and interact with more people, is we accept submissions by girls in the group who submit art, poetry, articles or anything that might be on their mind. We also have a podcast, which is an interview with a different girl in the group each time.
One of our most recent exciting events is we do an open word event once a month. It’s a really, really beautiful environment for women to be able to get up and talk about personal issues and feminist issues. It’s very supportive, and equal and loving and compassionate.
We talk about “calling in” rather than “calling out” at Moonlight Feminists. So if someone does say something that we disagree with, that’s an opportunity for us to share our perspective. And we have a view that if somebody says something problematic, that’s an opportunity for them to listen and learn. In Moonlight Feminists, listening is valued even more highly than talking, and it’s a valuable gift you can give someone, to listen.
On what’s missing from conversations about feminism in Australia.
The first instinct to see the best in someone and help them to grow. Sometimes feminism can feel like a bit of an exclusive conversation. Like Roxane Gay says, there’s no “perfect feminist.” Feminists get put on this pedestal and then people try to knock them down, and Roxane Gay says, “consider me already knocked off.” And I really love that saying.
And intersectionality is a really important thing in Moonlight Feminists; understanding that a woman is not just simply a woman and everything else about her identity is obliterated. I wish there was more attention paid to women of color, and non-gender binary people.
On her plans for the future.
I really love working on projects that other people have written. But it also really excites me to create my own stuff and collaborate with people. And I think in Australia and worldwide, there’s quite a push with creating your own work. [I look forward to] writing more parts for actors of color and writing more parts that explore sexuality.
This interview has been edited for brevity.
SORETI KADIR ON LIVING IN THE AFRICAN DIASPORA
Oromo spoken word poet, recording artist and organiser Soreti Kadir performs and writes to encourage conversation about power, identity, living in the African diaspora, freedom and what it means to live in true service of achieving a more just, inclusive society.
By Mia Abrahams
Image: Soreti Kadir with artwork by Nina Abrahams
“I will teach my daughter, my kin, my creation, that she too carries this burning hope and that she cannot fail. She cannot fail to love herself wholly, she cannot pick cotton to clothe her, she must never stand stationary still, she must force these symmetrical lines to make room for her black body… She will never beg, she will never learn the language of the slave, her tongue will never repeat these sounds and she will never, and I mean never, apologise for the hips that her mother’s mother’s mother destined for her to dance with.”
Those powerful words form part of “Sugar Canes,” a spoken word poem by Melbourne-based, Ethiopian-born writer and organiser Soreti Kadir, who identifies primarily as Oromo.
The Oromo people are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia at just over one-third of the population, but they’ve faced a long fight for self-determination; not only for their land, but for their culture and identity. Part of her struggle as an artist, Soreti says, is using her “platform to identity as Oromo, bringing awareness to who these people are.”
One way she does this: Through In Our Own Words (IOOW,) a grassroots nonprofit she cofounded in 2014 with Aysha Tufa after beginning her professional career in the aid and development sector. IOOW encourages the development of young people in the African diaspora, with a focus on self-awareness, de-colonial thinking and community empowerment.
Soreti’s experiences of living in the the African diaspora, as well as themes of power, loss, and identity, have heavily influenced her own writing. “Sugar Canes” celebrates black women, but also acknowledges the burdens they have to bear.
Watch Soreti perform “Sugar Canes”:
Soreti also reflects on how, as an Australian community, we can better combat the recent rise in global anti-immigrant sentiment and work to combat prejudice in Australia.
“These are issues we can’t really address without looking within our own borders. Australia needs to acknowledge its own history of perpetuating violence, particularly to indigenous Australians, and we all still feel the brunt of that,” she tells me on a phone call from Melbourne, the gentle “ding” of trams audible in the background.
“As immigrants in this country, we still do have a little bit of privilege. Our freedom is inherently tied into our power to be vocal, and our ability to bring light to some of these issues affecting other immigrants,” she says. “We should be building a safe space. It might not necessarily get better structurally, and there will always be a ‘next group’ feeling the heat. But what we can grow and what can remain permanent is the spaces we create in those times that act as havens and as strength bases.”
WHY DO WE NEED DIVERSITY ONSCREEN?
The role of immigrants and minorities in society has once again been thrust into the spotlight with the scrapping of the 457 visa program and the overhaul of the citizenship test to prioritise “Australian values”. One way to challenge stereotypes about minorities and immigrants? More diversity in film and television.
