In the ballroom of the Royal on the Park—a 42-year-old Brisbane hotel that reeks of long-gone glamour—young women are parading down a catwalk for inspection, like so many thoroughbreds. It’s only a rehearsal, but the clock’s ticking down to the real thing and everyone’s feeling the pressure. In pairs and trios, they strut onto stage while a glamorous blonde woman in a blue kaftan gives orders. “You’re the first girl out!” she snaps. “Don’t look so scared, please!” Smile. Stand tall. Don’t look at the floor. Never have your legs apart; never. “Don’t look down when you’re at the end of the catwalk!” she cries, exasperated. “You look like a hunchback.” As I watch, I lean over to a primary school-aged girl beside me who has done this before. “This seems scary,” I say. “It is,” she whispers back.
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Last year, Triple J presenter and comedian Tom Ballard raised something on Twitter I’d been thrashing around in my head for a while too.
“Is the concept of having male/female awards in the arts outdated?” he asked. In sport, separating sexes has always seemed logical (although athletes like Caster Semenya complicate that idea nicely), but how do sex-specific awards in the arts make any sense? If gender has no influence on artistic merit, then why award men and women separately?
Think about it for a while and your brain might just melt. Besides the excellent fashion photography opportunities, why do categories like Best Female Artist and Best Actress exist? Is there really a need for the Orange Prize, the annual UK-based literary award given to a female novelist? My favourite response to Ballard’s question came from former Triple J newsreader Emma Swift. “It’s complicated,” she tweeted back, pointing out industries like music and film are still male-dominated. “Drop categories [and the] awards will become cockforests.”
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My fellow Australians,
Let us all rejoice, for we are young and free—not to mention well-travelled and worldly. Compared to the rest of the world, our passports aren’t so much “well stamped” as “heavily vandalised”, and this is a great thing. Between us, we’ve travelled to Bali and London, Berlin and Lagos, Baltimore and La Paz. And while some of us have yet to leave the country, we’re still a nation who wants to travel, at least. We’ve got world maps stuck to our walls and dream about visiting far-off places at night. Part of it, I think, has to do with living on a big island with a relatively small population. Most of us are huddled on the coastlines, so we look out across the ocean with dewey eyes and wonder: “What, exactly, is fuckin’ out there, eh?”
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When I look back over my 28 years, it turns out I’ve managed to do some pretty hideous things. Even now, some memories catch me off guard and make me want to curl with shame. I could be doing anything—driving my car, buying groceries—and out of nowhere, bam: suddenly I’m 10-years-old and urinating myself in front of the church congregation. Or I’m 18 and losing consciousness in the middle of a one-night stand, reeking of beer. Or I’m 19 and projectile spewing a bottle of bargain-bin shiraz on my mother’s carpets as she looks on helplessly in teary horror.
It’s always been like this: a cycle of rank stupidity followed by crippling mortification. As a kid, I told my entire Year 3 class that my mum had had an “abortion” before conceiving me. Then I had years of panic attacks after realising I’d gotten my terminology wrong and actually meant “miscarriage”.* Sometimes though, I’ll have good days where I feel okay about myself, when my boyfriend suddenly brings up the time I awkwardly picked up friend’s cat and accidentally fingered its anus in front of everyone. We all try to bury our shames deep down, but if you’re anything like me, it only ever turns out to be a shallow grave.
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