How university exchange has changed me

1 Apr

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The middle-class sabbatical of University exchange is something I’ve realized I’m not very good at. I’m good at plenty of things like getting people to reveal deep secrets, eating dumplings, singing and dancing to soul music. But I’m rather bad at doing middle class white girl rites of passage in regular fashion, like the time I went to ‘schoolies’ in Byron bay and joined a cult for a week or accidentally became a Christian for a while over the 2009 Christmas holidays. In irregular Lou fashion, my time on exchange has been, a quirky one at that.

You see I have really enjoyed my time overseas. I have met some inspiring, humans, like my manager at the Women’s Centre, Nadine- a woman who possesses a kind, fierce, super human soul and warms the room with every sincere word she says. Or the 90 year old Wiccan, first nations, tarot card reader who I happened upon in Seattle. Who up to this point has made some weirdly correct predictions about my life and my loved ones.

 But here’s a couple of reasons why my exchange has been a little different from what I expected:

I’ve nearly stopped drinking alcohol while on exchange

 That’s right, I’m an exchange student who has just about stopped drinking. Sure, it doesn’t sound too radical but the culture of university exchange is so embedded in what is technically considered ‘long term binge drinking’, a regular activities with my friends can consist of going to a pub/drinking venues on a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening. To stop drinking, despite nearly all your social interactions with the greater university community relying on the presence of alcohol is a really difficult thing. Never in my life has bed at 11.30pm been so seductive.

 I have begun meditating.

That’s right, I started meditating, everyday. Who travels across the world ready for crazy party adventures and instead finds themselves in bliss and solitude? Me. My weekly 4 hour Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Class (MBSR…google it) has taught me so many skills to control anxiety, depression and homesickness. Without it, I’m not sure I could have lasted up until this point in time in Canada. I have managed a silent 6 hour meditation workshop, a silent weekend retreat is up next in Melbourne.

I suffered a bout of depression and anxiety

There’s a strange expectation (delusion?) when you go on exchange that many of your problems will simply dissipate or stay at home waiting for you. My anxiety while on exchange has probably been sitting at it’s worst in over two years. When you move countries, attend a new university, move into a new home, make new friends and then live through a Canadian winter, life can become extremely tough and disjointed. Thoughts about people in your home country ruminate and become obsessive, your new friends are lovely but you don’t want to burden them and the world despite all the beautiful privileges you have been given can become grey and lifeless. Luckily enough, everything passes. And what was a difficult time, on reflection was also a brilliant strength and coping exercise.

I learnt to play the ukulele

Yep. Having no job and studying on a pass/fail basis makes plenty of time for new skills. And as a result of learning the ukulele I’ve been asked to perform in a group at the Melbourne Fringe Festival in September.

 

I have three weeks left of exchange and my 3 and a half months in Canada could probably be compared to the Rocky Mountains, (which I had the pleasure of exploring over the past 4 days)- modulating, intimidatingly beautiful summits, cloudy, fresh and healing. I have met some of the most inspirational women who are leaders of their own fields at my University, like Habiba my gender studies teacher who is a middle age Muslim woman from Bangladesh who holds a PHD and rocks an admirable FTP attitude. She smashed down every engrained stereotype of what a muslim WOC is ‘supposed’ to look like or think. A true inspiration. The admirable, tough women I have met through my time volunteering at the women’s centre has been a constant source of inspiration and comfort whenever I felt lonely, overwhelmed by sexism or needed a cup of tea and a piece of cake.

My time is not quite yet finished here, and I have plans to tear the New Orleans Jazz festival up at the end of exams. But as I start to clear out my small room on residence I can say that my time on exchange was simultaneously difficult and rewarding. And I would strongly recommend it to anybody who has flirted with the idea of flipping their life upside down and moving across the world for 4 or so months.

P.s final word of advice; if you are in a romantic relationship either break up with your partner before you leave or go into it on an ‘open’ basis, so if you happen to kiss somebody or become involved with another then you’re not ‘cheating’. Of all the relationships that have kept on going while over here (and that’s not many) those are generally the ones in an ‘open’ style relationship . But then again, just because you’re on exchange doesn’t mean you’re going to get a whole lot of sexy loving’ cuddles from hot men/women. Trust me.

 

 

I’ve had it with ‘blue-balls’

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Listen up I have some things to say; so gather your girdles, hold on to your ball sack and listen to the gospel- FUCK BLUE BALLS, conceptually not literally.

