Fifty Shades of Feelings

A few people have asked me what my thoughts on the notorious Fifty Shades of Grey saga are. After wading through endless articles arguing for and against the recently released film, I didn’t feel very comfortable with how either side was addressing the debate, with fans often being demeaned amongst the critiques. You can read my response, The ‘mommy porn’ myth: who are the Fifty Shades of Grey fans? published on The Conversation.

Like many people who have engaged with Fifty Shades, I had a complex (and at times contradictory) set of responses while watching the film. Here’s a rundown of how I felt, represented via the aid of Buffy gifs…

1. When the lights went down

one

2. When the dialogue started

two

3. When we were introduced to Christian

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4. When Christian tries to seduce Ana by biting her toast

three5. When Christian was creepy as f*** and tracked Ana’s mobile phone

eleven6. When the characters finally got naked 

five

7. When the sex started

four8. When Ana orgasmed about a million times losing her virginity

nine

9. When I checked in with my girlfriend to see how she liked the “red room of pain”

six10. When Christian sold Ana’s car

eight11. But then my mixed emotions because it was a strangely alluring danger fantasy

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12. But I still wanted Ana to just tell Christian to f*** off

ten13. When Christian was all “I like BDSM because my mother was a crack whore”

tumblr_mdwullwUCF1rp4xpeo1_50014. When shit got a bit real at the end

tumblr_lx1vm3PPdC1qh01r8o1_40015. Now, every time I see an article saying Fifty Shades is extremely dangerous

Beep-me-buffy

Date Night Films for Any Occasion

Watching-Scary-MoviesIt’s that time of the year again – the dreaded V-Day. If you’re not shacked up and hoping your partner will finally buy you flowers, you’re probably single and trying to avoid restaurants filled with loved-up couples. Either way, you may be looking for a movie to watch with your boyfriend/s/girlfriend/s/genderfriend/s this weekend (that is, unless you’ve decided to go see Fifty Shades or protest at the cinema). So just in time, here are my recommendations for snuggling up with your handsome self or your kissing buddies:

Great on-screen chemistry with these two

Great on-screen chemistry with these two

What If - When you need an offbeat but surprisingly good romantic comedy 
This quirky Canadian film came out in 2013, but with little fanfare upon its release, you may have missed it. Starring Harry “Daniel Radcliffe” Potter and MPDG Zoe Kazan as the strangely named characters Wallace and Chantry, the dialogue is delightfully relaxed and the side plots are just as entertaining as the central story. Offering a nuanced approach to the complications of love and commitment, this rom-com is well worth a watch.

Your fantasies of Lena Headey as a redhead are answered

Fantasies of Lena Headey as a redhead made real

Imagine Me and You – When you feel like a gay chick flick
Same-sex rom coms are few and far between, but this one is a real winner. It has a pretty crappy rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but this assessment is just factually and scientifically incorrect. This film stars Hot Cersei (Lena Headey) alongside Piper Perabo, and it’s a match made in lesbian imagination heaven. The best thing about the film is its adherence to all of the elements of your usual trashy romcom, but with a gay storyline. What more could you want?

Also Ginnifer Goodwin is super cute

Also Ginnifer Goodwin is super cute

He’s Just Not That Into You – When you feel like a chick flick that is truly terrible
I love this movie. With basically no redeeming features, this film is utter garbage, reinforcing every terrible norm of gender you could imagine (women are desperate to marry, men are either liars and cheaters or weaklings, women have no agency in the dating game, women are controlling, etc). I tried to do a feminist analysis of this film once, but after the opening scene had 8 pages of notes and had to stop. Because it is so devastatingly awful, this is one film where you can truly take a break from thinking. My favourite quote from the film is “It’s hard to focus on nutmeg when the guy who might be the guy of my dreams refuses to call me”

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You can’t go wrong with a cat narrator

The Future – When you need a film that reflects the difficulties of relationships
Written, directed and starring the effervescent Miranda July, this film explores human connection, loneliness and making mistakes. Narrated by a cat, Paw Paw, this magically-real film is one to watch when you feel like something that reflects the messiness of making yourself vulnerable in love. This one’s a keeper.

I just also really love this outfit that Nastassja Kinski wears at one point

I just also really love this outfit that Nastassja Kinski wears at one point

Paris, Texas – When you feel like epic cinematography with poignant themes
Directed by the visionary Wim Wenders, Paris, Texas is a quiet and compelling film. Exploring the complexities and old scars of family relationships, this film slowly sinks into your skin, as you bask in its desert landscapes. Hopeful but dark, this is one to watch when you feel like some existential reflection on date night.

