What the Flock?

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Last night I attended the best carol service of my life. I loved it, even the bible reading bits which is unusual for me as I find the language of the Church (any church) rather irksome. ¬†I don’t know whether the season had softened my resolve or if I was coming down with something but even the bit about Christ lighting up the darkness made sense to me. ¬†I was quite literally gob smacked.

That was until they mentioned the ‘F” word.

What is it with Christians and flocks?

Why do we have to be sheep?

I rather fancy myself as a wolf or something new-age like a dolphin but a sheep…..

The term ‘The Lamb Of God’ apparently appeared for the first time in the Gospel of John 1:29. I looked that up on Google as I can’t find my bible (I do have one and I promise you I have read it) and was referring to Jesus who came down to earth to save us from our sins and obey the word of the lord our God.

And then we come to Psalm 23 (well there are other bits but I’ve tried to find the most interesting – in my opinion).

The LORD is my shepherd

I shall not be in want

He makes me lie down in green pastures

He leads me beside quiet waters

He restores my soul

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they will comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. 

and so on and so forth…..

I remember singing this in primary school and wondering about the sheep. ¬†I lived near to a field of sheep and would often go up to the fence and collect the wool from the barbed wire and save it so that I might make a jumper. I loved the sheep but never wanted to be one. They seemed relatively stupid to me (I have since discovered that they are not entirely absent of faculty) but I still liked them, they had innocent eyes and a playful cute jumpy nature when lambs. ¬†The only trouble was that I was hideously allergic to them and didn’t want to be one.

My journey to Sunday school and regular school took me past sheep-filled paddocks reminding me that to be good I had to be more sheep like. THAT didn’t sit well. I am a born individualist, a cutter of my own path, a questioner, an independent thinker, a free spirit – ANYTHING BUT A SHEEP.

The idea that GOD was my shepherd and that I was a sheep made me feel sick to the stomach.

And it still does a bit.

As a young girl I remember feeling that all this talk of obedience, goodness and shepherding was exactly what you needed if control and world domination was your poison. ¬†I remember feeling that the people (men – that hadn’t escaped my notice) that ran the church were quite smart really and that it would be a lot easier to pull our strings if we believed we were helpless without them. ¬†I tried the tactic on my sisters. It was fun. For me. Until I got caught (and not by the GOD man).

At that time I thought GOD was a man on a cloud and rather than question the idea of GOD being a person I started my own one-child campaign for GOD to be a woman who could fly and who sent down fairies to help us when we were in trouble. ¬†Fairies that you could meet if you walked around a hill at midnight on a full moon. ¬†Maybe my mum dropped acid in my bedtime milk or maybe I was just naturally ‘special’…..

And with that I guess it’s time to review the situation 2013 style.

Although my view of many things has evolved since childhood the truth that I felt as a child about the language of Christianity still resonates and was strongly triggered last night.

Herd mentality is a reality amongst humans and is something that we are capable of on many levels. ¬† We ¬†have all been compelled to go into a busy store to ‘see what the fuss is about’ – because we don’t want to miss out/ are naturally curious/ are bored. Have seen that when the ¬†London stock market sneezes, Tokyo catches a cold. ¬†That when enough people tell you that the band “One Direction” are good you start humming along to their tunes. Maybe we are no different to sheep? ¬†Maybe we do need a shepherd?

But that’s where the likeness fades for me.

We are capable of so much more and our herd instinct (in my opinion) represents our lowest level of consciousness and that’s my point.

If that is true, why would any religion try to keep us at a low-level of self-realisation? ¬†What good could come from that other than the conspiracy theory that I identified as a 10-year-old wolf girl…..

Well I don’t know but last night I saw at least a glimmer of hope in the service. ¬†Jesus was described as the one who came to lighten up the darkness, to enlighten us and unite humanity.

That sounds rather like the meaning of the Sanscrit word ‘Namaste’ and I’ve always loved that.

