Feminism 101 – What does it really mean?

What exactly IS feminism and why are there so many negative stereotypes about feminists?

Simply put, it’s a social movement and ideology that fights for political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. The movement has fought for many different causes such as the right for women to vote, the right to work and the right to live free from violence.

But we’re past all that now right? No. Check out the video below to learn more.

To bush or not to bush? It’s a hairy question

Woman holding strawberry over hips (Photo: Timothy Meinberg, Unsplash)

The gender wars are playing out in Australia’s parliament, across TV and on social media. The voices are loud and the positions are entrenched.

But let’s not beat around the bush. There’s one often overlooked area that also needs litigating: body hair.

It’s hard to fathom that, in 2021, the thought of a woman sporting hair anywhere but on her head is still so shocking to many men and women. 

Just last year, self-love and body-positive influencer Mary Jelkovsky lost 2,000 followers after sharing three images of herself in her underwear, where she had purposely let some of her pubic hair show.

The incident highlighted the continuing societal discomfort over this utterly natural aspect of the female body.

The renewed debate comes at a time when more women than ever are either doing self-grooming or going ‘au naturel’ after an unprecedented amount of time spent indoors during the pandemic.

“Friendly reminder that you don’t owe the world a shaved body, a skinny body,” Jelkovsky wrote in her post.

“A tanned body, a curvy body, a fit body, a young body, a small body, a tight body, or anybody that is different than your own.”

“You don’t owe the world your beauty. The world is lucky to have you, exactly as you are right now.”

Mary Jelkovsky

The influencer explained that she hadn’t shaved her body hair in over a month, and as a result, she’s never felt more feminine.

But why is a bush so uncommon to be seen as “dirty” in our society?

Well, Camille Nurka, an expert on elective female genital cosmetic surgery, responds with a question of her own.

“When was the last time you saw a hairy vulva in a TV show?”

The boy literally trimming a girl’s bush with a hedge trimmer in the satirical comedy Scary Movie does come to mind.

Poking fun at women’s body hair certainly isn’t unique to the film, considering society seems to have normalised the idea of hairless women.

Nurka, who wrote ‘Deviance, Desire and the Pursuit of Perfection,’ calls this phenomenon pathologising the female anatomy, which essentially means viewing the female body in its natural state as abnormal.

“It’s about making something entirely typical appear as though it’s diseased,” she said.

According to Nurka, society’s preoccupation with the look of the vulva stems from confusion about what the ‘normal’ female body looks like and deep cultural anxieties about female desire.

Last November, a naked statue in honour of Mary Wollstonecraft, radical writer, novelist, and feminist was erected in the UK and has since sparked much debate and controversy.

The UK Times pointedly remarked that the statue had “an unexpected amount of pubic hair”.

This societal dislike for body hair on women isn’t new. Classical Greek sculptures of female nudes were smooth, hairless, and devoid of labia.

However, the evolution of hair removal technologies and their availability in our everyday lives has also further normalised the cultural practice.

“The development of technologies of hair removal and cosmetic modification is crucially important,” Nurka said. “Because it is the availability of these technologies that normalises hair removal practices.”

“[Which] increases the pressure of social expectations of hair removal.”

Shawn Edge, from Silk Laser Clinics, said requests for Brazilians have actually remained at a stable high in the last 25 years, and their top seller is still the Brazilian and underarms package.

“In terms of technological advancements, more people can get laser now,” Edge said. “For example, people of colour can actually get laser now.”

Edge said she couldn’t get laser in the early noughties because the pigment in her skin was too dark for the technology at the time.

Now most women of African or Asian descent can get the treatment. Even blondes, who initially couldn’t because of the colour of their hair, can now get laser if they wish.

Hair removal is only getting easier, with many people reporting laser as their preferred method due to ease and low maintenance.

Hatch spoke to a dozen women about their short and curlies, and most said they personally felt “cleaner” removing or trimming their pubic hair.

But despite this personal preference, most said they wouldn’t care what personal grooming other people did because it was up to them.

However, many women said they would still be a bit shocked at first to see it in public.

A Sydney woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said if she saw someone else’s pubic hair in public she’d initially be a bit disgusted by it.

“But then my non-conditioned thinking would kick in, and I’d realise their choice doesn’t affect me,” she said. “They should be proud to do what they like with their body as long as it’s still hygienic.”

Interestingly, Nurka said there is categorically no medical evidence to suggest that pubic hair removal is more hygienic or that it produces health benefits.