As a ‘boner-fied’ boner killer, it’s my public service to denounce tactics of foul sexual play and coercion, that have probably crept into your underpants at some stage in the not so fair game we call sex.
These ‘tactics’ may have made you feel used, pressured or guilted into sex at some stage or maybe you only engaged in sex or some form of interaction so your partner would leave you alone. Sure, you technically consented to the event, heck you may have even enjoyed it, but the tactics used on you are calculated and you’ve probably been sexually coerced. Maybe you haven’t, that’s great, well done on establishing a healthy, adult relationship with no power struggles, but you should continue reading anyway.

Sexually coercive behaviour involves the use of manipulative (i.e. seductive or verbal manipulation) or forceful (i.e. physically forceful) tactics to pressure another person into engaging in sexual activity despite their initial unwillingness to do so (Campbell, 2013). You don’t need to rape someone, or seriously sexually assault someone to be coercive. For example, persisting that your partner engages in sexual activity with you when they originally said ‘no’ and not stopping until they say yes, is a form of sexual coercion. Sexual coercion is not a binary, black and white concept, severity of coercive techniques range from less threatening off-handed comments to serious sexual assault. Therefore sexual coercion operates on a fluid, ever-changing scale, subject to individuals consent and understanding of the situation.

Up until 2 weeks ago I didn’t know sexual coercion existed, I thought it was either sexual assault or consent, in the eyes of the law. It did not occur to me the pressure I sometimes felt to engage in sexual activity with partners when I didn’t really want to is sexual coercion. It did not occur to me that every-time a male guilted me into having sex with them because they would get “blue-balls”, the build-up of seminal fluid in his tubes resulting in uncomfortable pressure, was sexual coercion. Well, BLUE-BALLS CAN GO AND GROW SOME HANDS AND JERK THEMSELVES OFF.

If you’re reading this, and have been in a situation where your partner complained about getting blue-balls because you wanted to stop engaging in some form of sexual activity, but you continued anyway, you’re dating a real ass-hole. Dump that jerk, go to the cinema and watch the new Hunger Games, emulate Jennifer Lawrence and nurture yourself. Be sure to nurture yourself real good. Honour and respect your body, it’s the only thing keeping us together.

If you’re a male, who at any stage may have even ‘joked’ about having blue-balls or not being able to sleep because you have a massive erection, well then, use those jerky hands and get yourself off, let her sleep. You Jerk.

Sexual coercion occurs in all types of relationships, whether that is in a queer or hetero setting. Women are often perpetrators of sexual coercion too. My experience as cis-hetero, white female  only lends to a particular set of experiences.

Sexual Coercion is verbal too- every-time your partner says things like,“You’re never in the mood” or becomes sulky when you won’t engage with them physically is a sexually coercive tool. It’s plain immature and selfish. Maybe you have experienced situations where you willingly engaged in a sexual activity, like it’s some form of quota, because,“that’s what happens on Wednesday nights”. Maybe you agreed to “just lie there”, because they were persistent and would not leave you alone. Maybe you agreed to let him enter you without a condom because he apparently, “can’t get it up”, and then you spent the next 48 hours fretting whether you should take the morning after pill- of course at your own financial cost.

Sexual coercion is too common. I hate it and find that it often results in immense feelings of disempowerment and guilt.

So let’s have a conversation about consent. Not 75% consent or 84% consent, but 100% consent. The butterflies in our stomach should flutter and flight because we’re excited and happy to have a magnificent human in our company, not because we’re fretting over taking a pregnancy test tomorrow morning after class.

And Blue-Balls can go and die in fiery pit of scrotums.

Lou ‘boner-slayer’
Mapleston

Andrew Bolt’s reply to my open letter “Re: Higher Education Cuts and student rally”

31 Oct
*Yesterday I wrote an open letter to right wing social commentator, about the large student demonstrations in Melbourne on the 30th of October against the Liberal Government’s attack on higher education. You can find that link here:  http://loumapes.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/an-open-letter-to-andrew-bolt/ Andrew replied swiftly with this response, childish don’t you think? * 
“You are  spoiled and selfish. You incited the violence, not police, with your tweets. I saw the police pelted with the shows you urged protesters to bring. Have the guts to take responsibility. Why should those men and women be attacked and humiliated just because you want more of other people’s money?
You say you are sick of being told so often you are greedy. Maybe you are told that so often because you are.Andrew Bolt

I think we should contact Mr. Bolt further and see if he can write a coherent response to any of the points I brought up in my letter!

An open letter to Andrew Bolt- Re: Higher Education Cuts and student rally

30 Oct

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Dear Andrew,

We don’t know each other personally, but seeing as you are extremely concerned that I’m trying to “grab more of your money” to fund my tertiary education I thought we should acquaint ourselves- like a world vision child and their sponsor, right?

