Great SEXpextations Series: A conversation worth having

There is something we need to talk about. That something is sex.

I recently co-ran a women’s elective called ‘Sex, Violence & the ‘F-word’ – for those of you wondering, it’s Feminism. While it pained us to call the workshop to a close there were a number of lovely people wanting to keep the conversation going – and going – and going – till it was crystal that these individuals rarely had the opportunity to talk openly and candidly about sex. Whether conservative, liberal, progressive – it didn’t matter! Sexuality was something people kept hidden away, only exposed in dear diary entries, awkward conversations with a partner or slightly tipsy conversations with girlfriends.

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This is a problem. A problem much more insidious than we realise. Healthy sexuality in all its beauty and brutal awkwardness is rarely talked about, but is something every single person navigates at some point in their life. It’s clear this is a conversation in need of having. I hope that maybe through starting the conversation my thoughts will be eloquent enough to provide some clarity on the subject that is ‘sex’. So I am calling it…Let’s talk.

Over time I will be writing some blogs on just this. I’m going to call it the Great SEXpectations series! And in case you were wanting to gain insight into when, where, how or with whom – I don’t have those answers. I do however have some opinion on where we, as society and as the church, may be getting it wrong. Well-intentioned, but nevertheless wrong. So I thought best to start with that.

Sexuality vs. Sexualisation

Sexuality and sexualisation – they are completely different things my friends. Let’s break it down. There is nothing wrong with embracing your sexuality in whatever form that might take.

We are sexual beings. We are “wonderfully made”(Psalm 139:14, NIV), and part of that wonderful creation is humans as sexual beings.

Bodies are incredible things. Not acknowledging that in yourself is to deny yourself a gift God gave in the physical being you are.

Sexualisation on the other hand is an action enacted upon someone, commonly upon women but men too, which objectifies them on the basis of their gender and/or sexuality. It utilises sex as a means of gain – just think “sex sells!”

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So…

Sexuality = Good.

Sexualisation = Very bad!

This is important because the motivators behind each are intrinsically different. Sexuality is an embracing of the sexual self, sexualisation is an act of objectification on someone else.

As Christians we commonly disregard sexualisation as the ‘worldly way’ and so we do everything in our power to control it. And yes sexualisation is bad – but what has happened is that we have thrown sexuality into the mix and so everything ‘sex’ is now just plain bad!

Mistake #1: We think control is the answer

So we know sexualisation is bad and so we control it. We ask women to not wear singlet tops, to not drink in fear that men may take advantage of them, to not walk home alone, and when a girl is sexually assaulted people feel they have the right to say ‘but you were drinking so who’s really responsible?’ – What the FUDGE!?!? And sadly this is the story of many girls I know. 

In her goddess-like feminist awesomeness Jessica Valenti (2009) writes,

“there is no separating virginity, violence and control over woman’s bodies”.


womens virginityThrough controlling womens’ bodies the objectification of women becomes normal and totally acceptable. 
We objectify them. We strip people of the ability to express their sexuality in a healthy way. We strip them of their autonomy to dictate what is right for them. We also strip away every other aspect of that person that makes them wonderful.

In Christianity’s attempt to protect the ‘girlhood’ of women around the world; ownership, dependance and most dangerously a re-sexualisation of women unfolds. So we are doing exactly that which we are trying to stop.

Full stops and feminism

Anyone that has read up on feminism shudders at the mention of Foucault. He has a profound inability to comprehend that full stops exist. Try reading him tipsy & make any sense of what he is saying – I challenge you!

Painfully long sentences aside he is a rather smart man. He talks of this thing called the ‘repressive hypothesis’ where,

“Sex was not something one simply judged; it was a thing one administered; it called for management procedures; it had to be taken charge of by political discourse” (Foucault, 1978: 24).

Sex has become a societal force of control, regulation and expectation. It’s no longer a personal experience between individuals – it’s something society, and the church feels it holds the ability, and the right, to control…..Na-uh. No. Wrong!

