Dick and Balls

As a teacher/ librarian/ general theatre person, I live and work in a world full of women. Mostly. Primary schools operate with lots of women in most of the roles, with a few fantastic male teachers (and sometimes male principals and IT dudes). The sphere of unpaid and unrecognised independent theatre is dominated by women, as are the majority of theatre and creative courses at universities. I have lots of female friends, I like to read about women, and support works made by women, and I’ll be a feminist to the day I die. So, yeah: total oestrogen overload. 

On the set of Trench. 

On the set of Trench. 

Then Trench came along. Written by the wonderfully ingenious Paul Nelson and Perri Cummings, this was a film with a female lead character who was funny, courageous and a bit of a dork (How could I refuse such a dream role?!).  It had a great feminist plot, and totally passed the Bechdel test, so I was psyched to sign up for another project with an awesome girly vibe. 

Oh, how naive I was… Months later, I found myself in the middle of a hectic production schedule, spending most of my waking hours surrounded by a crew of men. Yes, boys - like, gross-cooties-stinky-boys. Apart from the awesomely talented makeup artists and the creative geniuses of the art department, the crew were all guys. Several times during shooting, I would look around and realise it was just me in a room full of testosterone. This was not my world. 

Men are big. They take up space, and they lift stuff easily. They fart and burp, and insult each other. Sometimes they’re really loud, and they like to turn everything into a joke about their dick, or their balls, or about another man’s dick or balls, or how an object could be a dick or balls. I don’t know if you realise this, but men really love dicks and balls.

Look, I’m deliberately generalising here, and I’m telling you all the stinky, rude, macho shit that some men do sometimes (and some women do sometimes). So, let me tell you about what these men were actually like. 

These were men who brought cleaning products on the final day, to make sure that the house we were using was left in a good condition. These were men who have developed strategies for faking an interest in AFL. These were men who talked openly about their partners and wives, and why they loved these women. They talked about how their girlfriend’s career would probably determine where they moved to. They spoke with a completely normal, matter-of-fact, level of respect for their partners and other women they admired - none of that ball-and-chain, take my wife bullshit. They had discussions among themselves about the best way to pack a dishwasher, and they often tidied after each other (although Perri, honestly, did basically everything). These were men who have genuine conversations among themselves, praising the talents of comedians, actors and filmmakers they were excited about - female ones, that is. These men expressed uncertainties about their own abilities, and deferred to the expertise of others; happy to admit they were not infallible. They had lengthy discussions about politics (especially the American election) and they could often be found sifting through the bookcase, sneaking away with one of the literary classics that was supposed to be part of the set. These are men who make documentaries about female acid-attack survivors in India, and these are men who support others’ projects in every way they can.

And yes, the majority of time on set, these were men who also made jokes about their dicks and balls. 

This is not a ‘not all men’ post - it’s not about trying to disprove the fact that there are men out there with malicious intentions. It’s not saying that we need to give men a break, or think better of them, nor am I trying to hold men up on a pedestal for doing many things that women do every day. Fuck no - all the women on set were doing the same things, and having the same conversations. It’s almost like men and women are actually not that different…

The thing that struck me most out of this experience is that these complex, wonderful and multi-dimensional men are everywhere, all around us, and yet, we’re not seeing them. Not on our Australian screens at least. We’re seeing blokes roar in front of a footy game. We’re seeing blokes having a beer at the local. We’re seeing young blokes scoff some KFC. We’re seeing old blokes scratching their heads and arses while the missus sighs condescendingly and squirts some new cleaning product around. Or, on our bigger screens we’re seeing the same emotionally-stunted men with guns or capes or swords. Of course, there’s a place for these men - these heroes and warriors and ‘typical Aussie blokes’. But if there’s space for them (and let’s be honest, these characters are already taking up most of the space), then why isn’t there also space for representations of the variety of real men that are actually living in this country? Men of colour, men with brains, men with hearts?

