Writer / Reader / Fandom Extraordinaire
Archives
Chiara / April 7, 2017 , Fri / feminism

It’s the thing no one likes to talk about, in person or on the internet. It’s the thing that leads to photos removed on Instagram. It’s the thing that has advertisements pouring blue liquid on pads because god forbid we actually portray it in any kind of realistic way. It’s the thing a lot of people have to deal with every single month for a lot of their lives.

It’s the period. Or periods. Or menstruation. Or, you know, the lining of a uterus ripping away from the walls of a uterus and gushing out of a vagina in the form of blood.

Ohmygod. I said the word vagina. I said uterus. I said blood. And I’ll say them again because this is something that is real, and it sucks, and I am sick to death of the lack of talk about periods.

I could go into the reasons why society as a whole is so terrified of the thought of blood coming out of a vagina, but I wanted to talk specifically about books today. About the fact that YA books (because this is 99.99% of what I read) never mention periods, and if they do they only mention it in passing, using a reference to tampons.

Now, I was a mere, wee twelve year old in my first year of high school when my period arrived and settled in as a permanent, and quite unwanted, fixture in my life. I hadn’t been taught a lot about periods, and when the first day was over and there’d been hardly any blood and no pain I thought: that wasn’t so bad.

Oh, my poor little baby self.

Cue onslaught of period pain so bad that I couldn’t walk, couldn’t go to school, couldn’t sleep. Cue a heavy enough flow that I didn’t feel safe enough unless I was wearing night time pads all the time.

Throughout high school there were many days where I simply could not go to school. But when I reached senior years, and I knew that missing a class could mean that I’d miss something on an exam, I started to force myself to go. Nothing worked in terms of pain relief. My aspirin did jack shit. Heat packs did nothing except make me sweat. The pain was something I just had to deal with.

I distinctly remember one time in grade eleven or twelve, when it was the first day of my period. I’d woken up that morning and known it had come, known that pain was going to arrive within the next few hours. I was in the library for my ancient history class, and we were told to go and look at books for research (which, to us, meant it was a bludge class where we weren’t going to do anything). My best friend and I sat down in the puzzles aisle and proceeded to look at Where’s Wally books. I remember being in so much pain during this class that I was curled up on the library floor, trying not to cry. I remember the bell ringing, which meant I had to go to another class, and just the thought of standing up had me literally whimpering. I couldn’t bear the thought of moving, not when I was in so much pain. But I did. I fucking got off the floor and went to classes for the rest of the day.

There are so many other memories like this. Like the bake day my friends and I had planned, where all I could do was sit on the couch and watch them bake because the pain was so bad. Like the time I had to run back to the car, leaving my mum in the shops, and lie down inside because I just couldn’t stand up any more. Like the countless nights I have woken up in pitch dark, crying, curled in over myself in pain. So many other memories of pain, pain, pain.

And I’ve never once read a book where a main character mentions a period like this. Where that time of the month is hell and pain, and blood and blood and blood. Where you literally can’t do anything because it’s just not freaking possible. Where you wish there was some way to just make the pain go away, to stop having these goddamn periods because you don’t even know if you want kids and what’s the point of a period unless you want to have kids? Where your friends don’t really understand the pain you’re in because they have cramps for maybe a day, but they’re bearable, but you’re debilitated by the pain of yours. Where it takes a doctor years to give you medication to make the pain bearable because they didn’t believe you, or didn’t care, or just didn’t know.

I want periods to be in the books I read. And I wish I’d read about characters who had to deal with this in high school like I had to deal with it in high school. Because this is real. It happens. And it shouldn’t be something that’s never mentioned, or only mentioned as a tampon. It should be something that is talked about, and taught about, and just made normal because it is normal for so many people.

YA books shouldn’t be shying away from mentioning something that impacts someone’s life so much. They shouldn’t be pretending that people don’t have to deal with this. They shouldn’t be pretending that periods don’t exist. Because they do. And they can be hell. And they are real.

Why is it normal to mention dragons and never-ending love and prophecies of the chosen one but not normal to mention periods? Why do YA books touch on so many other things that high schoolers have to deal with – love and friendship and sex and parents – but periods are taboo or forgotten or not mentioned? Why are pimples and bad hair days things that YA books talk about but not the shitty thing that comes knocking every month?

And whenever periods aren’t talked about, aren’t normalised, it adds to the taboo surrounding them. Adds to the collective societal disdain for mentioning them. And there are so many reasons why this taboo needs to disappear. For the people who are suffering from endometriosis but have no preventative measures or cures because there’s no research being done. For people who have other menstrual- related disorders (of which there are many) that impact their lives.