I should introduce myself, it would only be rude not to; I am an ‘angry’, ‘ungrateful’, ‘childish’ university student. Apart from being angry, ungrateful etc. other name is Louise and I’m in my 3rd year of a Health promotion and Public Health degree at Monash University. I am a member of the Victorian Education Action Network and have been working solidly over the past year to defend students from 3 billion dollars worth of cuts to higher education and more recently Pyne’s plan to decimate student unions, cap university places and ensure students from disadvantaged backgrounds cannot make it to university.

Like all angry University students, on Wednesday I attended the public demonstration in the Melbourne CBD against Pyne and Abbott’s inquiry into higher education. But I think you know that as you borrowed my Facebook conversation and photo for your “Students menace Hockey to grab more of your money” (30/10) article yesterday- no worries mate. Wednesday’s demonstration quickly fell out of hand, as the police officers incited violence among protesters, many of whom were passively chanting in the background or filming the event on their mobile phones. It was upsetting and utterly distressing to see friends of mine be tackled to the ground, face in the concrete and forbidden from receiving medical attention when rendered unconscious. The violence was unnecessary and I hope to never witness a similar scene ever again.

I mentioned before that I was angry and like a kettle needing to blow off some steam I’m about to spout. I’m angry at members of society, like you Andrew, who are labelling young people of today ‘ungrateful’, ‘selfish’, ‘dole-bludgers’ and any other profanity that is deemed suitable for a Fu*k Tony Abbott T-shirt. Our right to an affordable tertiary education is in serious jeopardy, the last time an inquiry by the Liberals was launched into Higher Education HECS increased twice. I’m angry because many Australians complain they dislike their tax going towards welfare and public utilities like Centrelink, Medicare and various benefits. The link between welfare dependence, health outcomes and low-levels of education are extremely clear. Investing in higher education ensures all Australian’s can receive an adequate education and are less likely to be reliant on these public services in the future.

I am angry because I’m sick of being told that my peers and I are ungrateful for what we already have and should ‘go and get a job’ or ‘experience the real world’. I have two part-time jobs, maintain a distinction average at University and volunteer at detention centre, a local Lions club, the Victorian Education Action Network and work in children’s cancer wards as a fairy. My mother and father are extremely proud of me. My parents and many of my tutors at University never had a student debt and received a range of commonwealth assistance throughout their degrees. The Whitlam era ensured people like my mother, who grew up in working class Footscray could rise out of relative poverty and attend University. Pyne’s plan to drop targets for disadvantaged Australian’s to attend universities and cutting of start-up scholarships is only propagating a cycle of systemic, relative poverty.

I have been told to ‘shut up and stop complaining’, ‘things aren’t that bad’. Well if we don’t make noise, write letters or attend protests the state of Australia’s higher education will quickly deteriorate. I care about my education and so should you.    

Louise

 

“Just like you and I”- An account of my first visit to a detention centre

23 Aug

 

Amongst the rife and wrangle preceding the Federal election in less than three weeks, the topic of refugees, ‘boat people’ and even ‘plane people’ has never received so much public attention since the Tampa incident in the harrowing Howard era. Former arbitrary water-cooler conversations at the office are being transformed into heated debates about the Papua New Guinea solution, University student’s coffee shop banter has sizzled into a constant stream of federal policy scrutiny and baby-boomer adults, who have voted Labor for their 55 years of existence are voting Greens for the first time because of the ALP’s abhorrent and degrading refugee policy. The waters aren’t only rough for Tony Abbott’s coined term, ‘boat people’.

Yesterday I visited the Broadmeadows Detention Centre which has a capacity to hold 444 refugees; 444 mothers, fathers, young children, women in their twenties, young men in their teens. 444 people with personalities, lovers, habits and quirks. Just like you and I.

Before entering the visiting room, similar to a recreation hall, I hadn’t adorned any solid concrete expectation about the type of people I was going to meet. I knew there was going to be plenty of children, I knew there were going to be men and women. From what the media had unconsciously painted for me I thought these men, women and children were going to be different to you and I, alien to an extent. I imagined them to be scruffy, skinny and alone.

As soon as I entered the spacy grey room my previous perceptions were gregariously shredded to pieces as a bubbly four year old girl ran toward and tackled me with tickles to the ground. She was exactly the same as the children I entertain every-weekend as a kids entertainer. The only difference between her and I at this point was that I was that I  wearing an orange wrist band to say that I did not live at the detention centre-I did not know she was refugee when I arrived, I thought she was a young child visiting a family member or friend just like me. She was even wearing a beautiful purple headband and purple tights, just like me.