One of the things that I find so frustrating about the relationship between audiences and our storytelling media is our eagerness to accept rehashed stereotypes over our own lived experiences. We’ll happily gobble up truth-bomb storylines where all women love shoes and all men watch footy (and anyone who falls outside these boundaries is assumed to be queer - heaven forbid!), while completely ignoring our own experiences of meeting people who don’t fit into those cages. Seriously - take the blokiest Bloke McBlokerson that you know, and I bet that even he doesn’t fit the stereotype. Think about him, in all his complexity, and I bet he doesn’t fit. He can actually speak four different languages, or he makes the kids’ lunches every morning, or he’s a massive fan of Kimmy Schmidt. Whatever. The tired old stereotype doesn’t fit anymore. It doesn’t fit anyone. 

So, the men of Trench weren’t exactly stinky-gross-cooties-boys. Not entirely. Some were quiet, some were loud, they had a variety of interests and talents and goals and backgrounds, and they were all dealing with their own shit and just trying to do the best damn job they could. As were the women. I will emphasise right now, that all of the women were supremely awesome. 

And so, months after one of my first forays into a world of men, I now find myself working at an all-boys secondary school where the dick and ball jokes are at peak level. The stench of body-odour can be overwhelming. These boys are trying to navigate a heady world where most media is created especially for them. Men on screen, in most of the roles … men behind the screens, in most of the roles. I just hope that all of us storytellers, writers, and filmmakers start reflecting upon and reviewing those male characters we create. We need to start employing some diversity, so our boys (and girls) can grow up knowing that there’s more than one way to play ‘man’.

Check out www.trenchfilmnoir.com to see other shots and details about this exciting new film, Trench. 

Blackface

This is a conversation I have frequently at school:

 

“Did you hit him/ her?”

 

“Yes, but not very hard! It wouldn’t hurt.”

 

This is when I stop them, look them square in the eye, and say no.

 

No, you don’t get to decide that.  You don’t live in their body; you don’t know what it feels like to be them. You chose to hit. You don’t get to also choose if your action hurt the victim or not. They decide. 

 

    *    *     *

 

I’m a woman. I was born a woman, and I’ll be a woman for the rest of my life. I don’t have a particularly high level of testosterone or well developed muscles (you know how weak my little arms are?). I also don’t have a penis or testes.

 

I’ve seen men wacked in the balls. Hit in the nuts. Socked in the scrote. Mostly when it happens, they double over, moan, and start breathing pretty heavily. I’m guessing it’s an extremely painful thing to experience, but I don’t know for sure. I mean, they could all just be making it up: faking the pain to get some attention. They’re probably over-reacting.

I suppose I could put out a questionnaire on Facebook, or write a question on yahoo.com. “Is it actually, honestly painful to be hit in the testes?”  And I could take a variety of women’s opinions on the matter, and consider what they feel about the experience. Their opinions are just as valid as men’s, right?

 

    *    *    *

 

I live in the city, while my brother lives in the bush. He and his wife own and manage an enormous sheep and cattle station, right up in the north-western corner of NSW. He oversees a variety of contract workers, deals with buyers and agents, flies his own gyrocopter, and tries to cope with the ever-changing conditions of water and droughts (among hundreds of other jobs).

 

Some people from the city would call him a jackaroo.

 

To my brother, and many people from the bush, this is a pretty offensive term. It implies someone who assists on a station without having much skill.  He is not a jackaroo. He is a station manager.

 

If you lived in the city, you could call him a jackaroo and no one would really say anything. You could keep using this term among your friends and colleagues, and no one would correct you.

 

And if someone did correct you, you could just shrug your shoulders and say ‘So what?’ And you could just keep saying it, because in your mind you don’t think it’s offensive at all. Or I guess you could get pretty angry about it, and say that the bleeding heart PC bullshit brigade are turning us into censored doormats who don’t get to have any fun.

 

Or - possibly - you could listen to those who find it offensive and decide not to say it anymore so you don’t hurt any more people? You know, even though you don’t really, fully understand why it’s offensive and you don’t mean to offend, you could stop saying it because you respect other people?

