Thursday, October 07, 2004

More Mysandry: Your Belly is a Battleground

Living communally has mainly been a matter of necessity, although sometimes I like it. I’ve spent most of my adult life living with partners, in shared households. I wonder if it was ever just two of us if we’d go mad. Anyway at the moment I think the third party is driving me up the wall. This is meant to be the honeymoon period and I wonder if maybe if the honeymoon is so rough that we’ll iron out all the crinkles of discontent and it’ll be smooth sailing from then on? Or if this is just a really bad sign that things are not going to work out at all.

Firstly I’ve put myself in a bad situation by lodging a friend, who was homeless and desperate. I let the pity factor play in big time. I also know this person’s faults way too much and I guess was irritates me about the share house situation is seeing the bits that irritate me about them as a friend being brought into my home life. Like being a bragging moron. Fine in the pub, entertaining even, I’m astonishingly tolerant once drunk and can be diverted and amused like some cooing toddler. Three drinks and the critical bitch switches off and I laugh and giggle and gurgle away, three more and I contemplate heterosexuality, bring the total to nine and I start slobbering over pieces of furniture.

Yeah, so pub talk, kind of like TV talk, fills the space emptied by drink, background blur…… but sober it really ain’t so crash hot. I actually don’t care for sales pitch while I’m wearing my pyjamas, let alone hearing the construction details of someone’s air castle while I’m trying to pour the foundations of my own intellectual endeavours. Writing a thesis can be profoundly irritating to be around, apparently. I find myself a shithead so why shouldn’t other people? When I crawl from the cave downstairs for some fuel, I usually trying to digest some theoretical sludge and don’t want chit chat about the weekends parties or someone’s unresolved adolescent oedipal dramas. We’re all over 30 for fucks sake!………… oh God. I mean I said all this before. “You are moving in with students we want a QUIET house. No loud phone calls in the loungeroom, no loud stereo, no loud banal conversations”. Hell he said he agreed.

But this is a minor point. The other aspect sounds like a sad story from the felafel sagas, and I can’t believe this is happening. “Lets do share cooking” he said, “lets pool the kitty and share the cupboard space” he said. “Fine” we said. We each put in 20 bucks for Paddy’s and replace what we use. So like he buys tiny weeny pots of vegemite to replace the big ones we buy, ditto for honey, milk, margarine, peanut butter, oil etc. It took two months to realise what was going on. Fuck. The communal kitty he now sees as a n excuse not to eat anything outside, and wolf down whatever fruit, veg, bread, tuna or leftovers are around. When it comes to communal cooking, he’ll scrounge in the cupboards and do the $2.00 pasta meal for 3 special. Great the first time, and the second and the third. By the fifth I’m getting a bit sick of it. It’s not the meal per se, it’s the super chef ego histrionics that accompany it. It’s the patronising comments that accompany his supervision of anything I cook, it’s the sizing up of the other flatmates cooking, which is La Vraie French cuisine. No ego, no bullshit, just decent ingredients prepared with no fuss and cooked well. With lots of salt, and cream and cheese. Aii my gallstones! Pardon my digression.

Ostensibly we all cook, we all enjoy cooking and eating. Or so I thought. But it looks like Mr. Three has got a big dose of food as simulacritis. I remember Roland Barthes analysed fashion as existing on three representational planes: Image fashion, Worn fashion, and some other one. Anyway this sums up our flatmate pretty damn well. His “image food” is all Donna Hay and one great knife and lots of anecdotes about working in kitchens. This kind of talk probably goes down really well at 30something singles dinner parties. I wouldn’t know coz I try to cultivate friends with limited social skills. Anyway “worn” food comes from a tin and cellophane, and no designer can openers here, I can tell you. All the time reciting this blather about professional kitchens and Italian relatives! It is the shit after all! If only I was drunk, I wouldn’t care, but I usually have to study after dinner!