This means that hairlessness is associated with the feeling of cleanliness, rather than an actual state of cleanliness she said.

“I think once we get into a certain habit of being – that is, when we cultivate habits of hair removal and so on – it begins to feel normal for us.”

“And that is okay.”

“What is not okay is when men and women police other women for failing to conform to a perceived norm.”

Nurka said common ideas about vulval or genital perfection are very damaging to girls and women because they rely heavily on policing women through the feeling of shame.

In Australia, Women’s Health Victoria has developed an online resource called the Labia Library to help combat this.

It also can provide some answers to the “Is my vagina normal?” internal monologue many female idenitfying or non-binary people have.

It’s essentially a photo gallery of real women’s genitals, with and without pubic hair, to illustrate genital diversity.

The Indie Groove is the new go-to place for indie music

Talya Jacobson paints the picture of a young Ellen DeGeneres as she laughs with up-and-coming musicians as part of Indie Groove, which took to the Burdekin Hotel stage for its recent launch night.

The Indie Groove’s effortless combination of games and questions with live performances feels like a fresh take on Sydney’s indie music scene.

The night featured music artists Erin Clare and Tiarnie, who preceded headliner Laura Hyde, drawing in a crowd of established fans and newcomers.

Singer Tiarnie and Indie Groove creator Talya Jacobson (Photo: Brianna O’Rourke)

The 23-year-old is the brains behind Indie Groove and aims to use her platform to share the messages, thoughts and art of young musicians that aren’t quite big enough to be featured on larger programs like Triple J.


“I think that the Indie Groove is just that, just to share music of all genres, of all artists, and just try and get music out there more,” Talya said.

Erin Clare on stage with band (Photo: Brianna O’Rourke)

The first artist on stage is musician and songwriter Erin, who told the crowd the COVID-19 pandemic forced a rethinking and reframing of her art.

During a passionate performance, Erin sang her original song My Bed, which is about when you’re really familiar with somebody, and you have to introduce them to your space.

Next, Tiarnie stepped up to the microphone in a pair of trendy flared jeans to sing her recent single White Pickets, which she explained was about being in love with someone when you know it’ll never work out.

Tiarnie singing and playing the guitar on stage (Photo: Brianna O’Rourke)

Another standout of the night was her song, Don’t ask me, which might be too relatable for any young person who’s had to dodge the inevitable life questions at family dinners.

“It’s about being in your twenties, and everyone’s at different stages,” she said, “and it’s sort of like, please don’t ask me what I’m doing with my life.”

North Sydney musician Laura Hyde wrapped up the show with her popular single Coca-Cola about something that is omnipresent in our community but is, in reality, terrible for our health.

Talya said she’s always been interested in discovering new artists and felt that her mission as a music journalist was to share people’s work.

“I have always really believed in the idea of the Indie Groove,” she said, “and the I think the reason it’s succeeded and grown so quickly is because I’ve believed in it so heavily.”

Laura Hyde singing on stage (Photo: Brianna O’Rourke)

Talya’s parents Allen and Rachel beamed proudly from the back of the room. Allen says Talya’s passion for music has always been evident ever since she began busking as a teenager.

“We thought [the Indie Groove] was amazing in terms of thinking outside of the square and following her passion,” Allen said.

Initially, Talya says she planned to make the Indie Groove a talk show program. However, found it more shareable as an online platform, and it evolved quickly from there.

“Why just write a blog when we can actually create content?” she said. “Then just take it one step further and make it profitable and put on live shows.”

Director of Photography (and Talya’s partner) Alex Robinson says it was a team effort to make the Indie Groove come to life.

“We’re all pretty much creative artists,” said Alex. “She’s creative, and I’m creative, so we sort of bounce ideas off each other.”

“(But) the Indie Groove is her project, and I’m just there as a shoulder to lean on”.

Andrijana Blazevic selling band tees (Photo: Brianna O’Rourke)

Also, a part of the team is producer Andrijana Blazevic, who has been in the TV and film industry for eight years.

The 25-year-old says she joined the Indie Groove team because she loves working with projects that foster Aussie talent.

“I just love that it’s a way you can showcase your passion,” she said. “It just makes me really happy, and no two days are ever the same.”

Audio engineer Joshua Pershouse, 26, takes the team’s final spot while he finishes his course at JMC Academy.