And I’ve never had any problem with the Jesus man. The prophet.

And as for Flocks.

Ten years in the corporate world might have taught me that I am not a ‘in the box’ kind of girl but it also taught me that boxes are useful, necessary, comforting even and that while it was OK for me not to like them it wasn’t OK for me to try to wreck them for everyone else.

Churches are no different to that.

Flocks work as well for the ‘corporate’ church as they do for the individuals within them. ¬†If they didn’t the world of organised religion would have collapsed years ago but it didn’t, it won’t ever.

I find my comfort and joy in processing things on my own terms. From observing, learning, allowing myself to be taught and from connecting with others.  Doing that with an open heart and mind can be challenging as we all have our baggage and pre-conceived ideas but I am learning that can make it extra surprising and fun.

I remain allergic to sheep but they no longer get my goat (oh and if you are interested, that’s what the bible named its non-believers). Interesting……

Amanda ¬†the wolf woman (don’t wolves eat sheep????)

PS: If I was a sheep I’d be this guy.

PPS: I did quite a bit of research about the origin of the ‘flock’ and how this translates to modern ministry’s and found this interesting.¬† ¬†This article on Christian leadership also caught my eye and highlighted another reason why I rebel against it. ¬†This is personal BTW, I’m not advocating that everyone do as I do. I am not a shepherd.

I Had a Fanny Chat The Other Day

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Terrible pun but it is true – I have been talking about fannies quite a bit recently. ¬†Is that weird? Am I weird? ¬†Who cares! ¬†I need to talk and when I talk others join in. ¬†It’s nice.

I am a nearly 40 year old woman and live happily with my lady bits. I don’t worry about them or give mine much thought beyond the usual day-to-day normal necessities. But I have become increasingly aware of how ones fanny has become a fashion accessory, a statement piece, ¬†public property and I don’t like that. I’m not so much worried for myself. I’m old enough to carry a practical sized handbag in which to store a lifetimes worth of scathing one-liners, self-esteem, rescue remedy and gaffa tape but I am thinking about the future, our future. Our children. ¬†So, when the ABC aired ‘The Vagina Diaries’ late last month I just had to take a look……

I’ve blogged about the ‘designer vagina‘ before on my Realize Beauty blog and being in the cosmetic industry am no stranger to labioplasty and the pornification of beauty but what rattled my cage was that our (Australian) porn industry is adding to our female pain by photoshopping bits off. FOR OUR OWN MODESTY. ¬†Bloody Hell.

Now I am sorry to sound prudish but I’ve never been a connoisseur or porn and had held a belief that maybe, just maybe the ladies in these magazines had naturally small labia or had ‘had the surgery’ in the same way as you might have a boob job if you were a topless model trying to get work for ‘big, bouncy and beautiful’. While I didn’t like this I was willing to accept the ‘fashion’ for the pre-pubescent look while speaking out about diversity but I was wrong. ¬†The models who do these shoots are as big, small, in, out, hairy and nude as the rest of us, it is the censors that decided ‘women don’t look like that’. ¬†Are men exempt? ¬†I doubt it.

With my attention firmly fixed on the reality/ fantasy blurring of boundaries of our modern life (the subject of my new book) I’m worried that our idea of what a ‘normal’ female looks like ‘down below’ is based on fiction because someone in an office somewhere decided that was less offensive and photo shopped it off. ¬†I find THAT offensive. THAT implies that the female of the species is flawed, imperfect, better off fake. ¬†Pass me a bucket, I need to spew.

But wait, don’t our girls have access to better calibre resources? ¬†After all porn school doesn’t really have a good ring to it…..

Well ask yourself this.  How many fannies have you seen (outside of the porn industry) recently?