 

    *    *    *

 

2009 - Hey, Hey, It’s Saturday.  There were loud complaints. Claims that they ‘didn’t know’.  So, in the face of this ignorance, people attempt to educate. Backlash.

 

2011 - QANTAS & The Bledisloe Cup. There were loud complaints. Claims that they ‘didn’t know’.  So, in the face of this ignorance, people attempt to educate. Backlash.

 

2015 - FOX sports & I’m a Celebrity, Get me out of here!  There were loud complaints. Claims that they ‘didn’t know’.  So, in the face of this ignorance, people attempt to educate. Backlash.

 

2016 - Ballarat, ‘Aussie icons’ party. There were loud complaints. Claims that they ‘didn’t know’.  So, in the face of this ignorance, people attempt to educate. Backlash.

 

2016 - Australian Opals. There were loud complaints. Claims that they ‘didn’t know’.  So, in the face of this ignorance, people attempt to educate. Backlash.

 

    *    *    *

 

I am a white Australian woman, and the closest I ever got to experiencing racism was when I was in India and China, and lots of people wanted to have their photo taken with me because I was white. Mostly, I just felt like a celebrity, and then it felt a bit weird, and after a while I felt a little annoyed. That’s it. Mildly annoyed. I have no idea what it’s like to have that happen in your own country. Not the taking your photo part, but having your skin colour be your main identifier.

 

I have no idea what it feels like to have a potential employer hesitate/ refuse to give me a job because of my skin colour. I have no idea what it feels like to be chosen for something and for others to assume it was a token/ PC choice because of my skin colour. I’ve never been asked where I’m really from because of my skin colour. I’ve never been afraid of other people and how they may react to my skin colour. 

 

Because when people look at me, they don’t really see ‘white’, they just see human.

 

 

    *    *    *

 

Gross over-reaction… becoming too precious… PC is destroying fun… the MOST ridiculous carry on that I’ve ever heard… So when I put on my mudpack I am being raceist (sic)? … a bit over the top… from what I see it was a fancy dress … How about green? Anyone upset about green? … If we stop making fun of others then there IS no humour … Get over it people … there is no hope of ever regaining our Australian way of life… some low esteem and insecure person …gotten beyond a joke … What are you talking about? What do you mean by “blackface”?… If this is racist it’s time to give up … Ausdies are a bunch of compliainers and over reacters (sic) … get over it! … tired of people endlessly needing to be offended by something … can’t people have any fun anymore … the next thing we will be charged for becoming brown with sunburn … the world has gone crazy … good way to create a divide that didn’t exist … get over it girlie … people these days are so righteous … so what? Get a life people … please, a bit more discretion and decorum in future… I person should be allowed to paint his/her face any colour he/she likes. It is none of anybody's business (sic) … people need to harden up and get over it … political correctness leading to the absurd … it’s just make believe just like this promoted outrage … some people are so sensitive and pretentious these days…

 

             - Australian commenters on the internet

 

    *    *    *

 

“When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.”

 –Louis C.K

Twitter, 24 April 2015

 

 

    *    *    *

 

Time to stop listening to a white person and all-white panels and white media personalities and white politicians talk about racism. 

 

You should read this guy:

 

“Let's say you decided you wanted to dress as Ketan Joshi, and you don some glasses, a fake beard, a red skivvy and a tan blazer. Cool! That's what I look like. 

 

Except, you're not finished. You coat every visible inch of your visible skin in thick brown paint, and "now I'm done. Now, I look like what Ketan looks like, to me", you say. 

 

This is a signal that the wavelength of light that my outer layer absorbs is a major part of of what I am to you. To the point that you feel I'm unrecognisable without being designated as A Brown Man. You see me as an amorphous, brown figure - a part of me that I had no involvement in creating is, according to you, a major part of me. I can never change that. That is how you see me: a brown man. 