It also stars Icelandic singer Bjork, so that's pretty cool

It also stars Icelandic singer Bjork, so that’s pretty cool

Dancer in the Dark – When you’re feeling like a gut-wrenching drama that will leave you audibly sobbing
So you feel like a big depressing cry – this is the film to go for. Directed by the sadistic Lars von Trier, this movie is a masterpiece of film making that uses Dogme-like techniques to make the film seem exceptionally real, even as characters consistently launch into song (did I mention it’s a musical?). I once re-watched it in a philosophy class, and when the lights went on at the end even the teacher’s face was dripping with tears. I was basically having a fit with how upset it made me.

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Plus Shelley Duvall is weird looking and rad

The Shining – When you don’t feel like sleeping properly again
I felt like I should include a horror movie on this list, but since I haven’t seen many, this is one of the only ones I can recommend. Because apparently watching scary movies is fun for some people. It’s a classic, so if you haven’t seen it already, get on it and make snuggling up to your crush/es on the couch all the more necessary. To calm down afterwards, be sure to watch The Simpsons parody.

Because life is indeed a Cabaret

Because life is indeed a Cabaret

Cabaret – When you need a musical that’s edgy and political
I cannot get enough of Cabaret. The choreography, the songs, the historical political themes, the Liza Minnelli. This film literally has everything you could want in a film, let alone a musical. It’s the film to watch as a compromise when your partner/s can’t stand musicals but you desperately need some camp realness on date night. You’ll probably want to download the soundtrack afterwards too – and will be strutting down the stairs belting out the lyrics in no time, no doubt to your lover’s delight.

A film all about women

A film all about women

All About My Mother – When you feel like intertextual stimulation
The film to watch when you feel like having a discussion about the way it re-imagines the archetype of the Southern belle, and how it re-works the themes of A Streetcar Named Desire and All About Eve. Or, if you’re less of a wanker than I am, this film is enjoyable on the themes of motherhood and female relationships. Director Pedro Almodovar is a true auteur, and the film has sublime casting and beautiful character development. You don’t really have to be an English major to enjoy this one.

The powerful Venus Xtravaganza

The powerful Venus Xtravaganza

Paris is Burning – When you feel like a documentary
My favourite documentary of all time, Paris is Burning explores the drag-ball scene of late 1980s New York. Directed by Jennie Livingston, the documentary is told by the people living as superstars in this underground world. As much about race and class as it is about gender and sexuality, Paris is Burning is ultimately a story about being erased by “normal” society but finding family in the effort to achieve belonging.

Double the Cage, double the excellence

Double the Cage, double the excellence

Adaptation – When you feel like great screenwriting and an unpredictable plot
Written by Charlie Kaufman, and starring Nicolas Cage and Meryl Streep, this film just couldn’t have more going for it. It’s funny, dramatic and a little bit off at times, which makes it very enjoyable. Plus did I mention Nicolas Cage? Playing twins? Double the Nicolas Cage can never be a bad thing. While you’re at it, please also watch Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit

Animated foxes with more style than most people

Animated foxes with more style than most people

Fantastic Mr Fox – When you realise Wes Anderson made a stop motion animation of a Roald Dahl book and you haven’t seen it
Admittedly I’m just listing films I like now. I love director Wes Anderson, even though he’s clearly a privileged motherf***er, he is damn good at making films. If you’ve got a whole weekend with your loves or yourself, I’d recommend just marathoning his entire oeuvre. Meanwhile, Fantastic Mr Fox is romantic and cute, full of adventure and beautiful to look at. A totally rompy delight. Do it.

Goldblum good times await you

Goldblum good times await you

Jurassic Park – When you feel like some Jeff Goldblum
If you’re one of those crazy crackers that hasn’t seen Jurassic Park since it came out at the movies (or indeed, if you were born post-1993), you need to watch this classic STAT. Not only is the fourth one coming out in July (i.e. this is planning in advance for a future date night), it is just literally one of the best movies ever. Also there is probably never a time when you don’t feel like some Jeff Goldblum, and this is peak Goldblum material. Yes. Oh yes.

Happy film watching!

The Trouble with “Natural Beauty”

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An image from the Tree Change Dolls’ tumblr site

Today a friend sent me a link to a new trend that basically caused me to have a rage blackout: dolls that have been “made-under”. Labelled “Tree Change Dolls“, these are generally hyper-feminine styled dolls (such as Bratz) that have been found at op-shops and transformed through changing their hair, shoes, makeup styles and clothing, to look more normal and natural. In the words of their creator, Tree Change Dolls involve “swapping high-maintenance glitz ‘n’ glamour for down-to-earth style”.