I am just so sick of the lack of talk about periods. About the way that society, and the books we read like to pretend that it doesn’t exist, that it doesn’t happen. We need to include it in the books we write and read so that people grow up knowing that this shit happens, and that it’s okay to talk about it. Because without talk we get nowhere. Because without talk the taboo continues. And people stay in pain.

So. Let’s talk about the thing that no one likes to talk about. Let’s talk about periods.

Chiara / September 28, 2016 , Wed / feminism

I’m a size M in most clothes. I don’t do much in the way of physical exercise. I certainly would not be able to punch someone, or protect myself in a physical fight. I don’t have any weapons in which I am proficient in use. I have long red hair. I like to wear flowery sundresses sometimes, and black corsets at others. I have a bachelor’s degree, an Honours dissertation, and a postgraduate certificate. I don’t have a partner. I care a lot about things like animals and social justice. I cry when something hits me in the soft place of my heart. I have walls and they can be quite hard to break down. I can be sarcastic and funny if the timing is right. I can be hurt by online comments. I am a girl. I am a woman. I am strong.

And yet, a lot of the books I read and the movies and TV shows I watch expect a strong woman to be something that is not me. To be thin. To be extremely beautiful. To be athletic. To be able to hold themselves in a fight. To be closed off to emotions. To not care about things. To be sarcastic and cocky almost all of the time. To not be hurt by the “small” things. These, apparently, are the things that make a woman strong.

And yet, all of the strong women I have met in my life defy this image, this character, this apparition, this ghost, this farce. They may have one or more of these attributes, but they do not fit into the mould that society has created.

I do not have to fight people and kill people and protect my family at the potential cost of death to be strong. I don’t have to win every fight to be strong. I don’t have to overcome everything in my life until they are but naught on my emotional radar to be strong. I don’t have to deny female friendship to be strong. I don’t have to deny comfort to be strong. I don’t have to deny relying on others to be strong.

The things about me that make me strong … are everything. Every part of me is strong. And some of me may fit into the mould of what society thinks a strong woman must look like, but most of it does not.

And the fact that people hold these characters up and say “this is a strong female character”, and “so glad that a character like this exists”, and “this is a kickass female character” make me sad. Because yes, they are strong, and it is good that they exist, and they are kickass. But they are not the definition of strong. They are not the bar to reach to call yourself strong. They are not the strong woman. They are not the only strong women. The way these characters are is not only fictional, but practically unattainable.

And we are saying: this is what you must look like to be strong. This is what you must act like to be strong. This is what you must say to be strong. This is what you must to do be strong. This is what you must be to be strong.

And it is, in a word: wrong. There are so many facets to the word “strong”. There are so many ways to be strong. So many things that make you strong.

I am so utterly and entirely and unequivocally sick of seeing these female characters lauded and praised for being a strong woman when they are not the only ones. You do not have to be like them to be strong. You are strong because you are you. You are a woman. And you are strong. You don’t have to be them. You just have to be you.

You are strong. Just as you are.

Chiara / August 3, 2016 , Wed / feminism

Recently, there was a question and answer show on TV in Australia. The subject of domestic violence was brought up, and a member of the audience shared his personal story involving the death of his sister at the hands of her partner. The audience member also mentioned an incident that occurred recently involving several male journalists laughing and joking about drowning a female journalist.

A male panel member answered the audience member, and then a female panel member spoke. When she became understandably passionate and emotional about the subject, in response to what the male panellist had said about the incident, he called her “hysterical”.

The next night I watched a program where they interviewed the male panellist about his use of the word, and the show’s commentator explained the historical significance of the word, especially in regards to women. The panellist said he would use that word again if he was in the same situation.

Afterwards, I was talking with my mum about the whole thing. That the subsequent program had invited the male panellist to speak about what had happened. That the whole conversation was not about domestic violence, or the fact that the sister of an audience member of the original q and a show had been murdered, but rather about the use of the word “hysterical”.

I said to her something along the lines of: I know how important it is to change the way society speaks about women, but I am more concerned that there is, on average, one woman killed per week as a result of domestic violence. I have to pick my battles, and murder is the battle I’m picking right now.

As soon as I said it – “I have to pick my battles”, I knew that it was wrong. Not that I was wrong for saying it. But that society has led me to believe that I have to pick my battles. That we have to work on the big stuff – murder and violence and rape – and make our way down to the smaller stuff – the disgusting jokes and the language and the dismissal. That I should have to pick a battle when it comes to my gender. I shouldn’t have to accept the fact that people are going to talk down to me, and talk about me in a negative manner. I shouldn’t have to accept that I’ll get to that part one day, but for now I have to work on reducing the number of deaths occurring in my country as a result of violence against women.

