Class, prejudice and politics

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
November 03, 2010 /

Click here to view original /

Melbourne, CBD. 5pm last Wednesday. Teenage boy, hands sunk deep in his pockets, teenage girl walks by his side, a slab of VB balanced high up on her shoulder.

As a feminist, as a political scientist, as a non-drinker, as a frequent flâneur, the variety of ways I could have analysed the scene might have caused a Linguo-esque meltdown. On Wednesday, my response was just a cringe.

A fortnight before, over mediocre Vietnamese food, the love interest called me a cultural snob. My protest, weak as it was, was that I’d been watching Neighbours before he came over. A weak protest because the bloke had a wee point.

Holidays involving hair braiding and $4 “Ray Bans”. Channel 9. Tracksuit pants. Tracksuit pants sans undies (no, not even in a post-coital hurry). Children named after cars. Or cities thought about while conceiving. Brand worship. Dress-a-like couples. Yes, obviously, my list of cultural prejudices is long and detailed.

While our individual prejudices of course, inform everything from our political affiliations to all that we dub “taste”, sadly little more than prejudice and taste underpins much that passes as feminism in contemporary discourse.

My grandmother – the very same woman who watched Basic Instinct through to the credits to ensure that it didn’t get any naughtier – is a harsh fashion critic; “gratuitous” displays of cleavage are a particular bugbear. My grandmother’s disapproval is never couched in any feminist claim of exploitation or sexualisation, nup, she just thinks it looks trashy. Cheap. It lacks class.

Truth be told, for all my own rah-rah-ing about sexual freedoms, I’m not the kind of person to go to an event like Sexpo. I don’t like crowds or T-shirts with slogans, I don’t want to take flyers and no time is the right time for audience participation. Or megaphones. Or oiled-up twins. Besides, I’d rather my sex toys arrive in the civilised manner of Australia Post. But my disinclination to experience sex in a convention centre is about me, about my class biases and about my turn-offs, all of which are thoroughly weak grounds for political protest.

In recent years our supposed raunch culture and apparent penchant to sexualise kids are topics treated to much media attention. Granted, sometimes feminist rhetoric about pornification and eroticisation and God forbid “skankification” are proffered, but more often it’s just a Pauline Hanson-style “I don’t like it” rant: I don’t like it, it offends my sensibilities, the government should do something to smooth out my pursed lips.

In a mad world where international interest is piqued by an idiotic anti-fat rant, we’re reminded just how frequently hang-ups and personal biases serve not only as grounds for criticism but activism. Throw in a word like “objectification” if it’s a gender issue, “nutrition” if it’s about weight and suddenly, frighteningly, private hang-ups and prejudices seem deep, political, profound.

My adoration of alliteration sees me compulsively chastising Christians and conservatives. Today I’ll buck trend: at least we know their agenda. Sure, we may consider many of their musings as malarkey, but at least they’re grounded in something. Something more academic than what gives them the vapours.

Neil Diamond is sandwiched between The National and Neko Case on my iPod. My favourite cheese is cheddar. I went to a high school where teachers were often replaced by Mr Bean videos and, if I’m being frank, too much tomato sauce is never enough. I divulge these tidbits as testimony to the fact that my own tastes are not only highly suspect, but make me ill-fit to publicly voice protest against individual choices and behaviour; sexual or consumer. Political commentary needs more grunt than this.

In the words of The Pretenders, don’t get me wrong, the sharing of opinion is a lovely thing. But let’s not pretend it’s any more political than that. If we’re going to call on governments to do something, if we’re going to boycott shops, if we’re going to pester retailers about peddling potentially pernicious products and if we’re going to dare trample individual rights and sexual choices, we need something more than individual offence to go by.

November 03, 2010

© Lauren Rosewarne