But before you all rush off to procure a Tree Change Doll of your own, it’s worth unpacking what it means to “make-under” a doll. Is it more ethical (as the subtext of the Tree Change Dolls website would suggest) to have a doll adorned with the natural beauty look, rather than the hyper-feminine aesthetic more commonly seen? And why is a make-under really any different to a make-over?

Firstly, let’s look at one before and after image from the site and what a make-under involves:
tumblr_nianihXYdz1u8oyeuo1_12801. Reducing prominent and cartoonish features such as the eyes and lips
2. Removing signs of obvious makeup
3. Conditioning and relaxing the hair which is worn out rather than having it styled up
4. Starting with a naked doll and finishing with a clothed one
5. Maintaining a clear complexion one the face of the doll free of any abnormal markings

Here we can see that the effect of “stripping back” actually mimics a “putting on” of layers. Quite literally the features of the dolls are transformed to conform to a different standard, that of “down to earth style”. In effect, the dolls are not made-under, they are made-over, with the same dramatisation of before and after we would expect from any other visual representation of stylistic aesthetic change.

Another Tree Change Doll, so liberated

Another Tree Change Doll, so liberated

Rather than radically challenging or interrupting expectations of femininity, the Tree Change Dolls set up a new system of signifiers in hyper-femininity’s place: the end result being a set of dolls that all look remarkably similar. The dolls featured on the site all have similar “natural” faces, wear knitted jumpers and 50s-style feminine skirts or alternative-style dungarees, creating an overall effect that looks like the dolls have stepped right off the pages of an alternative women’s magazine (such as Australia’s Frankie), which fetishises the domestic, the home-styled and the “real”. This styling supports a fantasy that one can retreat into a more authentic world of natural beauty, eschewing the limits of oppressive gender norms and escaping the fakery epitomized by the glamour of the pre-made-under dolls.

The pre-made-under dolls have a striking resemblance to drag queens

The pre-made-under dolls have a striking resemblance to drag queens

But, I hear you ask, isn’t a “stripped-back” simple style a less problematic norm than the make-up caked faces of the pre-tree-hugged Bratz dolls and Barbies? Perhaps not. The idea that we might adopt styles of self-presentation as if in a cultural vacuum, supports the circulation of more insidious gender norms. It presents us with the idea that there is a way to look like a “real” girl: and it certainly doesn’t involve wearing visible makeup.

Me playing drag queen at home in my 20s

Me playing drag queen at home in my 20s

When I was a child one of my favourite party themes was “make-up”, and on three separate occasions I held parties where my friends were expected to do-over their own and other’s faces – the only thing being that it was about being crazy, drag-queenish and fun. On my eighth birthday I ended up with green sparkly leaves coming out of my nose, purple fangs and giant blue eyes. The point of this story is that make-up can be about repeating expected styles of beauty, but it can also be very fun. While Bratz dolls might present a beauty style that is over-the-top and homogenous across dolls, the Tree Change Dolls also opt for conformity over experimentation.

As I have written previously, Bratz dolls encapsulate a sheer excess of femininity that is an indulgence rather than a necessity to attract a male gaze. Indeed, with the cult of natural beauty comes a sense that you can’t play around with beauty products or clothing if you want to – you’d just be reinforcing an always-already-oppressive style.

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Monster High Dolls: similar yes, but experimenting with the limits of acceptable presentation

The reason to be deeply concerned about these Tree Change Dolls is that they represent a broader trend toward securing a fixed sense of what a real girl looks like – rather than disrupting the normal when it comes to gender. In fact it seems that Bratz dolls have evolved in recent years – into the now popular “Monster High Dolls”, which, though shiny and long-haired and “pretty”, adopt quirky, strange, monstrous stylings, transforming previous limits around normal looks. While there could be a lot more diversity of styles of gender presentation in these kinds of toys, the worst thing we could do is try and offer a “stripped-back” look that returns us to some kind of original “natural” point. Sometimes the natural might actually be the most fake of all.

The #Tay4Hottest100 Controversy

Taylor_Swift_Hottest_100_640x360Lately there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle going on in social media land about the recent bid to get Taylor Swift’s song ‘Shake It Off’ into the Triple J Hottest 100 this year. Instead of a straightforward essay-style argument about it, my girlfriend Geraldine and I decided to record a video of us discussing the issue. We had fun talking about it, so you might enjoy listening to it. If not, there’s always this instead.

