Glossy Covers: Rose Byrne all smiles for Sunday Life (plus, musings on mixed messages)

Glossy Covers: Rose Byrne all smiles for Sunday Life (plus, musings on mixed messages)

It was so lovely to open up The Sun-Herald last weekend and see Rose Byrne smiling back from the cover of the Sunday Life supplement. Like Byrne, who has reason to be happy given the largely rapturous reception for Bridesmaids, Oakes should pat herself on the back, too.  

Sunday Life contributor and Musings of an Inappropriate Woman blogger Rachel Hills has used her online platform to heap praise on Oakes and her mentorship today. While I, too, am indebted to Oakes, she should be proud of the magazine she oversees each week with its mix of smart columnists, on-the-pulse features, profiles of interesting characters and mix of intriguing cover subjects (landing the magazine a GWAS 2010 Best Covers of the Year spot).

While I don't always agree with the opinions, nor can identify with the hipster/inner-city sensibility (being a newborn country/family/Christian gal and all), I know that I will get depth and breadth with aesthetic pleasure on top when I pry the magazine from its Sun-Herald mother ship each week and, in turn, a broadening of my quaint world view on an array of subjects. Nothing too tabloid; nothing too highbrow... just thoughtful text and sophisticated fashion, beauty and food images to chew over. It's a great accompaniment for your bowl of Just Right.

The last edition – probably my favourite of the year – had Mia Freedman reflecting on an inability to find time to reflect; Sarah Wilson making peace with her annoyances; comedian Lawrence Leung sharing five life snapshots; Hills' feature on bridesmaid behaviour; Emma Soames' 'Does my bump look big in this?'; Nick Scott writing on FTP (aka First Time Proclamation of love); and writer Tracy Clark-Flory's op-ed, 'Mixed Messages', on the SlutWalk phenomenon, in which she writes:
"I would be all for this approach if it communicated something important about rape - but it doesn't. The underlying message – that women are too often told that they were 'asking for it' - is lost amid the 'slutty' charade. So, too, is the important point that the slur can be levelled at any woman, regardless of her appearance or sexual behaviour... More alarmingly, SlutWalk follows a larger trend of sexualised activism surrounding women's causes... it feels on some level as if they are trying to show how flirty and fun feminists can be."

It's with this same reservation about mixed messages that I look at Bridesmaids, which has started a  critical discussion in the pop-culture realm over whether chicks can do crass comedy, as articulated by Natalie Reilly in her 'Girls Gone Gross' column accompanying Rachel Hill's cover feature. Reilly writes:

Bridesmaids proves that women can go low-brow, so the real question sexist people should be asking is, 'Will we allow women to be gross-out funny?' It's a question some of us ladies struggle with, too: while we're fine now with sexually adventurous women (thank you, Sex and the City) it seems some of us still can't accept girls going gross.

We don't help by censoring ourselves. We leave that low-brow stuff behind in early childhood, probably from the first time we're told, 'Little girls don't do that!' while our male counterparts get a 'Boys will be boys' shrug for the same thing. And we learn quickly exactly how to behave (except when drunk, and then we issue the blanket statement 'I remember nothing' the next day).

What then, can we expect if we allow women to flourish in the land of fart jokes? Will society crumble without its designated bedrock of refined femininity? Well, if it's the sort of society upheld by guys like [Christopher] Hitchens, I hope so."

My thoughts on this are, why I agree that the playing field for men and women should be equal, and a lady has the right to express herself in whatever way she sees fit relative to the context she finds herself in, is it necessary to play to lowest common denominator forms of comedy – let alone emulate traditionally base male behaviours – to prove the point? How feminist is it to abide in standards set by men?

I was mildly mortified to see the trailer to Cameron Diaz's upcoming Bad Teacher, in which she plays a "foul-mouthed junior high teacher who, after being dumped by her sugar daddy, begins to woo a colleague". Mouth agog, I was thinking, "The great roles for Diaz must be really thin on the ground". Which says more about Hollywood than Diaz's acting ability, and perhaps my personal wish to see women attain higher levels of artistic merit, but also about the genre of comedy.

Now, before I turn all Miss Righty-Righteous Victorian Era Throwback on you, know this: I've told some wildly inappropriate and regrettable stories in respectable (albeit private) places, and believe the best moment in the first Sex and the City movie was when Charlotte pooped her pants. It was cute. But there is cute and then there's crass.

A few weeks ago, I took my nieces to see a local play: the acting was stellar, but some of the improv saw some innuendo inserted for the grown-ups that made me squirm in my seat. Was that necessary? And when Brisbane comedian Mel Buttle (who is extremely clever, I might add) hosted a film event I went to last year, I was highly amused until she delved to go low.

However, (shout your feminist thoughts on this) when Chris Lilley uses swearing or crass behaviour in Angry Boys, I get that it's a legitimate comedic device because that's how the people he's emulating in character talk and act. And if I don't like it, I can turn it off.

Is this about context? Public v private appropriateness? Exercising one's media and entertainment consumption rights? Or is it about getting in with the cool crowd by proving that you're capable of being, as Pulp sang, like common people, too? About educated "kidult" denial of the requirements of grown-up behaviour? Or, simply, 'Hey, everybody poops! Let's expose the poop!'?

I got into a pickle recently for teaching my four-year-old niece the catchy tune, "Yum, yum, pig's bum." A mum I know was amused to hear a song her primary-school aged boy had picked up which included all the relatively harmless naughty words under the rainbow including poo, bum and wee. When you are five, boo, bum and wee are hilarious.  

Our behaviour isn't always an indicator of our intellect, spirit or upbringing; often it's simply a reflection on the crowds we're rolling with or the omnipresent 'Zeitgeist', but there is still personal accountability for one's behaviour, actions and words.

As a Christian, I'm called to be rid of profanities, to cast of vulgarity and to dwell on "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute... anything worthy of praise" (Philippians 4:8). That takes some self-control! It also takes sound judgement, which can really only be found in abiding by what the Bible says (God doesn't judge by man's corruptible standards).

 Modern moral conundrums with Old Testament solutions in particular can be tricky. Etymological practises also vary across cultures ("bloody", "buggered" and "What the heck?" are pretty acceptable Australian slang). I don't think God is going to strike me down if I let an occasional "shit!" slip, but by the same token I don't think it's honouring of my position of a girl living under God's grace to speak vile words of offense that defile that status.

My tolerance levels for indecency and bad language (my own and others') have diminished as I've gotten to be more traditionally "churchy", and God-pleasey. It's not for me to expect others to abide in my personal standards, however, the high ground is a nice place to be – why shouldn't girls – funny, creative, smart girls – occupy it occasionally?

Girl With a Satchel


Anonymous said...

This is a great post. It's true that women are becoming more and more vulgar these days and I think that the media have a lot to answer for there. If people on TV are seen to be doing it, then it's normal isn't it? This is what most people think.

As a Christian I too try my hardest not to swear, I dont drink and I try and be kind. I get picked on for never swearing and never drinking. I often wonder why... why must I have an alcoholic beverage in my hand to be fun? Heck I dance and have more than most of them and im just drinking water!

It's difficult to be a christian in this modern society where you are looked upon strangely when you aren't swearing, drinking or sleeping with every guy you meet. I guess God just calls us to keep the faith and do the best we can amongst those who don't understand, or wish to understand.

Ps: I really love your blog :)

Rachel @ Musings of an Inappropriate Woman said...

Oh, I'm glad to see Tracy Clark-Flory's piece get picked up. I haven't seen the version in Sunday Life (being in London and all), but I loved the version that was published on