It’s probably something wider in Australian society that I’ve missed. I reckon in Australian culture food exists within the same circuit as fashion. (The burdens of being a post industrial acculturated colony!). My mother does not cook the recipes of my grandmother, and there’s no way I’d cook what Mum cooks. There’s nothing wrong with either Nanna’s or Mum’s coking, I like both but since we all learnt to cook from our friends, TV, latest recipe books, women’s weekly or the herald then using our parents recipes is like getting them to buy our clothes – some sort of affront to our adulthood. Personally I learnt to cook from lovers from different cultures , who learnt from their parents. I also learnt that people make jokes about Australian dinner parties: calculating the number of people and the number of potatoes to match and Australians in restaurants: splitting the bill and arguing about who ate the most rice. For most of the world food is a potlatch phenomenon, something to be shared freely, not calculated and displayed like the latest consumer product from DOMAYNE. I am heartily sick of the slick chrome “foodie” culture in Sydney. I’m sick of the ostentation of showing off the “latest” recipe, let alone the latest frigging kitchen gadget. I don’t want to think of food being in fashion or out of fashion. (Even though I find certain foods kitsch) and I’d like to think that the things I cook now I’ll still enjoy in 10, 20, 30 or 50 years time.

Back in the maison, the two female cooks just do what we do best. A meal for the household is an act of love for the other housemates. While I don’t have the impeccable credentials of La Cuisine de Maman, I was a South American’s wife for 5 years and passed the test on a few basics, plus I’ve got my own obsessions, laska (from scratch), tom kha gai (from an egg and a few seeds: step one: plant seeds and incubate egg, step two: don’t let the chick eat the seedlings etc.) various marsalas and the ultimate midnight munchie dahl, as well as the sublime art of two minute noodle meals. The latter is what I lived on while scraping through art school. Scraping being the operative word. I only had austudy and paid more rent than I do now, plus therapist bills and art supplies. That left $5.00 a day for food, and I didn’t know about dumpsters either. Right now, no one in this household is that poor. So there’s no excuses for the “feed a family of four for $2.00” act.

The pseudo boho poncing just looks like scamming to me, especially when the said slumming student sustains two major drug habits, (ciggies and the pub) and asks me why I haven’t seen the latest movies (I can’t afford to!). So to put it simply I reckon we’re being had. I reckon our shopping and cooking is providing extra income to Rothmans, Carlton and United Brewery and friggin fugging Hollywood, and I’ve got major moral objections to all three. So what to do? The communal kitchen thing works in my favour because I hate eating a dinner in front of someone who isn’t partaking, but I am starting to feel really quite cross. We could try the group account/kitty, but I know it’d be more admin work for me, and FUCK, WHY CAN’T HE BE A NORMAL RESPONSIBLE GENEROUS HUMAN BEING instead of acting like he’s living with two wives, or two mothers????? And he wonders why girls drop him after 2 months? Personally I am not very interested in training any more men in basic human decency. I have plenty of male friends who I have perfectly satisfactory friendships with, and I’m not interested in training Mr. Right and have no male family members with whom to have any lingering issues with. So I reckon, I’ll have to make a new years resolution next year and become a separatist. I won’t excommunicate the male friends, just give myself a focus to push all of the annoying ones out of my way. No male flatmates, no fruitless efforts at making into the boys club at uni, hell, I’ve got even better excuses to turn down party invites. And I can rudely ignore and speak over boring men in meetings on the grounds that I refuse to listen to men. Woohoo! Sheila Jeffreys here we come!!!!!

ps wanna recipte for my laksa paste?

You need

Blachan - (also sold as belaccan and called shrimp paste in english) - buy a solid block of brown stinky stuff, and grate up about 2 tablespoons worth - if you are cooking for vegans - then substitute this with some red miso paste or vegemite if you're desperate.