I can’t say I’ve seen any except for my own and the dogs (shameless creatures) but what I have seen are countless crotch shots of young and obviously hairless girls wearing next to nothing. Lady Gaga and ¬†Mylie Cyrus spring to mind straight away. ¬†Plus there are the radio ads ‘get a hair free cha cha’ and the DJ talk ‘oooh I HATE hair down there’ ¬†Thanks Kyle Sanderlands, ¬†so we know that hair is not en vogue and once you are hairless you are one step closer to labia mania in my opinion. But let’s face it, pop culture is not exactly ‘primary research’. There must be something else?

Thankfully there are one or maybe two places that we can go to get a different view which I’ll share with you now.

The Labia Library is my first port of call. ¬†This photography project ¬†gives us girls a close-up-and-personal look at what women look like down below. ¬†While part of me still feels a bit pissed off (to be truthful) that we even need this to feel OK with ourselves I still love it. ¬†While I have never been a fan of porn I’ve often poured over medical books and find the presentation of this project familiar, honest, trustworthy and re-assuring.

The second is the Embarrassing Bodies Vulva Gallery. ¬†Again we see what real people look like and are struck by the diversity and individuality of each woman on display. ¬†The medical setting again gives this a trustworthy feel although the program also talks about labiaplasty and hasn’t (in memory) discussed the morality of this operation or given an opinion on the ratio of necessary-to-vanity regarding the operations soaring popularity. This does concern me slightly. ¬†I wonder if there is some unspoken rule in the medical world ‘though shalt not dis my procedure’ ¬†or maybe it’s about income streams or maybe there is a genuine fear of damaging Peoples mental health by refusing to take them as patients. I don’t know but I’d be interested to find out…

So with the body re-enforcement sorted it’s time to think about the mind. ¬†What is going on inside the head of a 13-20 year old girl or boy for that matter?

I must say the Vagina Diaries again gave me cause to celebrate (or at least let out a little ‘yay’). ¬†On interviewing several guys as they walked down the high street our host established that on the whole guys are happy with ‘whatever she’s got’ in the pant department with only one brave soul stating a clear dislike for the fuzz. ¬† As for surgical enhancements one got the feeling that none of the guys were that fussed about that either – a sentiment that was made more poignant in an interview with a young girl who had just gone through the procedure only to have her partner be nonplussed by the results.

But I wanted to follow this up with something more and that’s when I found Birdee magazine. ¬†This online teen-zeen was exactly what I wanted to find (Confirmation bias yes, do I care? ¬†NO, not right now). ¬† Featuring original content by young gutsy women not afraid to share their opinions and stand with their feet firmly on the ground. THIS is what I was hoping for. ¬† I encourage you to take a look and pass it on.

So maybe the girls are going to be OK! ¬†If we can just steer them into the thinking corner they won’t just survive with their body-love intact, they will thrive and turn into women that can love freely, birth naturally and live without fear. ¬†Hang on, what did I just say…..

Birth freely?

And that brings my fanny chatter to a whole new level.  It occurred to me this week that there is more than just vanity and our casual sex life at stake here.  These pube-lic property issues if not nipped in the bud run the risk of shaping our birth choices therefore further undermining the role and status of the vagina.

I enjoyed two pregnancies and births without fear that my bits didn’t look right. ¬†Granted I was as concerned as anyone that I’d tear, lose control or stretch beyond repair but I didn’t ever think that the doctors and nurses would stand back and laugh at the size or shape of my bits. ¬†I was confident that if my bits could make a baby they could birth a baby. ¬†It has since dawned on me that maybe not everyone is that lucky?

With that in mind I am now determined to champion the ‘natural vulva/ vagina’ cause with renewed passion and vigour, to spread the word that we are OK, that we are not flawed and don’t need fixing. That the parts of us which bring forth new life deserve to be celebrated and enjoyed, that we are complete and completely beautiful.

A fanny doesn’t have to birth a baby to be valid or real, it just has to be respected so let’s do all we can to encourage that.

And that’s a rap.