By Candice Kortlever
Photo: Candice Kortlever. Digital art: Grace Jennings-Edquist
As a Chinese-American woman living in Australia, the news about the scrapping of the 457 visas (for temporary workers, of which my partner is one) and tightening of the “Australian values” citizenship test was a real double-whammy. I felt frustrated about the message the government seems to be sending Australians: That people who are not white Australians – people like me – are to be feared and somehow are counter to the concept that is “Australian values”.
But as we know, anti-immigrant sentiment and racial stereotypes don’t just play out in high-level conversations about policy. They start small. Once, during a university screenwriting class, one of my classmates pitched a story about a tribe of people living in Antarctica. Another student asked him: “are these people of Asian descent?” The scriptwriter quickly replied, “nope, they’re just normal people.”
He apologised when I, the lone Asian in the room, shot him a Look, but followed up with: “Come on, you know what I mean.”
And I did. We all did.
There has been an ongoing controversy being played out in the media recently about “whitewashing” of roles that could (and should) have gone to Asian actors. For example: Emma Stone playing Asian-Hawaiian Allison Ng in Aloha, Tilda Swinton playing a Nepalese monk in Doctor Strange, and most recently, Scarlett Johansson playing a character originally made famous in a Japanese anime series in Ghost in the Shell.
Despite these casting decisions receiving significant media attention, it’s still not “normal” to see an Asian person in a lead role, whose first personality trait is not “Asian” or an Asian stereotype (nerds or ninjas). Asian-Americans aren’t getting cast in “normal” lead roles, and they’re also not getting cast in “traditionally Asian” roles – so where do they belong?
Digital art: Grace Jennings-Edquist
I’m a second-generation Chinese-American girl who grew up in the ‘90s. Aside from Power Ranger Trini Kwan and Jubilee from X-Men, there weren’t many Asian-American female characters on American screens.
In 2001, I was pleasantly surprised when television superhero drama Smallville cast part-Chinese Kristin Kreuk as traditionally red-haired Lana Lang, teenage Clark Kent’s love interest.
It took me a while to figure out why this was so refreshing to me. There’s no actual shortage of Asians onscreen: If I wanted to watch movies with Chinese faces, the Foreign section of the library has plenty of Chinese DVDs. It’s because, like my classmate so eloquently put it, this was an Asian-American actress in a “normal” American role. Not the usual “Asian foreigner” stereotype: a heavy, broken accent (or no English at all), usually a science nerd or martial arts expert. This was an all-American, girl-next-door role. And I want to see minorities in more roles like this, where ethnicity is secondary to personality and character.
These days, television shows Fresh Off the Boat and Master of None are steps in the right direction for representation. I love seeing roles like Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun) in The Walking Dead, Agents Daisy Johnson and Melinda May (Chloe Bennet and Ming-Na Wen) in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) in Elementary. And last year’s hashtag campaigns #StarringConstanceWu and #StarringJohnCho – in which the Asian-American actors were photoshopped onto posters of movies such as The Martian, Mother’s Day and Friends with Benefits – gave me hope that someday we’ll actually see them as three-dimensional and relatable movie leads.
Screen Australia recently released a study analysing the diversity in television dramas from 2011-2015 – only 18% of central characters were from non-white backgrounds, compared to 32% of the population.
“Diversity in casting and in storytelling is crucial because our culture shapes societies’ attitudes, perceptions and behaviour,” Pearl Tan, director of Pearly Productions and a founding member of the Equity Diversity Committee tells me. “It teaches us not just what is desired, but what is acceptable.”
Against the backdrop of new visa and citizenship test rules and after the political world events of 2016, it’s more crucial than ever to see a higher level of diversity in relatable, central and complex roles.
The launch this week of a not-for-profit called Media Diversity Australia (advocating “for a media that looks and sounds like Australia,” as the slogan puts it) is a good start. But we still have far to go.
Let’s have more actors like Diego Luna as Cassian Andor in Rogue One; Mike Colter as Luke Cage in the title Netflix series; John Boyega and Daisy Ridley as Finn and Rey in The Force Awakens. How about British-American Lewis Tan starring in a Hitch-like romantic comedy, or Arden Cho as the lead in a John Green YA-novel adaptation? And with the plethora of (mostly white and male) superhero franchises, wouldn’t it be revitalising to have movies about comic book heroes like Ms. Marvel (Pakistani-American Kamala Khan) or Spider-Man spinoff Silk (Korean-American Cindy Moon)?
We have a responsibility to “normalize” everyone – no matter what culture, race, or religion a main character hails from, no matter their age, body type or sexuality, no matter their citizenship status or visa type. Not only would it be great to see“myself”represented more, but representation and diversity in media is a key step in combatting the racism and xenophobia that is increasingly being touted by politicians and the alt-right.