A head of Garlic - peel and chop up the lot
One big onion - do same as for garlic

A couple of chillies - 3 little red pointy buggers or half of one of those scarey balloon fuckers (once I mde the mistake of biting inot the end of one of them in paris - I thought it tasted mild and used 3 in my paste - and I nealry killed half of the anarchovegan population of France)

Some Fresh galangal and or ginger - grate up a sqyare inch of the fresh stuff - or if you can only get the hard dry woody stuff then don't bother - just stick that in your soup later on

2-3 tablesppons of that nice prepared tamarind pulp (or about 1-2 tablespoons of the thick stodge that you gotta remove the seeds from - about as much fun as pipping olives)

2-3 lower stalks of lemongrass

small handful of dried kaffir lime leaves

handfull of candlenuts

Right now you can probably tell that I'm no purist. welcome to good old aussie fusion cuisine! In australia "Laksa" is a kind of catchword for all amnner of variations on a big noodly curry soup. I developed this receipe about 10 years ago and it took 4 years and lots of expereimentation to ge tright. I was primarily inspired by the ravings of Malaysian student firends - and decided (like most Aussies) that I preferred the high cholesterol creamy KL version to the hotter, thinner and more sour Penang Assam version.

anwyay my recipe says to grab all the above stuff and chuck it in a narrow plastic vessel and mush it all up with a bamix. I used to do it manually with a mortar and pestle - but now I can't be bothered.
I usuallly add a bit of sesame oil to keep the blades runing, and generate a nice complement to the pungence of the blachan.

Now comes the extremely naughty bit.

My favourite aussie Laksa comes fomr Doy Tao in newtown - where they hold off on the palm sugar (for once) and use PUMPKIN to add to the mixture.

Coooked pumpkin goes amazingly well with fish! - Pumpkin and mussel soup is one of the speciallities of one of anna's aunts - it I'd recoomend it.

Anway - my version of LAksa - you make the hard goopy paste and then add it to some pumpkin (half a butternut or a quarter of a blue) that has been boiled in water (and don't throw out the water). Chuck in the paste and let it slowly simmer for a bit.

How much of a bit? 20 mins should be fine but you can go longer. don't go all day or you'll tunr all the stuff into cabbage..........

In the mantime, prepare some meat/veggies/tofu.this involves cutting them up into small pieces and lightly stirfrying them. blanch some noodles and some fishballs (yum!), and open 3 tins or a ! litre UHT pack of coconut cream.

Add coconut cream to laksa paste and pumpkin mix and mix thoroghly and heat.
blanch noodles and stick in serving bowls. throw veggies/meat/tofu on top
pour over soupy laksa mix
garnish with fried onions, lemon wedges, bean sprouts, fresh coriander
salivate and eat!

this should be enough for 4-6 people.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Merited Misandry

When I was a very young undergraduate studying Science, I read Evelyn Fox Keller” Reflections on Gender and Science”. This was a classic volume of the 70’s, that problematised Baconian models of scientific discovery in relationship to the sexist nature of gendered social relations in the lab. To put it simply, women’s minds and women’s bodies were described and studied as separate, aberrant and pathological “objects” of science, medicine and psychiatry, while the majority of leading scientists and doctors were men. The nature of the university supported this because most student in the ‘hard’ sciences were men, and also even in the biological sciences, where equal numbers predominated at undergraduate level, numbers of women tended to plateau out at postdoc level – most women researchers being left at lower academic, research assistant, teaching assistant level.

Anyway in student feminist circles I definitely felt like a brave, bold pioneer in a ‘non traditional’ field. All the other women were doing women’s studies and getting to write essays on Liz Grosz and Luce Irigaray while I was trying to splice genes with creationist bible bashers. OK it wasn’t always that bad, in science students were pretty aware about the social relations around them. Other female students all sighed and clucked about stray sexist comments made by (male) demonstrators, and male students at least seemed to mouth the right sorts of concerns about possibilities for women pursuing careers in science. Maybe it was just a strategy to get laid. Hell, it worked!

Fast forward a decade and I decided that I should be doing essays on Liz Grosz and Luce Irigaray since that’s who I’ve been reading in my spare time for ten years. I start a serious reading and writing habit, and wax literal about all that fine Irigiraian notions of dissimilating in the enemy camp of male dominated philosophy. Lots of well written words about slaying angels and the inner struggle of the female writer marginalised by the very structures of meaning.