The centre (or the room that I occupied) seemed basic, well maintained and clean from what I could see.  Much like a community hall or a big conference room, groups of people sat around talking, the children played and old women gossiped.

And it was at this point It became uncomfortably obvious that these aren’t just refugees, ‘economic migrants’ or the faceless men and women who hop on planes, boats, space crafts etc. to come to Australia. These are regular people, who look just like you and I. They have personalities and Facebook; I know it seems incredibly naive of me to think that people being held in detention wouldn’t have Facebook but I told three of my friends about their social media presence and they were amazed and surprised. Even the most socially progressive and open minded young Australian’s have had their perceptions of refugees painted for them in the form of a helpless deaf/blind/dumb child who has no concept of the world or technology around them. I feel ashamed and embarrassed of my former, underlying misconception of these people- these are people who may be educated, people who have witnessed genocide, murder and rape. People with smiles, wrinkles, pimples, dimples and cowlicks in their hair. Just like you and I.

From a glance or picture, one would assess the people in the visiting room to be happy, energetic and of reasonable health. But glances and pictures don’t tell the story of the twenty-two year old Iranian woman who was released three weeks ago and met her partner in the detention centre. Unfortunately, her boyfriend has been in the centre for over 2 years does not know when he is going to be granted refugee status, and now despite being released she regularly returns to the detention centre to spend time with him. She told me she is finding it difficult living in the community, she is finding it hard to make friends. This woman is one year older than me and looks like someone I go to university with. Her familiarity is terrifying. Pictures and glances do not tell the story of the Tamil refugee, who I shared salt and vinegar chips with yesterday, who has been classed as a security threat by ASIO. His detention is indefinite at this stage- he has been in detention for over four years. That’s four years of birthdays, arduous 9-5 work, travel, TV shows and family gatherings that he has been denied. This man, who I crunched on salt and vinegar chips with, makes jokes, wears glasses, like you and I is not a threat to our national security.  

Australians love to throw around misguided statistics or Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd quotes to prove a point that people seeking Asylum are trying to take our jobs or want to become dole bludgers. We dehumanise the issue by using words like ‘economic migrant’ and are genuinely surprised to find out that some refugees lead an existence before they came to Australia and their country was ravaged and slaughtered by conflict. I cannot provide a simple solution to the disgusting, breach of human rights that are occurring every day in detention centres across Australia and our neighbouring countries. But I can ask you to consider and remember that we’re not just dealing with ‘boat people’ or ‘plane people’ we are dealing with real life humans whose existence and quality of life shouldn’t be determined by the number you put on preference paper come election day. These people are more than tax-payers money; they are humans with stories, lovers, hobbies and passions. Just like you and I.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 reasons why I need feminism in my life

30 Jun


  1. I need feminism because I need an ideological foundation of respect toward myself and  others around me.  Self-respect and self- worth doesn’t come innately, unfortunately.
  2. I need feminism because I used to think it was okay to love someone who called you fat and compared you to a ‘white whale’
  3. I need feminism because I used to date men, who would spend an entire weekend with me and then say “I have got to go now; I have a date with another girl in the city”
  4. I need feminism because the only things my friends could say to that was “Well at least he was honest”
  5. I need feminism because I used to think body hair on females was unnatural and disgusting
  6. I need feminism because I continued to kiss boys who made a move on my best friend on our second date, in front of me
  7. I need feminism because I didn’t know it was sexual assault when a boy came into my room, after I had passed out and I got too drunk at a party when I was 16
  8. I need feminism because no one told me until two years later that he was sober. No one ever said to him “you shouldn’t rape” but a lot of people said to me “you shouldn’t have gotten that drunk”
  9. I need feminism to keep my misandry tendencies in check, feminism gives me perspective that there are men out there who respect you and do not view you as disposable. If it weren’t for feminism I would probably be a close minded, man hating person
  10. I need feminism because I want to respect the choices and decisions that my friends and family make about their bodies, careers and future partners.

I need feminism because it sets a bench-mark for the exciting challenges that men and women must work together for to ensure other young people, like me, don’t have to accept that they’re worthless up until they reached their twenties.

That’s why I need feminism.