Amanda x

To Justify War – The Hunger Games

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After spending last week reading and loving ¬†Suzanne Collins Hunger Games trilogy I have only one thing on my mind and that’s what I want to write about today.

While I haven’t set out to review the books as such I guess that you could consider this a bit of a spoiler so be warned!

The Hunger Games struck a chord with me both personally and professionally. ¬†After seeing the movies (I saw the first two – ¬†third isn’t yet made) before picking up the books I was initially fascinated and singularly occupied by the inward and outer journey that our protagonist, Katniss Everdeen was undertaking. Being the mother of two daughers and being something of a woman that doesn’t always ‘toe the unspoken feminine line’ I was initially sucked in to thinking this was a film about her and more specifically about how Katniss might be a good role model for my not-yet-coming-of-age daughters. ¬† The fact that she was a ‘she’ was smart, that she wasn’t about her looks was a bonus and that she wasn’t defined by a ‘significant other’ was awesome but what was better was that she was a fighter, a warrior, a doer of stuff and (at least in one form) a winner.

After the films I sought out feminist reviews, wondering what they thought of this powerful hunter, this wild young thing with a passion for justice but it was there that I realised that I had missed the point entirely.

I should have realised my mistake earlier especially given that other than the obvious (being thrown into a game where one has to fight for their survival) Katniss spends much of her time wrestling with who she really is after her image is hijacked and branded as a reluctant and (in the first film) oblivious FACE OF THE REVOLUTION, the MOCKINGJAY! ¬†How sad that I’d been suckered into that same mentality away from the screen.

After reading the books I had a better idea of what Collins had created and by the time I’d turned the final page I was in no doubt that this is about the politics of war. Katniss is indeed a strong and grounded individual and one worthy of being held up as a role model but I’ll come back to that later. ¬†For now it’s to war we go.

It is a long time since my tribe has been to war – 1939-45 being the last time my blood was thrown into the arena. I don’t know what it is like to live under that kind of threat and more importantly (in relation to the Hunger Games) I don’t know what it would feel like to have been born into a regime ¬†as morally corrupt and restrictive as the postapocalyptic Panem and its dystopian rulers in The Capitol. Individual rights to practically everything are limited, work is tough and eking out a personal identity risky.

On first introduction it would seem that District twelve, the coal miners (each district is known for its produce and 12 has coal) ¬†– the home of The Mockingjay, Katniss – is the very definition of hell on earth with its food shortages, ¬†dangerous and dirty industry, ¬†electrical fencing and poor housing conditions but later into the story we discover that it was possibly one of the least tyrannous, ¬†overlooked by the capital as any real threat to their system due to the poor health and vitality of the people who lived there, their weakness of ¬†‘will’ and their ability to get massacred in all but one of the previous 74 hunger games. ¬†The all-but-one is where Hamitch comes in, a hardened drinker and mentor to our young protagonist and her District Twelve partner Peeter. ¬†In short District Twelve was seen as a bit of a joke but that joke backfires later in the piece as we witness¬†the spark that lives within Katniss ignite the passions of the masses when she defies the capital at the end of the first book. This autonomous act of defiance turns out to be enough spark to light an inferno that ultimately brings down the system.

And that brings me onto my question, a question that I feel is the central theme of the book.

Is there ever a time when war is justified?

Once I had got over my ‘holding out for a hero’ view of Katniss I started to pay more attention to the detail of what she (and yes, I know she is fictional) was saying. ¬†Keeping in mind her agency – that she is a minor ¬†(16 in the first book, 17 and a bit in the second) from a broken home (dad died in a mining accident, mum suffering on and off from depression) and sole provider and support for her sister Prim she tackles this question frequently and personally. ¬†It is understandable that ¬†she (being 17 and with her background) ¬†carries the burden of what is unleashed almost singlehandedly, ¬†quietly but painfully working out ways to pay her debts to each of HER victims, sitting with the burden that she collects during HER battles against the Capitol. Wondering if it would have been better if she had died and prevented all of this. ¬†The realisation that she was the spark (the girl on fire) and that the bomb and ignition source were beyond her control was beyond her comprehension. ¬†You only have to ask the average 17-year-old activist how much they can change the world to know that the answer is ¬†often ‘COMPLETELY’…..