No Gender December: Back to Basics

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Radical idea: ANYONE can play with pink or blue toys – out of control!

This week was a dismal one for the Australian Government. One of their many low points was Prime Minister Tony Abbott (apparently also the “Minister for Women“) dismissing the newly launched No Gender December Campaign, saying “Let boys be boys, let girls be girls“. Cue gigantic face-palm.

Abbott’s remarks came in stark contrast to the point made by Greens Senator Larissa Waters who introduced the campaign in Parliament, who stated the point was to “Stop with this nonsense of marketing for boys and for girls. Toys are toys and lets let kids be kids.”

The point of No Gender December? "Stereotypes Limit Thinking"

The outrageous point being made by No Gender December? “Stereotypes Limit Thinking”

The backlash in some of the conservative press, has unsurprisingly banged this story under the headline “WAR ON BARBIE“. If you’ve read some of my previous posts on children’s toys, you’ll know that I am a fan of Barbie. Or more specifically, I have difficulty accepting campaigns against stereotypically “feminine” toys, like the time everyone got really pissed off about the femmed-up Merida doll. But aside from my critique that a lot of the children’s toy debate becomes laced with femmephobia, we still need to make sure we don’t miss the fundamental point – that children’s toys are often gendered along the binary male/female, and this is not a good thing

Let’s step it through so you can rhetorically battle bigots if you need to:

The binary is often reinforced in ways we might not notice

The binary is often reinforced in ways we might not notice

1. What even is the “gender binary”?
The gender binary refers to the idea that gender can be neatly divided into a binary male/female. This binary is a pervasive norm, particularly in Western society (some other areas of the world treat gender differently). The idea that everyone can fit into this binary has real consequences for people whose bodies do not conform how “male” and “female” bodies “should” be.

A common question: "Is it a boy or a girl?"

A common question: “Is it a boy or a girl?”

For example, babies that are born with “indeterminate” genitalia may undergo surgery to make them “normal” to fit into one of the two categories. Estimates of this indeterminacy are as high as 1 in 100 births. This is often referred to as being intersex. Another example is in sport – you have to conform to the categories of either man or woman in order to compete, and determining this is a big issue. Many athletes are subject to “gender testing”. Here, “gender” is sometimes based on chromosomes (whether you are XX or XY), other times, levels of testosterone.

But we’re not just forced to physically conform to this binary, there are social expectations tied up with the binary that affect our ways of being and acting in the world too.

Simone-de-Beauvoir-01

De Beauvoir

2. But wait, what is the difference between “sex” and “gender”?
Many people now make a distinction between sex and gender, with sex being described as biological features, versus gender expression, as social phenomena. As Simone de Beauvoir famously said in The Second Sex, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”. In other words, women are socialised into a second-class gender status. This fundamental distinction between sex and gender is integral to many analyses of gender – indeed it has been used by many feminist writers to show that biology is not destiny.

Judith Butler <3 <3 <3

Butler <3

But this distinction is not without criticism. For example, Judith Butler argues that sex is “always already gender”, given that proclamation of sex at birth (“it’s a girl”!) assumes a gender trajectory for the child – that is, we expect that a baby without an apparent penis, who is then assigned as a girl, will grow up to be a woman. This gendering entails a set of social assumptions about what girls should enjoy, how they should dress, and how they should act. Really Butler is arguing that sex/biology are perhaps more social and constructed than we think – given that we look at a certain formation of flesh and imbue it with a whole heap of social meanings.

Summer-Beef-2013_Outdoor

Eating the right kind of food is about becoming the right kind of man


3. But aren’t men and women are just physically different and that is just a scientific FACT?
I’m not saying that hormones and other chemical and genetic factors mean nothing to shaping humans, but socially shaping the body to fit into expectations of the gender binary happens throughout the lifespan. Have you ever walked into a gym and seen the gender imbalance between the weights and the cardio rooms? Women are expected to be lithe and skinny, and men big and bulky, so women and men are taught to shape their bodies differently.

Women are often sold chocolate on the basis that it is pleasurable

Women are often sold chocolate on the basis that it is pleasurable

 

 

Men are expected to eat lots of protein (hamburgers, steaks), while women are meant to be constantly dieting (salads) which also inevitably leads to bingeing (hello chocolate). This is reflected and reproduced in advertising of food and fitness products.

And don’t get me started on brain differences. There are literally oodles of books and journal articles that go into how the brain is wired through experience (i.e. the social), and how our expectations of gender affect child development (or at the very least, how we perceive differences).