The program shouldn’t have invited the male panellist to talk about what had happened. He used the word “hysterical”, and he had already said his two cents. Why was the female panellist not invited, so that she could share the importance of not using that specific word, and the importance of language and the way we speak about women in general, and bring the discussion back to domestic violence?

WHY was the man who dismissed the horror of a group of male journalists laughing about killing a female journalist as just a joke among blokes invited instead? WHY was the man who dismissed the words of the female panellist with his sentiments on her emotion invited instead? WHY was he invited?

These are all pretty rhetoric questions, and I’m almost certain that anyone reading this knows exactly WHY he was the one invited. Because, once again, the person who was given power was a male. The person given permission to speak, nationwide, was a male. The person given the opportunity to explain his feelings was male.

In terms of domestic violence against women, I see so many services and initiatives focussed on the aftermath. On noticing the signs in a male partner. On helping women and children get out of the situation. On helping them move on. But what I don’t see is preventative measures. Services and initiatives that work to teach society that violence is not acceptable in any manner – verbal or physical or any other type. That work on saying: no. You do not result to violence. That is not the way.

Why is it this way?

Maybe it’s because we’re forced to pick our battles.

Chiara / May 5, 2015 , Tue / feminism, films & music

Being a woman in the modern age can suck – royally. We have unrealistic expectations thrust upon us every day. And they’re not whispering-in-the-background expectations, either. They’re in-your-damn-face expectations. On the TV, in the magazines, on the ad by the bus-stop, on the ad on the side of the bus – these expectations are everywhere.

These expectations to be “beautiful”. The kind of beautiful that does not exist. The kind of beautiful that involves never aging, never growing old, never putting on fat, and keeping a body that – realistically – only exists for the precious few. Big boobs, tiny waist, nice butt, and absolutely no fat seen anywhere. And of course, no blemishes, either.

Growing up an entire life (that sounds weird, but whatever) seeing these expectations, I can ignore them most days. I mean, when I was eight years old, I wrote a “song” about how I could lose weight and get a tan (back when tans were cool and not widely considered the precursor to sun cancer) if the elusive “you” asked me to. Friends called me fat. Girls commented on my fat ass. For as long as I can remember I have been 100% unhappy with my body. The only time I can recall being confident in my body was when I was about 17 years old, and I didn’t eat for a month, and went down to an Australian size six.

I can ignore these expectations most of the time, because if I didn’t, I would be overcome with anger and self doubt even more than I already am. I still look at these “perfect” women and wish I could look like them – heck, I’ve all but been programmed to think that, but because the media and entertainment industry will never change, I sigh in discontent and push my feelings down.

The other day I was watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. If you don’t know what it’s about, here’s a quick synopsis: man is born a baby but the age of about an 85 year old man. When he’s five he looks 70, when he’s twenty he looks 65. So by the time he’s 50, he looks about 35. In other words: he gets hotter as he gets older. Now, when he’s about seven years old (and looking about 80), he meets a seven year old girl who looks seven (as most seven year olds do). Cue love story.

Now, the aging process for Benjamin (Brad Pitt) is realistic. You can see him getting progressively younger as he ages.

However, the girl he loves – Daisy (Cate Blanchett) deosn’t age from when she’s supposed to be about seventeen years old. We don’t see a wrinkle on her face until forty three (and that’s only after she admits she’s forty three). When she’s fifty six, she looks no different to when she proclaimed she was forty three. She just does not age in this movie, even though Benjamin’s character is getting younger in every scene change.

Why the fuck did she not age along with him? Why did she not look a day over freaking seventeen until after she admitted her age of forty three? Why was she not allowed to look any older, but the aging process in Benjamin’s character was so pronounced it was unmissable? Why are women not allowed to age? Why are we not allowed to have wrinkles, or – god forbid – breasts that don’t stand to freaking attention? Why do we have to look young forever? Why the hell do we have these completely screwed up and unrealistic expectations thrust upon us before we can even begin to understand how horrific they are?

Why do we have expectations that made me, when I was eight years old, think I should lose weight? That led me to be happy with my body only when I hadn’t eaten food. When, even now, I look older than people years ahead of me in the media and entertainment industry. That when I look at the bodies plastered everywhere I cannot find one that matches my own.

Why on earth are we subjected to these expectations, and why are they continuing? Why are they present in a movie about aging?

I don’t know. I don’t know why it started to being with, and I have no idea why it still continues today. But I know that I wish I had grown up in a society that embraces the female form, and supports every body shape and size, that sees the beauty of growing old and seeing that passage of time make itself known on our bodies. I wish I had, and I wish – that if I ever have children – they don’t have to see these unrealistic expectations everywhere they turn.

© 2016 Chiara Sullivan / All Rights Reserved. / Design: Just Peach!