And with that we come back to the question and an answer that I have found in Bertrand Russell’s 1916 essays ‘Why Men Fight”.

“The supreme principle, both in politics and in private life, should be to promote all that is creative, and so to diminish the impulses and desires that centre around possession”

So what does that mean?

The human cost of war weighs ¬†heavily on Katniss’ mind. It all seems so pointless, so wasteful, so much pain and to what end?

Only now I am not so sure that it is pointless.

There is nothing good about the Hunger Games but the ugliness and brutality of the games is not the point. ¬†They are merely the spectacle, the detail, the distraction from the day-to-day soul breaking, spirit wrenching, hope draining life that those in the districts endure. ¬†They are the tool that hammers the final nail in the coffin that maintains the status quo. ¬† The Capitol don’t need hand cuffs, they have gained ultimate control through fear and more specifically what you personally fear – a poignant fact that was made clear in the second book/ film when President Snow visits Katniss…..

Russell’s words, penned nearly 100 years hence capture the reality of the (fictional) Hunger Games brilliantly and form the perfect justification for what played out amongst the pages of the third book and yet-to-be-made film.

Russell goes on to talk about the conditions needed for war in his essay ‘the principe of growth’ ¬†and again I find that his words re-enforce the horror within the details of Collins book transforming it from the purely fictional to the ‘I recognise that’ ¬†actuality.

Looking beyond the titillation, shock and spectacle that is the Hunger Games I am left with what looks like a justification for war, a proposition that war is sometimes the right course of action, and that sits heavily on my mind.

I have been mulling over this all weekend, trying to work a way out of that being so, wondering why I find it so hard to swallow, so wrong and my attention turns inwards, to my own experiences.

Up until a month or so ago I would have told you that there is no place for war.  That nothing good comes of it and that it is morally inferior to negotiations Рthe pen is mightier than the sword etc. That was before I felt provoked into defending something that I personally held dear.

I don’t know why but this particular occasion rattled my cage to the point that it rattled the bolt clean out. ¬†I was angry and what was more important was that I felt that I had every right to be. ¬†I also felt something that I’d never felt before – that it was time to put down the pen and fight. ¬†Direct action style.

In my case this didn’t mean punching anyone or anything and neither did it mean getting out a Katniss style ¬†bow and arrow (although I do like a spot of archery) no, this meant standing up for myself and saying it as it was (and still is).

This represented a big turning point in my life, a life where previously ¬†if I happened to find myself merrily meandering down a certain lane only to find that others had followed me, got ahead while I was smelling the roses and then built a barricade I’d just shrug with an ‘oh well, plenty of other lane ways to explore’. ¬† I had never considered this to be a bad or self-limiting strategy until this one day.

What happened is that I realised that I was being forced into a position that wouldn’t allow me to promote all that is creative (my preferred route was being cut off), ¬†would tie me up in detail (having to find a new way, make a new start etc) and would render me hopelessly weakened (physically, emotionally and financially). ¬†The time had come for me to stand strong and fight. ¬†To unleash my inner warrior.

and that I did and it turned out to be the best decision I’ve made in a long time!

I am still of the belief that all-out no-holes-barred war fare is not something that one should enter into lightly or frequently but I can now see the tipping point more clearly, a tipping point resting on the shoulders of human agency – our ability to act freely, creatively, from love.

With that in mind I have a new-found respect and appreciation for what it means to be free and I’d like to thank Suzanne Collins for tackling such a delicate and triggering topic as even if I’ve missed the point entirely I’ve gained a lot from it!

Remember who the enemy is.

Amanda x