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When we don’t give young men and women the information to form healthy concepts of sexuality and sexual expression, sex becomes something that creates guilt and shame. Even worse they have been proven to result in unhealthy ideas of women’s sexuality, with increased rates of STI’s, unsafe sex practices and increased sexual violence – particularly in areas with abstinence only education. A lack of information about sex restricts peoples capacity to make informed decisions… This is not okay! It also perpetuates violent and dominant concepts of women and girls driving the negative culture of patriarchy and sexism many of us sadly live in.

Mistake #2: A woman’s worth is bound to her purity

The fusing of morality with women’s bodies is detrimental to all involved and is a form of structural violence – a violence the Church is guilty of. It makes people see a girl’s worth as contingent on her sexual purity and stops people recognising the value of a ‘girl’ as a smart, beautiful, talented, funny, and yes, attractive,  being. This policing of young women’s minds and bodies by the church and society, strategically lowers them to maintain male dominance.

We so easily brush off this form of sexual violence, but by doing that we discount the pervasiveness of forces – social, political and religious – which provide the genesis for horrible and violent ideologies. Ideologies which later result in interpersonal violence and rape culture somehow being ok. As assault being viewed as a misunderstanding and not a crime. It results in 1 in 3 women experienceing violence in their lifetime. In over 81% of sexual assaults going unreported. In sexual harassment at the pub being funny and not offensive. In guilt, shame, uncertainty and insecurity.

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See it. Call it. Change it!

None of this is easy to address. It is part of our culture, our society, and our religious practice. So what can we do? Becoming aware is the first step. That’s the genesis. Noticing and addressing your habits is the next. Noticing and calling out the habits of your friends follows. And change grows from there.

Opening our eyes and ears to the way our sexuality is shaped by so-called truths screamed at us by society, empowers us to challenge and to change. It makes the conversation easier, navigating our own sexual experience easier, and begins a new conversation unbound from violence, guilt and shame.

And that my friends, is a conversation worth having.

What great SEXpectation do you think needs to be discussed? Let me know and let’s have the conversation!

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#Ragamuffinregret…and realising some decisions just don’t matter.

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The other day my housemate, Jessie, and I were craving something sweet and wanted to get out of the house for a few hours. We went to Ragamuffin where I am pretty certain the owners are muffin magicians. Just a heads up: For those of you unlucky enough to never have tasted the deliciousness that is steam-baked soft centre muffins, get yo’ muffins down to Ragamuffin and enjoy.  You’re welcome!

Just look at those muffins. So scrumptious.

However Jessie and I both sat down with our muffins, looked to the table next to us and immediately claimed what we like to call #ragamuffinregret. Partly because since converting to the darkside of twitter everything in life is now undeniably hashtaggable, and partly because though we were happy with our muffins – the ones we didn’t have now looked just that little more delicious. But, truth be told no matter what we had ordered, as soon as someone else had something, we wanted it.

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Regret is a horrible thing. Should have’s and what if’s can haunt you. And yes, there are things in life that deserve deep consideration. Relationships are a perfect example with some of my biggest regrets coming from thinking I should have done things differently or said things I didn’t. So yes, those decisions are worth my time (though many of my friends would argue not the amount of time I give them). Thing is though we learn about ourselves from mistakes and with every screw up, we learn what not to do next time – it’s called trial and error learning.

Babies are wonderful at it! When we are little we learn about the world through interacting with it and making mistakes. We screw things up, learn and move on. But somehow as we get older we start blaming and shaming ourselves for decisions we make, decisions which most of the time are made with good intentions…and really, you can only make a choice with the information you hold at any given time.

Life realisation #1: You are not a fortune teller!

Truth be told no matter how many variables you attempt to consider – life is unpredictable, it’s messy, and just because you make one decision doesn’t mean that your choice is not vulnerable to the choices of others. The problem is we believe that if we make a wrong decision it is our fault, we should have known better, or given it more time. Somewhere in the history of decision making we decided that we are mathemagicians who should have perfectly calculated every possible consequence and damaged controlled to evade the apparent Armageddon our decision dawned! Resulting in a reaction somewhat like this…

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Shame on us for blaming ourselves! And shame on me for thinking I hold some omnipotent control over the universe by power of my decision making skills. And yes, I note the irony of blaming myself for blaming myself – but just go with me here.

