Thursday, 18 December 2008

On the Piddly Morning Herald, the Sexualisation of Carpentry and the Excellence of Judy Horacek

It's almost two years since I moved from Sydville to the Deep South, and still it's The Sydney Morning Herald, not The Age, that I read on-line. It's partly the superiority of the SMH crosswords. It's partly that Sydney's water supply levels fill me with an oceanic calm, whereas Melbourne's make me feel I should be bottling my urine. And it's partly that New South Wales state politics have all the gore and glory of a Renaissance revenge tragedy, while Victorian parliament - despite its Bay dregding controversies and the excellent surnames of its cabinet ministers (Brumby, Helper, Lenders, Batchelor, Wynne) - is as dramatic as genetically unmodified beancurd.

Not that I'd know. I don't read The Age.

Meanwhile, the SMH, in my day a stately investigative broadsheet, is now, online, Cheap Titillation Central. If there isn't a lead story about a man giving birth to twin wombats, you're probably looking at the wrong newspaper. The site is, on the one hand, giving its readers what its readers want (photos of a naked Jennifer Aniston, apparently), but on the other it's educating the reader in a definition of newsworthiness, creating a demand which it has to continue to satisfy with equally (or increasingly) salacious reportage. I worry that (via an exchange I can't actually see and certainly can't speak of with any authority) this is leading real people to supply in real life the sorts of cruelties and illegalities which the SMH and similar media require. At the very least I can say that the SMH is making money out of this and this (two of the five lead stories on the site this afternoon) and in that sense it has a vested interest in more of the same occurring.

And now, as I'm steering my way around the site looking for news, this: Ladeez, vote for Australia's Hottest Tradie. That tradies are not always men and not always heterosexual (sometimes neither male nor heterosexual all at once, quel horreur) seems to have passed the authorities by. If I weren't too busy choking down my indignation, I'd pause to reflect not just on the way this is confirming relationships between gender and different kinds of work, but on the way it's constructing an erotics of handiwork. Those of you game enough to peruse the innards of the link up there will find that you can "send" your favourite tradie to a friend, along with a choice of five jerry-built double entendres. "Do you think his ladder's extendable?" Etc. And what of this? What does it mean to imply that all plumbers will want to check out your plumbing, that sparks are gonna fly with this sparky, that Bob the Builder will get you knocked up any day of the week? It means that we're permitted to suppose that men of a particular class have a particular sexuality: not just a heterosexuality, but a heterosexuality that's effortlessly up for it, ready and waiting, at your service, ma'am.

Equally it's telling Bob that the ladeez aren't interested in his scrabble prowess and don't want him to be interested in theirs.


eyrie said...

Real life does give The SMHAGE some competition from time to time, at least on the mainland.

One thing I have noticed is that when the subject of a story is gay and a teacher The SMH is always sure to mention both these facts, generally in the same sentence, even when neither one has anything to do with the story.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

Bloody 'ell. 2008, anybody?

I'm in the middle of Marjorie Garber's Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life. (While we're here, let's mention that she's one of the dang tootingest best cultural critics in town. Really. On my top ten list.) She argues that the "L.U.G." nomenclature is meant to imply that a person dabbles for trivial purposes with lesbianism, and then opts for the socially safer territory of heterosexuality as it suits, and that this whole story is part of a tradition (led as much by gay and lesbian people as hets) of seeing bisexuality as wishy-washy, noncommital, a non-choice rather than an active choice - a story that comes about because nineteenth -century sexologists construed sexuality into two opposite categories, heterosexuality and homosexuality. She wrote all this in 1995. I would have thought that an intervening THIRTEEN YEARS of queer theory and activism had given bisexual preference and practice the same legitimacy as gay and lesbian preference and practice, and the L.U.G. dismissal of bisexuality might have been consigned to the murk from which it arose.

On all this, am I right to suggest that the phenomenon of women's "bisexuality" as a performance for heterosexual men's delectation is largely an invention of the past decade? Or at least that the phenomenon has torn off its brown-paper wrapper and mainstreamified with Madonna-and-Britney, Katy Perry, t.A.T.u and co.?

Ampersand Duck said...

Gotta love the Judy...

Nothing much to add, except that if you want excellent media coverage combined with witty reconditioned headlines, you can't go past a daily dose of breakfast politics:

Maria said...

Perhaps you should write an enlightened article about how lesbian tradies can hook a hot tradie, and how to vote for their hot tradie. Perhaps you shall be able make the hottest woman tradie a female who bats for women - or perhaps a transsexual who bats for both sides?

Personally I found a little more biased and unenlightened an article in the Daily Tele about the effectiveness of AVOs recently (I don't entirely blame the Tele as a lot of what they were writing was quoted from a spokeswoman from women's issues).