Girls are often expected to be nurturing, playing with soft toys and imagining themselves such as "nurse" or "mother"

Girls are often expected to be nurturing, playing with soft toys and imagine themselves such as “nurse” or “mother”

4. Okay but what do toys have to do with it?
Expectations of gender are heavily reinforced in childhood – a critical time when children are starting to develop a sense of self and how they fit into the world. While Abbott is happy to argue that “above all else, let parents do what they think is in the best interests of their children”, as sociologist James Henslin notes, our parents and wider society are highly complicit in reinforcing particular norms.

The type of clothes we are dressed in changes how we are able to move about in the world

The type of clothes we are dressed in changes how we are able to move about in the world

For example, this manifests in:

  • The types of clothes we are dressed in, noting that sometimes clothes change the way we move about in the world (it is difficult to climb a tree in a dress or kick a ball in sandals)
  • The type of play we are encouraged to engage in – not just the kinds of toys we have, but also how rough versus nurturing we are expected to be
  • The types of emotions we are encouraged to express – anger, stoicism, bravado, sadness, compassion or nurturing
Screenshot from the current Toys 'R Us Catalogue

Screenshot from the current Toys ‘R Us Catalogue

 

Here’s where the colour-coding of toys comes in. As you may have noticed, toy manufacturers often make toys marketed at boys blue (or primary colours yellow and red), and toys sold to girls pink (or purple, teal or pastels) and stores often separate toys according to this schema of girls vs boys toys. Thus you get aisles that are predominately blue, and ones dominated by pink. The problem isn’t the colours in themselves. The problem is the different kinds of toys that are marketed according to the gender binary, as signified by the colours chosen for the toys designated “boys” versus “girls”.

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A double page spread from the depths of the catalogue

Analysing the current Toys ‘R Us catalogue, it is clear they’re making an effort to pay lip service to the gender issue – they have a boy on the front playing with a kitchen set (with the caption “just like home!”). But as you wade deeper into the catalogue, you’re met with more and more of the stereotypical stuff. Some examples of “boy” toys: space stuff, robot stuff, dinosaurs, action equipment, trains and transport, excavation and trucks, scientific equipment, pirate stuff, architecture and building, dragons, science fiction and fantasy, racing cars. And “girl” toys: dolls, princesses, woodland creatures, phones, drawing stuff, makeup, jewellery kits, accessories, fashion stuff, baby stuff, horses. It’s actually pretty crazy when you start to consider how this gendered marketing of toys might lead to the cultivation of particular interests along gendered lines, starting at a very young age.

Tony Abbott: A bit of a dick

Tony Abbott: A bit of a dick actually

From what I can see of the No Gender December campaign, the point isn’t to “Ban Barbie”. The point is to challenge the way in which toys are divided along the gender binary, thus reinforcing  differences between how “boys” and “girls” are socialised.

In conclusion, Abbott is a bit of a jerk. But we already knew that. Did I mention that time Tony Abbott allegedly punched a wall near a rival student politician Barbara Ramjan’s head for intimidation? Or that he constantly alludes to his “hot daughters“? Or that when in opposition he continually called for Australians to “ditch the witch“, Prime Minister Julia Gillard?

Well, he might be the Minister for Women but I guess boys will be boys.

Scourge of the Girl Crush: 7 Nearly-Gay Movies

Sam Frost and Lisa Hyde 4EVA

Sam Frost and Lisa Hyde 4EVA

I have this habit of erasing straightness from movies and TV shows, to the extent that I often remember things as explicitly gay, when really there’s heteroromance as a main focus. For example, in this year’s series of The Bachelor on Australian television, I was convinced that the main man Blake was gay, and that his top two women left at the end – Sam and Lisa – were in love (I still stalk their Instagram accounts and hold to this theory). When it all went to crap, I couldn’t help thinking it was probably because everyone was gay, and the new girl Blake picked was just the only one willing to be his beard.