Some decisions are big. Some choices are life changing. Some consequences hurt. Some are our fault and others we have no control over. But choosing a muffin flavour…. not all that significant!

Life realisation #2: Time allows perspective

Every day we make thousands of decisions and the process is an interesting one. We weigh up all the possibilities resulting in a single final choice. Consciously choosing to gain something, and consciously losing other things. Despite how certain we may be, when we make a decision we are immediately confronted with all the possible consequences to what we just locked in.

The simple trick is to just give it a little time. Now I’m not one to believe ‘time heals everything’, but I do believe that time provides a perspective that the present cannot. Decisions always seem super important the second you make them. But it takes a while for positive reinforcers of big decisions to show or for you to realise how small decisions really held no significance to… well…anything. The fact I got a Lamington muffin and not Pashmore (fyi: Pashmore is heaven in muffin form) really only means that I have now tried one more delicious flavour.

So next time you suffer from #ragamuffinregret remember this: there will always be muffins, eat them, enjoy them, and really – should your muffin regret consume your every thought – just buy yourself another muffin!

 
If you are in the Sydney area, seriously do yourself a favour and head to Ragamuffin, 157 Norton St, Leichhardt. My muffin pick is either Strawberry Milkshake or Pashmore, Jess’ pick is Blueberry Cheesecake…they make a pretty delish coffee too!

DIY Darling Pegboard: My post-uni creative endeavour

With my final undergrad submission submitted, no more readings to read and post-uni freedom now in my grasp, I did what all well trained uni students do when faced with time to do whatever they please – I slept!

Once I had ticked that off the to-do list I finally had time to get around to the more creative, inspired, fun, ‘just for the sake of it’ things in life. Things that are never really that high a priority and are subsequently hidden away, half finished, in the corner for such a time as this.

I love collecting memories. Anything with an inspirational quote over an equally inspiring photo is just my thing, and what better way to display them than with a pegboard?! I used an old frame I found on the side of the road, and some other bits’n’bobs from around the house to make this wonderful creation. Despite the fact all I did was hammer some nails, hook some wire & staple some fabric I was rather proud of the result…and even better, it was free!

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Here’s how to make your own ‘DIY Darling Pegboard’…

1. Find yourself the ingredients – now I know it’s not a cooking recipe, but it still works! I was super lucky and found this lovely frame during hard rubbish collection in my local area (more to come on that in a later blog), but another cheap way to get old frames is to head down to your local op-shop and have a look at the old paintings – most of the time these come with a frame. Toss out the painting and there you have yourself a unique one-off and it will cost almost nothing.

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2. Mark off where you want your wire, and hammer nails into the inner side of the frame. Be careful when hammering not to break the frame – I found putting a thick towel under it helped. I learnt this after chipping one of the decorative corners – though I claim it intentionally adds to the antique feel of it.

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3. Measure off and loop the wire around the nails. This appears easy but wire is a fickle, annoying creature. So I recommend using pliers, otherwise you may need to take a tea break & conduct a HAIM sing-a-long of ‘I fumbled it when I came down to the wire’ like me to alleviate your frustration at the wires refusal to bend. Alternatively you can use string.

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4. Cut your fabric to size & staple away.

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Voila! There you have your very own real life pinterest board. Happy pegging!

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Am I something?…

Today I had a little freak out. It’s a common kind of freak out. I am two days away from submitting my final paper for uni and in three days I will no longer be a student….*cue existential crisis*

…I also won’t be the garden fairy I was destined to be in kindergarten. I won’t be the heart surgeon I planned to be in high school or psychologist I thought I would be first year uni. I won’t have a title. Yes, I will be a graduate…but I won’t be ‘something‘. The assumption with not being something is that you are nothing. But that my friends is a sneaky little lie I tell myself the world tells us.

