difficult gender

Gender continues to be difficult. The different dimensions one can approach gender through, the different lenses and ideologies, are many. In spheres of public life one’s identifiable gender, if one is a woman, is a noticeable and salient feature. If the sphere is one dominated by men like the output of much of electronic music generation, production and composition in subcultural, commercial and academic contexts then to think ‘gender’ is often, to think ‘women’. To be a woman or person of difference is to be noticed. Some women may want to be recognised as women in their difference and some women may not want that difference recognised, wishing that the accordant social roles would become background to the tasks at hand: composing, audio production, performing, engineering, publicity, mixing, DJing. There are feminists in music with both opinions.

Gender is not only about social roles or apparent physical sex, it is also about male-female difference in idea. This is where binary opposition, through culture, shapes understandings of male values as Universal and female values as contingent, lacking and deficient (Hansen 2000). These values are not necessarily tied accordingly to the bodies men and women. For example, we may associate feminine with a queer man who is based in the home. While male/female seems distinctly binary in our society — most especially played out in mainstream culture and family units — the thing is, there is a continua where a sequence of imperceptible elements move from one edge to the other. This is the range of gender complexity.

Recently, in the media there has been much talk about women being under-represented in the Australian music industry. This has sparked articles on the jazz sphere, a conference, and an APRA initiative. While I welcome all these initiatives and believe, particularly of APRA, that they’re necessary, I think there are some concerning blind spots. It is the role of feminism to draw attention to to the needs of a diversity of women and inequities, however, it is not the role of feminism to employ a term like gender as a placeholder for White, straight, able, middle class women in general.

‘Being’ a women can be prescriptive in social and cultural contexts, and is tied up with power and inclinations that may be operating on a subconscious level. It takes mindfulness and awareness of the multiple and interlinked forms of oppression that can make lived experience a struggle for people of colour, those with disabilities, mental illness, queer folk, the working class and poor. In many instances, even if one gets to the supported opportunity in the music industry, everyday racism/ablism/classism occurs because the comportment of the person is does not match the culture, and they have not come through the right networks. 

 

Fine, curly brown grass

Views through the tram window >>

Two little ravens opposite the St Kilda East Cemetery on a verge beside the tram. One collects fine, dry, curly, grass, checking back for the best pieces, and trying to fit more and more in its beak. It does this with care. The dry fluff meant for a nest contrasts with the bird’s glossy black feathers.

A man eats sauerkraut from a plastic container backlit by the sun, digging with his fingers like a tiny earth mover.

Men move rocks with yellow bulldozers between the train line and containers. The containers are piled on top of each other and face the orange horizon toward the docks.

Threadbare: Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s family drama

“Russia is a land of women Homers,” Petrushevskaya has said, and it is this informal narrative tradition of ordinary Russian women which gives shape to this novel.

Such women as the protagonist, Anna, who move us throughout day and night, through the piecemeal actions that patch her story, herself and her family, and who pull us into a bleak drama of family tensions that are quite often comedic. Anna is a struggling poet whose adult children continue to depend on her and use her. And it is through this window that Petrushevskaya’s language shows the striations and micropolitics of the Russian state.

Petrushevskaya’s novella has elements of purposeful realism brought into the domestic sphere. There are many details of Russian poverty, and yet there are glimpses of a life lived, Anna’s engagement with language, for example; her performance at readings. “The time: Night” is repeated throughout the novella and becomes like a rhythmic refrain, in which Anna unspools her thoughts about her family members, a different register each time. Aesthetically, it becomes linked with indoors, the place where she can write.”The time: Night”: and now a further narrative progresses that is not exactly linear.

Even though Anna’s voice is forthright, I think Petrushevskaya’s work has postmodern tendencies in that Anna does not present as a traditional subject. From the beginning it is clear that she is writing to her family from beyond the grave, and is a decentred/deconstructed construct. The conceit here is that her poems and narratives are on scraps of paper and telegrams. Character development is also disruptive in temporal peaks and troughs, and the novella tends to blur the line between tragedy and comedy. However, the force of affect is apparent in Anna’s desire to both connect and sever relations with her family members, and this is perhaps a sign that the gendered subject is in motion in a new way. This is most exemplified by Anna’s harsh questioning and refusal of the ‘mother’ role and, in turn, by her melodramatic swooning over her grandchild, Tima.

combine sounds & ideas

Collaborating is about acknowledging the edge of your own experience, and appreciating what someone else brings. It is about respect and sometimes confusion, while moving forward. And it is allowing space for the combined art to surprise — where did this come from? In this sense, collaborations should not hold on to expectations once an initial framework has been given. Or, the process should be lightly reviewed as both parties move into production.