It's like this see

It’s like this see

I was recently asked by a friend why I was so insistent on seeing queerness in straight romances, like, isn’t this some kind of reverse homophobia?! I answered that there are is so little queerness represented in the mainstream that by default I see queer storylines in some kind of attempt to open up space. As Jill Mackey writes about seeing the gay in the straight:

Despite [the] dearth of honest representations of ourselves and our lives, lesbians continue to see mainstream films, and we make up for the lack of representation of ourselves by “reading against the grain” for representations of women that we might appropriate and interpret as signs of lesbian love and desire

I'll save the queer reading of Princess Bride for another time

But I’ll save the queer reading of Princess Bride for another time

Of course I don’t see every romance this way and there are some “straight” partnerships I definitely love – Buttercup and Wesley, Elizabeth and Darcy and all of Love Actually, for example. But in many movies, I just can’t help seeing epic romances between the female characters, which leaves me in a state of perpetual disappointment and/or simply mis-remembering the endings (always tricking myself that the fanfic in my head actually happened). Adding to my angst is the fact that many films try and pass off any possible queer vibes as simple non-threatening “girl crushes” instead. This makes me pretty mad, because it suggests that there is a “safe” way for women to be nearly-queer, while still asserting an explicitly “no-homo” sentiment (many “bromances” also promote the message of safely-not-gay).

So, entertaining a mix of both delight and disappointment, here’s a rundown of my top seven nearly-gay-girl-couples (spoilers ahead):

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“We got played by the same guy… do you want vodka or tequila?”

7. Carly and Kate, The Other Woman
The Other Woman
has an interesting premise – when Carly finds out that she’s actually the mistress of the man she’s been dating, she becomes unlikely friends with his wife Kate (and they team up to do awful things to him). The movie explores their burgeoning friendship and (if you ask me) there is a great deal of homoeroticism in their unintended ménage à trois, particularly when they discuss their desire to still have sex with the cheating guy, yet “withhold” for each other. All I’m saying is that there is a lot of sexual tension, drunken rollicking and under-wedding-skirt action. But really for me the unacknowledged love between the two women is cemented when Carly “falls” for Kate’s handsome yet fairly two-dimensional brother. It’s like seeing her choose to take the second prize in a raffle. The bro don’t cut it.

"You are more beautiful than Cinderella! You smell like pine needles, and have a face like sunshine"

“You are more beautiful than Cinderella! You smell like pine needles, and have a face like sunshine”

6. Rita and Becca, Bridesmaids
This one’s not quite as painful, because really the lesbian themes are pretty overt, so it’s not so much about reading into things as celebrating a minor storyline. These guys have a serious crush on each other, and the femme-on-femme action couldn’t be better. In fact I love them so much I can’t even remember how this storyline ends, despite seeing the film several times. I think they go back to their husbands, but in my head they get shacked up in Vegas. My only wish is that there was a lot more of the film dedicated to them and I’m still hoping for a gay wedding spin-off.

"A woman's touch can quickly fill the empty flower boxes on a window sill. One smile from her and zoom, little buds begin to bloom

“A woman’s touch can quickly fill the empty flower boxes on a window sill. One smile from her and zoom, little buds begin to bloom”

5. Katie and Calamity, Calamity Jane
What can I say about these two? They move to a hut in the wilderness and dance around singing a song called “A Woman’s Touch”. About how good the touch of a woman is. Yeah. At the end the Hollywood producers stick a weird double wedding scene in there where Katie and Calam marry some forgettable guys, but it’s pretty hard to believe. Did I mention that Calamity also sings at length about her “Secret Love“? Mmm. 

"It's time to see what I can do. To test the limits and break through. No right, no wrong, no rules for me I'm free!"

“It’s time to see what I can do. To test the limits and break through. No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free!”

4. Anna and Elsa, Frozen
Okay, stay with me on this one. I *get* that Elsa and Anna are sisters, but the queer themes here are out of control. I mean it’s really nice to see sisterly love represented as “true love” instead of romantic love, but it’s hard to overlook the intensely gay themes of the film. Funnily enough, when Frozen came out and was lambasted by a bunch of right-wing religious nut jobs, I agreed with their readings of the film as super gay (but obviously disagreed with the conclusion that this was a bad thing). The way I see it, there was some serious Freudian taboo stuff represented at the beginning when Anna gets “touched” by Elsa (representative of the sexual exploration that children do), but then Elsa is forced to hide her queer touch. When she runs away to the mountains and sings “Let it Go” it definitely smacks of coming out of the closet (plus she femmes up like a super high femme of excellence). Olaf the camp snowman is like a concrete manifestation of her queer desire, and not surprisingly turns up at the beginning, but doesn’t come to life until Elsa “comes out”.

"I just wanna meet I guy I like as much as you"

“I just wanna meet I guy I like as much as you”

3. Paige and Sasha, Life Partners
This movie is painful because it follows the story of Sasha, an openly lesbian woman (representation – tick), who is best friends with a straight woman Paige. When Paige gets a really straight boyfriend and stops hanging out with Sasha, everyone has a bad time, particularly anyone in the audience hoping the women would get together. Apparently this film was trying to push boundaries by representing this kind of relationship (and is based on a true story/ directed by the real-life Paige). But what you end up with is wondering why Paige stays with her super clean cut man, when Sasha is about a zillion times more interesting and dashing in every way. It’s like the film is an ad for homosexuality through painting a picture of a monotonous and droll heterosexual world. It’s very confusing.