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Why do we strive to be something? Being something   is just title. It’s a name. It captures only what you do to make money. It does not speak to your capacity to love, your hilarious laugh, your humility or impeccable fashion sense. A title cannot capture your identity or your personality. And in my freaking out I feel guilty that the name my parents gave me somehow doesn’t seem enough. That being ‘Rachel’ isn’t enough.

This is not to say that those things shouldn’t be claimed, or that you can’t be anything you choose (though I do question my ability to be an astrophysicist). It’s vital we have lawyers and doctors, artists and – heaven forbid – politicians (ok, maybe not politicians). But when the label becomes how we see the person, I think we have a little problem. We get lost trying to be something that we lose who we are.

Titles are horribly restricting things. They create us and they define us. They create for those with and they outcast those without. And they do this because we let them. And though we know the slippery slope of the comparison trap, we inevitably find ourselves seeking labels. Doctor. Psychologist. Teacher. CEO. And these titles allow us authority, a claim to knowledge & power. Without one the world claims you are just another wanderer, with no purpose. Only to find ourselves falling into whatever label we can hold and regretting the ones we didn’t strive for – or just claim for our own!

There is a poem by a freakishly talented man by the name of Anis Mojgani. Just a note, if you’re not one to appreciate swearing – maybe practice selective hearing. The poem is called ‘Here Am I‘. I listened to it today and though I hear it and go ‘yes, so true!’, as with anything, holding onto truth can be easier said than done. It talks of the worry and fear of expectations, of labels, of life not necessarily being what you had hoped or planned. And he offers solace in the claim,

“Will it make me something? Will I be something? Am I something?

And the answer comes…Already am. Always was.And I still have time to be?”

Right now I’m somewhat of a wanderer. And yes, I will inevitably keep freaking out over the next few days as to who and where i’m going to be in a few months, or even years, because I am the worst at taking my own advice… but I think the truth I need to hold, that we need to hold,  is that you are something, simply by the act of just being you!

So there you go. There is my blog speaking from what I know as Rachel…and I’d like to think that’s something

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First things first.

Welcome to Rachelbertram.com

I’m Rachel. A twenty-something Sydney sider, who writes songs and sings them here and there. I am also a (soon-to-be graduate) Uni student with not all that much of an idea of what I want to do – other than explore what it means to live, love and experience life authentically and happily. If I can do that, I think I’m doing alright.

me with roseMaking decisions is my worst nightmare. They drive me crazy. Anyone that’s ever gone shopping with me, watch me attempt to compose a tweet or choose a photo to instagram will testify to this – come to think of it, it’s probably their worst nightmare too.

It has literally taken me years to just choose a name for this blog which really – lets be honest – cannot be healthy. Maybe that’s the person I am; always trying to make the perfect decision that I rarely end up making one. Alas, the bullet was bitten, a decision was made…and here we are! Yay for belated decisiveness.

I’ve spent the last 4 and a half years at Uni studying how people think, what people think and the ways in which thinking has shaped this terrifyingly beautiful planet we call home – resulting in a whole lotta thinking.

It’s in these 4 years I have come to the conclusion that reaching any state of knowing is as rare as the adorably neurotic white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland – it exists, but is elusive & fleeting. Capturing this white rabbit for you, even for a moment, is my hope.

This blog is really just a space to engage with life. I know that sounds rather idealistic and amorphous, but that’s how my brain tends to work…you will get used to it. You will find everything from faith to fashion, sexuality to social justice, lifestyle to love. Some things serious, some ridiculous – as that’s the way of life isn’t it? Horribly messy and delightful all at the same time.

I live with two wonderful darlings in Sydney. One’s a dietitian (thank you free nutrition advice) and the other, a fellow writer, though more so along the Sylvia Plath, Shakespearean lines. Both fellow bloggers. Both lovely ladies.

me with roseIn a nutshell…

I love music. I love make-up. I love fashion.

I love tea and I suffer a dangerous addiction to chocolate.

I seek justice. I seek equality. I hold hope. I  question.

…If you do too I believe we will get along just splendidly.

Rach. x