 

This is why it really hurts people who belong to a group that is visibly different, when you collectively rise up and say to them 'a feature of your body is a costume, to me. It's a bit of you that you can never disown, and you have no say in how much of you it comprises. We decide, and you have no power to stop this. Even if you ask us to stop, we won't. If you tell us it hurts, that it cuts you to the core, we won't stop’. “

 

    - Ketan Joshi

Facebook post, 22 February 2016 

 

(from a comment responding to ABC Video’s ‘The Drum’  where a white presenter asked a variety of white guests if blackface was offensive… including Senator Jacqui Lambie)

 

    *    *    *

 

I’m trying to teach children the value of empathy. I’m trying to teach them that their friend’s experiences are not the same as theirs. I really want them to understand that when someone says…

 

“Please stop”

 

“It hurts”

 

“Please believe me that this is upsetting me”

 

 

… that they will actually listen. 

 

They won’t try to argue or justify their right to hurt another person or make fun of them for being so weak or sensitive.

 

They’ll just listen.

 

And even if they don’t fully understand WHY it’s upsetting to that person, they will recognise that stopping is more important than just having a bit of fun.

Gifts we leave behind

Coming out of the winding corridor of tall trees and rocky slopes, we drive out into open, green hillsides. A family of cows with wet black noses and full bellies watches us, patiently. ‘It’s a working farm,’ Julie, my host explains. ‘’That’s what Arthur wanted.’

She’s referring to Arthur Boyd, the Australian artist who lived on this gorgeous property, and then gifted it to be used by artists as a place for seclusion and inspiration. I’m ridiculously fortunate to be spending a week here, writing a play. And with no TV, little internet and few books (as well as an incredibly peaceful environment), I’m sure I’ll have no trouble finding the time to write.

My writing space at Bundanon.

My writing space at Bundanon.

 

This generous act of Boyd’s (and his wife, Yvonne) has got me thinking about how some people are so blessed in life that they are able to make these sorts of tangible contributions after they pass away. Things like scholarships, or donations, or setting up trusts for others. How wonderful it must be to feel that you can leave something behind, and in choosing who/ what to leave it to, you are making incredible statements about what you value. And perhaps, what you feel should be valued more by others.

Inside my cottage where I am expected to write (this will totally happen, I will definitely write a play…) there is a little shelf. The shelf holds a broad, intriguing selection of books - old, plastic covered library books, fluorescent young adult novels, books in German, Chinese poetry, maps of Sydney. This isn’t one person’s personal library. I’m pretty sure that these are books that have deliberately been left behind. Possibly writers who have stayed here before me have left a copy of their own novels, hoping that the next writer will read it. Similarly, most of the artworks on the walls appear to have been created in the last decade, and all reference Bundanon, the property I’m at. These people, too, are all leaving something behind for others to enjoy.

 

(Ok, this is not entirely relevant, but I just went to the bathroom and there was a frog in there the size of a matchbox car. There was a brief, silent stand-off, before we decided that the cottage was big enough for the both of us. I just needed to include that.)

 

After thinking about these people leaving things behind, bequeathing their property to others, I realised that I had had similar feelings, though not always so altruistic. Although I would love someday to be able to leave something of value to others, the feeling that most often concerns me is a need to leave something behind to prove that I have existed. I’m here to write (yup, a play - I’ll totally get on to that soon), because I want to write. Because I seem to always have ideas for things that I want to write, and even though writing can often be boring and painful and embarrassing, I keep coming back to it. However, I know that one of the primary reasons that I write is because I’m terrified I’ll die one day and there will be no record of me at all on this whole planet. Trust me, I know this is not a Boyd-style ‘bequeathing property to help others’ sort of thing, this is totally a Sam Hill ego exercise.  

I’m okay with this at the moment. I’m okay with writing because it makes me feel better, and maybe it’s not offering much more to the world than that. But what I really do hope, is that one day I can leave something really valuable to the world after I pass away. It might not be my writing, or any other creative activity. It might be that million dollars I’m totally going to win on a scratchie that I donate to struggling schools. 

Or it could just be a simple story, a feeling, or some words that I pass on to my (future) children or to my friends. That’s just as valuable, right?

 

What about you? Do you ever think about what you may pass on to others?