An Open Letter To Men

At the end of each year that is uttered in English, for sale there are words so shop-worn and meaningless we hope never to hear them again. It might be nice, by way of example, if “wow factor” was made a muzzling offence by January 1. “Baby bump”, similarly, should be a criminal phrase. Made-up noises like “agreeance” and “solutionise” must certainly be met with a gag or, at least, a pocket dictionary; but there were few terms so smother-ably empty in 2011 as “body image”.

Earlier this week the great performer Meryl Streep was inadvertently responsible for a fresh wave of references to “body image”. When the 62-year-old actress posed on the cover of American Vogue, there was a volley of “You Go Girls” in the blogosphere followed shortly, as is often the case, by passionate discussion on “body image”.

Streep’s radiant turn as a model has been described radiantly. She is a “positive role model” and a “real woman” who is “finally showcasing real women“.

Streep, almost needless to impart, is an extraordinary artist whose 40-year oeuvre has earned her a gallery of statuettes and a cathedral of respect. The “real women” whom she depicts on screen are entirely believable. The “real woman” she is purported to represent on the cover of this luxury magazine is a cheap fiction.

Many real and intelligent women, however, are impatient to buy this story of the “real woman” as fact. They read it every time a woman who falls outside the margins of a catwalk beauty is represented to a large audience as beautiful.

That this “real” Streep is impossibly beautiful seems not to matter to advocates of “real” beauty at all. I mean, look at her. She is gifted of such remarkable DNA as to make the rest of us look like amoebae by contrast. The actress may be a sexagenarian but looks, for all the world, like a hot 40-year-old who has just been attended by the personal consideration of Ralph Lauren.

Nonetheless, the feminine hunger for the “real” devours Streep as sustenance for the surreal, and terribly confusing, idea of a “real” body intended for public consumption.

More had been made of the need for the real in the weeks preceding Streep’s lovely shots. A piece by writer Catherine Deveny was widely circulated for its remembrance of the real. Posing in a swimsuit, Deveny wrote of the need to celebrate all kinds of female bodies; with particular reference to the celebration of her own. Next, a TED talk by blogger Brittany Gibbons appeared to great acclaim. Again, Gibbons celebrated as she recounted the time she stripped to her swimsuit on live television in New York City’s Times Square. Both women declared the need to show “real” bodies for the sake of young women and girls.

It is generally agreed by feminist thinkers that young women and girls need to make out the real from, as Deveny puts it, the “cookie cutter”. In fact, it seems quite generally agreed that we should all consume more wholesome and real pictures of women.

For me, though, there’s a logical flaw in the argument to compel mass culture to show us more pictures of women; real or artificially baked. Haven’t we seen enough pictures of women, already?

I am untroubled that visual culture reproduces pictures of women who don’t look like especially like me. I have never suspected that the reproduction of pictures of women that do look like me would make anything even remotely better. I have always supposed that the problem with pictures of women was not their lack of authenticity; mass culture eats the possibility of the real for breakfast every morning. I have always supposed that the problem with pictures of women is that there were just so many of them about.

Celebrating my body, particularly in public, is the sort of leisure-activism in which I have no interest. Just as “baby bump” is a very silly way of saying pregnant stomach celebration strikes me as a poor synonym for seeking approbation. I’m not saying for a minute I don’t adore it when someone comments favourably on my appearance. It just feels wrong, even for a “real” woman, to consent to a gaze. Even it is for the sake of the children.

It doesn’t matter what shape the image of woman takes in mass culture; slight, stout or “real” it remains a route to the manufacture of approval. If we are genuinely troubled by this mechanism that manages approval of women’s bodies, perhaps we should just stop watching and participating.

Taking off your clothes for TV in Times Square or being 62 on the cover of Vogue is not especially meaningful. In this way, it is much like a “wow factor”.

This was written for the folks at ABC Online.
Dear Chaps, neuropathist

It’s been a while since we’ve spoken.  Come to that, more about
it’s been a while since your trowel last tilled my lady-garden. But, discussion of my area, or “Ground Zero” as it is known to my therapist, is for another, more private time.  For the moment, we’re going to talk about you.

More honestly, we’re going to talk about me; or, we’re going to talk about my gender as it relates to yours.  No. Don’t worry.  There will be no whiny “You Go Girl” drivel about A Woman’s Right to Shoes.  I hate that shit.