 

“The ultimate global solution to women’s toilet queues; a sociological, feminist approach”

4 Jun

Women’s toilet queues are a universally ‘shitty’ topic. Much discussion as to the logistical functionality from a ‘pee and flee’ or time management perspective has arisen since the creation of the modern day bathroom and sanitary revolution. In particular the lengthy lines that accompany all women’s toilets regardless of country, race, religious or wiping preference brings much speculation to my brain and bladder everyday- it’s kind of like being part of a secret club so exclusive that not even the president has a clue about their role or duty. And it is with great thought I hypothesise that women’s toilet lines across the world are primarily an issue of gender oppression that is haphazardly wiped around by issues of clothing logistics, speed and manners. If my hypothesis serves me correct it could potentially end the arduously global issue of lengthy ladies lines.

Yesterday while waiting in line (as usual) for a toilet at University amongst five or so other women I became acutely aware of the sounds around me; usually one chooses to block the sounds of bowel excretions from conscious thought, yesterday was different, yesterday there was no sound. In a bathroom of 8 occupied cubicles not one single person was excreting waste, the hollow echo of urine into the bowl that usually crescendos around the cubicle was missing. There was no ‘plop’ or splash of faecal matter to be heard, even the soft tears and scrunches of toilet paper ceased to whisper. There was literally an arid toilet ghost-land where all citizens had disappeared in their digestive tracks due to the omnipresent gender etiquette that looms in your toilet bowl, on the bleached sheets of your toilet paper and even out of the leaky toilet tap that drip drip drips throughout the night.

The social norms that create functioning bathrooms for women and men are uniformly queer and odd even on a surface inspection. Traditionally, men are designated two separate spaces for bladder and bowel excretion- one being the urinal which is an open wall or container with little privacy and the other a cubicle similar to a woman’s bathroom that is designated for pooping or men considered ‘shy’ about the public display of their penises at a urinal.  Unlike male toilets, women have not traditionally been given an avenue of a more ‘public’ method of waste disposal for practical reasons such as a propensity for accessories like handbags, scarves and belts and clothing styles that would require a woman to partially undress herself, like a playsuit.

Therefore from a logistical time perspective it makes sense that women take longer than men in a regular toilet due to the limited option of a single cubicle that is used for urine and/or faeces (the latter being the more time consuming option) . It is also important to consider that women lug around more crap like handbags to place sanitary pads in or wear two pairs of tights, a skirt and Bridget Jones underwear if it’s a cold day which all culminates in increased toilet occupation time.

However if you inspect further into the problem of these logistical‘ issues’ such as one toilet and ill- equipped clothing to reveal ones vagina or anus for quick waste excretion, it is revealed that they are in fact extensions of a broader gender oppression issue that is finely demonstrated by the silence I regularly hear in bathrooms .

To fart or urinate loudly even in the privacy of a woman’s cubicle is considered ill-mannered and avoided at all costs, despite men literally flinging out their penises as they urinate standing next to each other. If you are a female reading this please reflect on your own toilet etiquette and measures you have gone to lessen your ‘sound’. I am guilty of placing toilet paper at the bottom of the toilet bowl so my urine doesn’t sound too loud, a girlfriend of mine leaves the tap on when she defecates so no-one waiting can hear her.

Just imagine a group of males (who identify as a male, have a penis and are non-trans) all lining up with their penises flopping out next to each other at the urinal tip-toeing around so the other wouldn’t recognise that they were producing natural sounds of peeing in the designated waste disposal area. A situation so extreme is unlikely to occur, sure there are reservations around the etiquette of urinals, yet it is a generally socially accepted toilet behaviour that is comparable to women urinating in solitude and privacy.

It must be made very clear that this isn’t just an issue catalysed by men, there certainly isn’t a table of males sitting around screaming out “all women should remain chaste, clean and never fart” it’s a systemic issue that women willingly propagate and participate in. The physical design of a cubicle as a closed, private and relatively sound-proof box literally creates oppression and a ‘hush-hush’ culture of women even when they are taking a good old dump, just as nature intended. The design and function of female toilets was created so that (unlike men) our genitals remain private and behind closed doors when urinating and that it is relatively soundproof so a facade of ultimate ‘embodiment’- the learning or mastery of body techniques such as holding farts- can be adhered to at all times.

I am not suggesting a toilet revolution comparable to the Russian or French, I think the creation of a ‘she-wee’ a plastic funnel shaped like a penis to urinate into is a really great progressive idea. I am just sick of waiting in long queues at the toilet because women are too afraid to just ‘let one rip’ per se and divulge in timid urination practises as a ploy to make others think they’re not ‘using’ the toilet and are in fact just floating above the cubicle smoking a cigar while watching GOT, we all know you’re taking a poo. Stop participating in a systemic patriarchal problem, urinate loudly.

The world and our social practises inspire me, toilets don’t. Think outside the cubicle square and critically view human behaviour and interactions from an alien perspective, I dare you.

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