This is so successful I write my way into a PhD. So1 here I am in academic land and with a postgraduate library card and an APA I reckon I’m unstoppable. No more ignorant boyos to flirt and dissimulate to, lots of women and men to have serious philosophical discussions with, instead of inanities uttered between writing down silly numbers or trying not to spill biohazards in my hair.

Arts research is largely conducted on a solitary level, but the gatherings, seminars, conferences are, presumably, where the professional networking occurs, the chatter, gossip, exchanges, job rumours, publication projects are lubricated by the beverage of choice and the randomly fecund ping-pong of chatter. Evelyn Fox Keller wrote about this, and stated that they occur in science and yes they do exclude women. No one has written lately about how much they excluded women in other disciplines. Feminist theory waffles all about semiotics and the problematic of designating a gendered subject. What is the subject? What is gender? Apparently it’s all in flux, kinda of like a thing you can make up on the spot and the utterable intelligibility of such aint just confined to the genitals. Gender is a state of play. Woo hoo!

I have found the latter ideas really really good. Especially in bed, or en route to the bed, in various bars at around 3am when picking up options are getting slim. Latex casting can work wonders, and girls (or guys) never leave the house without a false moustache, a wig and several genitalia tucked away in your purse. You never know when they can come in handy. (damn! I said I wasn’t going to discuss dating tips!) Back in the ivory tower, things aren’t quite so queer and forward, kind of back and behind, or back of beyond. I’m often reminded of the old days at the country, when I strayed form the ladies lounge at the pub. Marginalisation is such a loaded word, that trying to write about it without sounding accusatory is difficult. So I’ve tried to describe it in terms of everyday experiences.

This paragraph specifically refers to the life experience of bespectacled, asthmatic, uncoordinated, flabby or skinny individuals (or any gender) whose level of engagement with compulsory school sports was less than Olympian. If you are an active and successful member of the varsity sporting fraternity you can skip this bit. Remember how you felt during team selection (when you were the handicap) school sports carnivals (when detention felt preferable) change room before and after PE, PE itself? Suddenly the appearance of trackies, joggers and scungies changed the social order so that you who reigned supreme in the classroom spelling or maths quiz felt the pangs of the subaltern.

This paragraph specifically refers to the life experience of those whose experience of international travel has gone beyond Fairstar cruises, Kontiki Package tours, student exchanges to English speaking countries, or backpacking circuits. If this doesn’t fit your life history, you could probably ask one of the many students on campus who are migrants or international students from a non English speaking country. If not, just hunt down your nearest diagnosed Aspergers sufferer. Have you ever had the experience where you are stumbling along in a social setting, and suddenly you realise that you cannot understand a single word that is being said, and you say something that you think is right, and everyone stops and stares at you and you suddenly realise that you haven’t got the slightest clue about what you should do or say next in order to establish harmonious social relationships?

If you have never experienced the above, and would like to try it, then I’d suggest donning some form of prosthesis or attire that would identify you as female and walking into a postgraduate research seminar. If the patina of backs gets monotonous, walk towards a gap and listen in to whatever conversation is occurring try saying something polite and engaging. There you can witness the scintillating pulse as the conversational lull ceases, comes to half a second of complete silence before a male starts a completely different conversation and the lull resumes. This little experiment can be repeated during chaired seminars. If the chair allows you (iterably intelligible as female) to speak, do so, and note the response. If this isn’t enough, try greeting your colleagues while traversing university thoroughfares, and enjoy your own awkward facial tics and arm flapping as you try to disguise the futility of unreciprocated gestures and smiles as a brief outbreak of eczema.

Outrageous! Appalling! Is she paranoid? I hear you cry. No I’m not, and I personally invite you to conduct the experiments yourself across a number of faculties and departments. My own experience is that Arts is actually once of the worst offenders. Science and Engineering maybe patriarchal boyo techie boring areas, but they are also grounded in an implicit sense of practical contingencies. Women are still often doing most of the crap jobs in such disciplines. The crappy but necessary jobs. Rule one for high falutin success, make sure the poor sucker whose shoulders you stand on is a happy team member. So my theory is that the group collaborative research environment of the shared laboratory gives these guys some idea of how to behave. One that isn’t necessarily shared by the theoretically savvy sensitive new age guys in Arts.