"That's my jam. It's my lady jam."

“That’s my jam. It’s my lady jam.”

2. Beca and Chloe, Pitch Perfect
Oh Beca and Chloe! Or, as Tumblr kids refer to them, “Bechloe“. Pitch Perfect is one of my favourite movies (I would watch it as frequently as I watch Mean Girls, but I can’t deal with all the vomiting), but the non-eventuating Bechloe storyline is a killer. They have so much chemistry, they are pretty much literally on fire for each other. The shower scene! The party scene! The finals scene! OMG it’s a Bechloe love-fest! Except that it’s not, and when I re-watch I am continually reminded that there is some dude that Beca gets with at the end. I’m sorry but getting sentimental over Breakfast Club? Whatever. I’m sure Bechloe will live on in Pitch Perfect 2. And in my heart.

"I'm with Muriel"

“I’m with Muriel”

1. Muriel and Rhonda, Muriel’s Wedding
I re-watched Muriel’s Wedding on TV the other night, and was delighted to see the glaringly obvious gay themes in there that I’d never noticed as a kid. Not only does the film indulge in an uber-kitsch camp aesthetic, but it seriously challenges the institution of heterosexual marriage by mocking it at every turn. Rhonda sweeps in and transforms Muriel’s life, and the two are miserable when they part. There is also the scene where Rhonda discovers Muriel’s book of fake wedding pictures and is utterly distraught, and when Muriel finally does get (sham) married, Rhonda sits like an outcast at the back. But your heart skips a beat when they look at each other leaving Porpoise Spit at the end – practically on the verge of kissing at every moment.

There it is, my depressing/delusionally heartening list that would make for a super marathon of film watching. If you have any other films with similar not-yet-queer themes, let me know in the comments below!

Apocalypse Now! How I Cope with Everyday Anxiety

Often it's easy to imagine the worst

Often it’s easy to imagine the worst

When I was little I remember being enthralled with an episode of Sesame Street, where Elmo talked about the wonders of having an imagination. At the time I marvelled at the fact you can create all kinds of amazing worlds with your mind alone. But as I’ve aged, I’ve also discovered that having a powerful imagination combined with anxiety means your mind can jump to all kinds of unpleasant fictions.

For example, I have this amazing ability to catastrophise to the extreme in any given situation. It ranges from the absolutely minute – Got somewhere to go today? Better wake up early and set two alarms just incase one doesn’t work. To the moderate – Got to get to the airport? Better leave four hours ahead of time in case there’s an unforeseen accident along the way. To the absurd – Slight turbulence? Better figure out which God to pray to because I am now facing certain death.

Anxiety can be very debilitating

Anxiety can be very debilitating

Unfortunately my proclivity for fanciful worries is not limited to stressful situations like travelling, but is instead an everyday part of life – Going for a short walk? Better put my valuables out of sight in the house in case I get robbed in the next 20 minutes. Or - Going to bed? Better check the stovetop to prevent the fire that will inevitably happen while I’m sleeping. And my favourite - Home alone on a sunny day? Better lock the doors incase a murderer comes to visit. Sometimes having a catastrophising mind can be exhausting.

Anxiety

There are normal worries, and then there is full blown anxiety – if you’re not sure what you’re experiencing, it’s best to go and talk to a mental health professional

Living with worry can be pretty tricky, and becomes exaggerated when things get hectic, morphing from simple stress to full blown anxiety. Anxiety is a real condition that is more than just normal worries and stresses – it’s something that stays with you and is often triggered by ongoing pressures. Unfortunately doing a PhD involves a constant and very low burning level of stress, which tends to exacerbate my anxious tendencies. If you’re like me and suffer the occasional panic attack, you’ll know that having strategies for calming yourself is super important. Given that I’m in the third year of my PhD, and (according to everyone I speak to) am now “in the final stretch”, I’ve had to come up with some coping strategies to get me through the everyday. So, here are my top five tips for keeping calm, and carrying on:

It's simple, but eating well can keep you calm

1. Eat well, exercise and breath
This one is pretty fundamental, and something I struggle with sometimes when things get sticky. If you have a tricky relationship with food, sometimes anxiety can result in things like binge eating junk food, or not eating much at all. Both things can really tip anxiety over the edge, so it’s super important to try and get yourself into healthy eating habits (and get help with this if you need it). I absolutely don’t mean diets (or calorie counters – the guaranteed way to develop an obsession with food), it just means making sure you have lots of fruit, vegies and protein every day. Nutritional deficits can put your body way out of whack and can seriously affect your mood on a very real bodily level. Exercising is also notoriously helpful for staying grounded, and when I’m feeling really overwhelmed a bike ride or a walk helps so much. I am the opposite of sporty, so I have to force myself to get regular exercise, but just making sure that I walk to and from uni for instance, can really help. My mum also always texts me “remember to breath”. And she’s right – taking a few deep breaths when you’re feeling overwhelmed can really help.