In fact, there’s a lot of stuff about perky women that makes me long to grow a penis.  I don’t like their fascination with handbags and cupcakes.  I don’t like the way they keep scrapbooks. I don’t like it when they say “women are really good at multitasking” and demonstrate this through buying kitten-heels, scrapbooking and ramming cupcakes in their pie-holes all at once. I mean, if you’re so good at multitasking, stop buying things, shut the hell up and become an urban planner.  Don’t waste your neurological gifts whining “blah blah blah women are so much smarter than men” but doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to bear this out in civic life. Our foremothers did not throw themselves in front of horses so you could buy the Gossip Girl boxed-set, you self-centred, over-spending bint.  Shut up and measure housing density and re-route the traffic; I’ve had it with your moaning.

But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

There is a critical thing you should know about women which is rarely discussed. To wit: they have an aching need to be told that they’re hideous. I know this seems odd. Given the dollars and energy women expend in bra and diet technology and the horseshit they produce like “All women want to be thought of as beautiful”, you might reasonably think that all women want to be thought of as beautiful.  Not so.  From about the age of fourteen, nearly all women will do whatever they can to get you to call them ugly or, even better, fat.

This strange feminie urge is universal and generally proceeds something like,

Helen: “What do you think of this new chemise?”

Man: “I want to fly my love-plane into Ground Zero this very minute! You look really hot and curvy! ”

Helen: “Are you calling me fat?”


Man: “Wow.  Your arse looks great in those jeans.”

Helen: “Are you calling me fat?”


Man: “I believe public response to the proposed Carbon Tax has been negative and extreme.”

Helen: “Yes. Excise could be an effective way of cutting emissions and showing leadership in the region.”

Man: “Moderate reform for middle-income earners is good, too.”

Helen: “Are you calling me fat?”

Are you calling me fat? I have absolutely no advice in addressing this question; particularly given that I have asked it myself many times.  You could, of course, try saying, “no, no, no my darling.  You are so svelte of silhouette and lissom of limb as to make Katy Perry appear portly.  If we painted you Mission Brown, you could be mistaken for a paling. Darling, you could use dental floss to wipe your tiny butt.” Yes, you could.

Or, you could help put an end to all of this coddling and call our bluff.  I mean, if somebody wants to engage in self-destructive behaviour, there’s not a thing you can do about it.  It’s certainly not your job to make people feel crappy about themselves, but nor is it your job to fix their crazy shit.

There is a lesson I learnt when I was a resident of Kings Cross, Sydney.  Every day on Ward Avenue, a bloke called Spoons asked me for money for “food”.  I gave it to him, chiefly because his name was so inspired. But, when I’d got to around the thousand dollar mark, I’d had jack of it.   One day, Spoons offered the usual, “Can I have some money for food, sister?” and it struck me that I could say, “You can have some money. But only if you promise to spend it on heroin.” He never asked again and I was free to use my spare change to buy cupcakes and scrapbooking materials.

My point is, the drama of nearly being called fat is a kind of illicit drug to women. Actually daring your boyfriend to call you less-than-Angelina has all the thrill of smack. So, cut off the supply NOW. If, when asked, more men said, “Yes. I am calling you fat”, then perhaps more women would acknowledge how pig-bonkingly stupid the question is, stop asking it and get on with something important. Like urban planning.

It may help you to know that many women have violent conflict with their looks.  And they are not at all content to keep this war civil; they’re looking to fight on other fronts. From the interior, soldiers of self-loathing march toward you, the unwilling ally, with the battle-cry ““Are you calling me fat?”.   There’s no winning, so don’t fight. Gentlemen, lay down your arms and practice nonviolent resistance. It worked for Gandhi who, when asked, always told his wife Kasturba that she looked just like a non-holy heifer.

Chicks. When it comes to their bodies, they’re certifiable.

Having said this, I don’t have much truck with this “Battle of the Sexes” crap; it’s a boring stoush that belongs on breakfast radio.  Instead of focusing on our differences, we should be focusing on (a) urban planning and (b) interesting things to do with our genitals.

Are you calling me fat?



This was written for the dapper chaps at FHM Magazine



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