Now I may come across a some kid of hardcore bitchy feminazi, but you’ve gotta admire my witty writing style and I urge you to continue! Tears and whinges aside, I am still utterly perplexed at this behaviour, directed (not only at me but other female students), from iterably intelligible heterosexual men. I assume these guys go off and whinge about the inadequacy of their sex lives? Actually I am fucking sure of it. The one or two who deigned to talk to me (admittedly only as undergrads) certainly did. So I’m going to publish tips for the lonely straight guy volume one, right here:

Practice how to have conversations with women, which involve both of you talking.
Even if you never socialise with women, you can develop these skills with the women you encounter in your professional lives, like your postgraduates students, researchers in your department and the one or two female academic staff.
By learning how to listen, smile and respond to what women are saying, you will learn to interpret women’s social gestures, this knowledge will increase with experience.
You can use your knowledge of how to communicate with women in your personal life.
Communication, eye contact, interest: chicks love that shit, you’ll win every time.

Just to fend off accusations of heterosexism, I’ll add that heterosocial skills can benefit us all. Even radical homosexual separatists have family members of the opposite sex not to mention the odd tradesperson, retail assistant etc. So I reckon acquiring skills for communicating with the opposite sex can benefit us all. In the meantime, what’s the survival strategies for the poor gals like me? I’m really not sure. I have mixed with a large variety of men and women in many different circles outside uni, both male and female, and the sort of autistic intransigence I am currently encountering is really pushing my aquired social resources to their very limits. I’ve tried doing the blokey drink buying palchick thing. Failed. Flirting. (sipping wine, fluttering eyes and giggling) Failed. Doing the anorexic male ego mirror thing. (OK, not quite anorexic, but I sucked in my gut, and asked vapid flattering questions in a high voice). Failed. Wearing a skirt and cleavage . Failed. Wearing a jacket and tie. Failed. Did the maternal “tell me your problems”. Failed.

So for the time being I’m staying away. I go to other seminars, test the other departments, other faculties, I flit and flutter and flan in the rest of the world where I seem to have infinite success in comparison. But these arenas are not my profession, they are not my research area. I’m like the foreign visitor who entertains from sheer novelty, and I’m entertained back. The problem is that I like my own research area, I believe in my discipline. Interdisciplinary play is all fine and dandy, but I really do want to teach and write in my area. It is the one that makes sense to my ideas and my career.

So what am I to do, if I can’t communicate with other researchers in my field? Change fields or change sex? I guess if I got diagnosed with breast cancer, I could entertain the latter option. Get the radical double masectomy, start taking T. But while they are only threatening my career and not my life, I’d really like to hold onto my beloved secondary sex characteristics. So what do I do? Feminists have written about the sexism of my discipline for longer than I have been alive, it still hasn’t changed the fact that for me, right now, it is bloody hard being a woman in my field. Worse still the problem isn’t only the men, it is the women. There are women researchers in my department, I’ve even heard rumours that there may be another PhD student, but where are they? Who are they? What are they doing? They aren’t coming to seminars, they aren’t lounging in the corridors or haunting the library. They’ve probably missed out on an office, hate the seminars as much as I do, and are more than likely juggling other jobs and social responsibilities that come with adulthood and femaleness. So the cycle continues.

I wish I could propose a solution or suggestions to this. “Oh yeah, a postgraduate women’s network” “ an e-list” “more women’s studies networks”. Sounds like more bloody work, and I suspect that like me, most women researchers and students are already snowed under with extra jobs, extra responsibilities, both paid and unpaid. So I’m going to put the onus on the men in my discipline. You know who you are. If you don’t, ask yourself when was the last time you listened to a female colleague speak for more than 5 minutes when she wasn’t giving a paper or discussing YOUR life or YOUR research? Then I am writing about you, and I suggest you modify your behaviour. Ask other men how. Believe me, plenty of them have learnt. If you don’t change, I will continue to hate you, and one day when I get my bloody doctorate, I’ll get a gun and shoot you. Yes you. It’s not reasonable but isn’t this reason enough to change?