FRIEND-HUG2. Surround yourself with supportive people 
My tendency when I get very anxious is to be extremely socially avoidant, which can be quite debilitating. Sometimes it’s good to make sure that you schedule regular catch ups with someone you can rely on, and that way you know you’ll have at least one person you’ll have to chat to during the week, who can keep an eye on you if things get tricky. For example, I see my grandma once a week and she keeps an eye on me, always making sure I’m well fed and have all the things I need. It’s also really good to have someone you know you can rely on – that will believe you when you saying you are having a hard time, and will help you get the assistance you need.

little-boy-at-movie-theater3. Have mental health and Hannah days
My mum was always very insistent when I was a child that I should have “mental health days” when stressed. Sometimes I’d have massive fights with her about it because I felt so guilty about missing school, but she was always right – sometimes I just needed a rest. Another great initiative by my mum was the “Hannah day” experience, which was pretty much the same as a mental heath day, but with more pizazz. Once a year or so, I would get to skip a day of school and go to the movies and buy a bookmark. It was a simple treat, but it made me so happy. My mum’s theory was that it was empowering. I still do Hannah days sometimes, go to the movies and buy a bookmark. It’s a great way to relax, and by naming the day it feels like it has more meaning and legitimacy (by all means, I encourage you to take a Hannah day too!).

Sad Pug Puppy4. Try not to worry about being worried 
This is a tough one, but key. Worrying about worry is one of the main things that keeps you in a destructive cycle – so being able to name and then acknowledge that you have worries and that that’s okay is important. If you’re struggling, one thing that can help is either keeping a list of worries and designating a time to worry about them, or dedicating a whole day to worrying. On a worry day, when a worry comes up you can just say “it’s okay, it’s a worry day!” It is surprisingly helpful.

black-woman-watching-television5. Remember it’s okay to relax
I’m the kind of person that doesn’t like to nap, because I get stressed that I’m losing time where I could be productive. Basically, I have trouble relaxing. And the thing is, if you’re trying to be constantly active, sometimes you can actually be less productive because you burn out more quickly. Giving yourself permission to do nothing at all can be very helpful. Reading magazines, watching crappy TV, lying down or taking a bath, can all be great for keeping calm. While you might be able to “legitimise” watching trashy TV because you can critique it academically, it’s also important to remember that it’s okay to enjoy watching trashy TV! You don’t always have to have your brain on.

It's okay to ask for help

It’s okay to ask for help

I’m certainly not a mental health professional, and the ideas listed are just things that help keep me on track generally. But it’s also really important to seek professional help when you’re finding it difficult to cope. Ironically, I always worry that I’m not truly anxious enough to see a counsellor or psychologist. But really, if you’re wondering whether you should go and talk to someone, you probably should. They’ll certainly tell you how you’re tracking. If you’re in Australia you can visit your GP and get them to do a mental health care plan, which means you can access visits to a psychologist via Medicare (which makes it much more affordable, or if you find someone who bulk-bills = free!). Plus if you’re under 25 you can access Headspace, which doesn’t cost anything.

Mental health is real - and should be taken as seriously any other aspect of health

Mental health is real – and should be taken as seriously any other aspect of health

You can also access the Beyond Blue website, which has lots of helpful resources. Or if you are in Australia, in times of crisis you can call Lifeline on 131114. I once called them up because I had lunch with a friend who was having suicidal thoughts. I got help for my friend and made sure they were okay, but was feeling very distressed afterwards. I called Lifeline and they talked me through things, which made me feel much calmer.

Mental health is a difficult thing, because not everyone you will encounter in life will take it seriously. It can be really hard if you have a colleague or a friend who doesn’t “believe” in mental health issues. The most important thing is that you take your own mental health seriously – and when things are feeling off, remember that it is totally legitimate to seek help.

If you have any coping strategies that you would suggest, feel free to share them in the comments below! :)