However the reporting made it seem as though Domestic Violence was something suffered only by females, and that if changes were made to increase the effectiveness of AVOs against perpetrators of abuse, lobbyists were only really interested in educating women on how to protect themselves against men (rather than vice versa as well) and they considered it worth their effort when a women was saved from the abuse of a man (but didn't mention that it was worth their resources if a man was saved from a woman). They mentioned that men could be abusive and reckless, but did not point out that women could not be similar.

A defender of the article may point out that the vast majority of domestic violence is perpetrated by men towards women: But by the same token, then, a person coul defend that there are male tradies than female.

And I would consider that the issue of domestic violence and abuse was a far more serious issue and an article worth getting "right" than one about "hot tradies".

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

No, I'm not going to write an article that celebrates "hotness" in the workplace. Even if it's hotness in the eye of the queer beholder. Many tradespeople do difficult and important work, and I imagine the last thing you need when you've got your arm down a toilet is the thought that you're expected to look sexy too - or, indeed, the unwanted sexual overtures of customers and coworkers.

Meanwhile, yes, misrepresentation of domestic violence is troubling. And yes, men are sometimes the victims of domestic violence, and yes women are sometimes the perpetrators of violence, and yes, men who are victims of domestic violence sometimes have trouble being taken seriously, and yes, that's a very bad thing that's not helped by ongoing representations of domestic violence as solely a violence inflicted by men on women and children.

Is this a more serious issue than the "hot tradies" palaver? Firstly, I don't think our commentary on these issues has to compete. Secondly, I think the problems here are part of a continuum (i.e., gender-based discrimination). Thirdly, I think the "hot tradies" issue is more serious than you think, Maria. Inviting customers to evaluate and enjoy the sexiness of workers makes the idea that regularly evaluating and enjoying the sexiness of workers is okay. Now put yourself in the workplace. Do you want to be drooled over by customers and coworkers? Do you want to have your bum pinched? Do you want your ongoing employment to be conditional on smiling sweetly every time your boss tells you you've got a nice pair? Smells like workplace sexual harassment, and it can be as psychologically and financially difficult for a person to leave their workplace as it is for them to leave their home.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

C'est cool, Duck. This is just the thing to munch my muesli over.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

Sorry, M. That comment of mine comes across looking all belligerent and didactic. I do appreciate your thoughts, and I agree that the issue you point to is important. xo.

eyrie said...

I like Marjorie Garber too, although I haven't read that one (perhaps I should seek it out!). I fear that this subject could lead to overly long comments, so I’ll try to be as brief as possible.

I think I first became aware of the alleged L.U.G. phenomenon through student publications when I was an undergraduate (perhaps a couple of years after Garber was writing). Oddly, I hadn't heard it for quite some time until yesterday. Generally it seemed to occur in pieces by male writers. While I certainly agree that there can be a tendency to perceive bisexuality as a non-choice, I think there are other things going on here too. “Lesbian Until Graduation” implies anything but a wishy-washy to and fro. In place of exploration or experimentation, it reads calculation. The articles I recollect dwelt at length on the (again generally male) author’s perception that the women he had lumped together under the label were choosing to have girlfriends rather than boyfriends because girlfriends posed less of a threat to their academic ambitions. Particular reference was made to the risk of pregnancy (we all remember the great contraception drought of the late 1990s, don’t we?), but I also caught a hint that the same-sex relationships were somehow less serious and less likely to lead to career-affecting commitments.

I certainly wouldn’t say that this nauseous idea that women’s bisexuality or homosexuality exists solely for heterosexual male delectation is a recent phenomenon, although there have certainly been some singular instances lately. I immediately think of Baudelaire, who undoubtedly sees lesbianism voyeuristically, but who also associates it with an extraordinary apocalyptic sterility that is deeply mortifying for the male observer. I can think of a number of examples (in English and French poetry) where virginity/chastity is described in similar terms, a curious mixture of voyeurism and fear at the prospect of a woman who can choose to take pleasure in sensations and experiences that cannot be grafted onto a conventional heterosexual model. It’s not really a condemnation of women who fail to control or determine their sexuality so much as an anxiety that women control their sexuality too much (more than some men are comfortable with) and an anxiety about sex that doesn’t have to follow the usual, humdrum narrative sequence to be pleasurable.

You know, “The Duchess” is a rather interesting film with regard to this subject.

(Apologies for length and for possibly taking you off the course of the main thread).

Lefty E said...

Where' the feature on Australia hottest Acas?

All we get is Gavin moody in a turtle neck eveery Wednesday in the Opposition Organ.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said... has a "hotness" criterion. Thank Dog it doesn't seem to have developed an Australian version.

(Nothing wrong with turtlenecks.)

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

Eyrie, thank you for your totally excellent comment. The Duchess was a rubbish film (despite the nice frocks). The encounter between Elizabeth and Georgiana never gets developed in any sort of direction (isn't even alluded to), and the whole film has characters saying things like, "This is the eighteenth century, darling, so, as you know, blah blah blah", to fill in the audience.