“Societal norms and our unconscious bias are shaped by entertainment, media and advertising,” Tan tells me. “More inclusivity in our art leads to more inclusive societies.”
And that’s just what the world needs more of right now.
“I WILL SAY THAT WOMEN ARE HARDER ON THE JAW”
Digital art: Nina Abrahams
After splitting with her long-term girlfriend, author, columnist and radio star Helen Razer embarked on a mission to date 100 men in less than a year and document the experiment in a book, The Helen 100. Here’s what she told us about talking politics on dates, society’s obsession with “personal growth”… and fingerbanging, duh.
By Grace Jennings-Edquist
You broke up with your long-term girlfriend and decided to try dating men again. In three words, what was it like to date blokes again after such a long time?
“They have penises”.
I didn’t decide to be with a woman any more than I decided to start seeing chaps. I just wanted to see anyone, and as it turned out, there were many more men available.
I know there is this whole LGBTI thing these days and a presumption that you fall into one or other of the rainbow alphabet’s categories. But I don’t have a sexual identity, as far as I can tell. So there’s none of that “then I was a lesbian and now I am straight” for me. I understand many people identify. I just don’t.
There was no decision. It just happened. And I would like to say something quirky and wise about Those Adorable Differences Between Men and Women. In my experience, there are few. I will say that women are harder on the jaw.
You’ve said you tend to turn every conversation on a date into an argument about politics. What’s that like?
I don’t tend to feel either awkward or confrontational when discussing forms of political and social organisation. These things interest me greatly, and I remain surprised that others are not so fascinated!
But dates are always confronting and awkward for everybody. Whether you are talking about football, children or taste in food, these things are minefields.
Because I’m quite a communist sort of person, I do tend to get into arguments, and there are accounts of this in the book. But, really. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about the mode of production or your opinion on wine, it’s all just the same. We are all terrified, and desperately trying to connect with another person.
Society often talks about breaks ups as a wonderful opportunity for personal growth. What’s your take on this idea, after your dating experiment; Do you still think it’s a myth?
I don’t think that “personal growth” is a myth, so much as a powerful mystification. It is a religion.
For as long as I was old enough, or bored enough, to consider a question like “personal growth”, I’ve always thought it was a bit iffy. You can think about it like an older cultural goal that now seems ridiculous or quaint to us, such as becoming “closer to God”, or, say, being a good and dutiful wife. It seems natural to us now to say “personal growth”, but everything seems natural in its era.
[The way I prefer to think about it is that] we change. We become, like all lifeforms and systems, more complicated the longer we stick around. This doesn’t mean we “grow”, or progress, which are very Western ideas largely informed by our huge faith in what we call the free market. We change. We adapt. We survive. If we are lucky, we may flourish. But “growth”? It sounds to me like a bullshit economic forecast.
You’ve previously said that the book is full of “bad sex.” What was the worst encounter?
If you are interested in this, search on your electronic copy for the word “fingerbang”…
This article has been edited for brevity. The Helen 100 (Allen & Unwin, 2017) is out now.
WE’RE ACROSS THE INTERNET, SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE
By Mia Abrahams
- Serena Williams (aka greatest of all time) is 20 weeks pregnant! Which means she was two months pregnant when she won her 23rd Grand Slam at the Australian Open! (And I just cancelled my pilates class bc I’m on my period…)
- Speaking of protest, check out Forms of Resistance on May 6th, an event & part of the Climarte festival – a panel of four women discussing environmental and social justice.
- Just what you need! Another dazzling literary must-read to add to your bedside table. Seriously though, it’s worth checking out the winner of the 2017 Stella Prize, The Museum of Modern Love, by Hobart-born author Heather Rose.
- Casey Donovan performed a cover of “Heroes” for at the Logies and people lost their minds about her bloody good it was. As Indigenous feminist Celeste Liddle wrote on her Facebook page, it’s good to see Casey get some positive media coverage for a change. #TeamCasey
- Did you watch the Girls finale? I still have ~350 tabs open with think pieces to read about it, but if you only have time for one, read Jia Tolentino’s piece, “On finally watching ‘Girls,’ a different and better show than I’d been led to imagine”. It’s enough.
- Because providing support and education for LGBTQ kids and their classmates is apparently not literally vital to saving the lives of young Australian, the NSW is abolishing the Safe Schools program. Allison Gallagher writes about her experience as “a queer, transgender woman who attended a Catholic, all-male high school in the mid-2000s,” who knows “first-hand how an unsupportive environment can negatively affect a young person struggling with their sexuality or gender identity.”