“I’m really enjoying it because normally I’m the bricklayer,” he said, “and this is more involved, so I want to keep doing stuff in the music industry.”

Olivia Simmonds checking tickets at the door (Photo: Brianna O’Rourke)

“A weekly live event with multiple artists is a really impressive thing to be able to do,” said Talya’s long-term friend Olivia Simmonds.

“Even just normal shows with regular artists are pretty hard to do, but to add all the games and audience interaction in there that she does is really unique.”

The Indie Groove’s next gig is in support of International Women’s Day. GNO: Girls Night Out is this Thursday, 11th March with doors opening at 5:30 pm.

To support local Aussie artists, head on over to the Burdekin Hotel and either buy your ticket at the door or grab them online here.

Biden triumphs, pledges to ‘restore America’s soul’

President-elect Joe Biden addresses the nation after Pennsylvania secured his victory (Photo: Prachatai Flickr)

The chaotic, bitter and frequently surreal Trump era is over. Joseph R Biden Jr will be the 46th president of the United States, after vote-counting in the key battleground of Pennsylvania delivered the Democrats an Electoral College majority.

The result early today (Saturday US time) also represents a historic moment for the nation, with Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, to become the first woman and first person of colour to serve as vice president.

“The people of this nation have spoken,” declared 77-year-old Biden, in an energetic victory speech from his home state in Delaware.

“They’ve delivered us a convincing victory. A clear victory.”

Biden, who was also declared the winner in closely-fought Nevada, struck a conciliatory tone. “I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide but to unify,” he said.

“I sought this office to restore the soul of America … to make America respected around the world again.”

Harris, who wore a white pantsuit in a nod to the women’s suffrage movement, told the nation: “You ushered in a new day for America.”

The daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants paid tribute to the hard work and sacrifice of generations of women before her who “paved the way for this moment tonight”.

“While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last. Because every little girl watching here tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities … Our country has sent you a clear message: dream with ambition, lead with conviction.”

The wins in previously Republican Pennsylvania and Nevada gave Biden an unassailable lead, and followed a nail-biting four days since polls closed on Tuesday evening US time.

An early strong showing by Trump evaporated as early and postal votes were counted, tilting the likely result in the Democrats’ favour.

Biden also remains ahead in Arizona and Georgia, although the latter may well go to a re-count.

Despite Biden’s clear victory, President Trump and some senior Republicans continued to argue today that the election was not yet lost.

Trump – the first president to lose office after one term in more than a quarter of a century and only the third since the Second World War – vowed to press ahead with legal challenges to the voting and counting process.

As he insisted that “this election is far from over”, street demonstrations by his supporters in a number of cities led to scuffles and other minor violent incidents.

But in New York City, Washington DC and other cities across the country, there were jubilant celebrations as Biden supporters banged pots and pans, danced in the street and honked their car horns.

The Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, was among world leaders offering early congratulations.

Morrison said his government welcomed “the president-elect’s commitment to multilateral institutions and strengthening democracies”.

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull tweeted: “Congratulations Joe Biden and Kamala Harris! What a relief that you won.”

Biden’s nearly 75 million votes thus far are the most ever won by a US presidential candidate, surpassing the record set by Barack Obama in 2008.

But Obama’s record has also been broken by Trump’s 70 million-plus votes, illustrating the latter’s continuing support, particularly among white and rural voters.

Pundits have attributed Biden’s win to his successful appeal to urban, suburban, black and female voters. He managed to rebuild the “blue wall” of Democrat states in the post-industrial northern Mid-West.

It was the third presidential bid for Biden, who was elected a senator 48 years ago and served two terms as Obama’s vice-president.

Harris described him today as “a healer, a uniter, a tested and steady hand”.

Biden told the nation: “It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric. To lower the temperature. To see each other again. To listen to each other again.”

He spoke of the “great battles” that lay ahead: to control Covid-19, build prosperity, secure healthcare, “save the climate”, and “achieve racial justice and root out systematic racism in this country”.

“Our work begins with getting Covid under control,” Biden said, adding that he would on Monday name a group of leading scientists and experts to formulate an action plan, to begin the moment he is inaugurated on 20 January.

“I will spare no effort or commitment to turn this pandemic around.”

The election followed a tumultuous year that included an unsuccessful attempt to impeach Trump, deep divisions over Covid-19, which has claimed nearly 240,000 lives in the US, and Black Lives Matters protests across the country following the death of African-American man George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.

Trump today accused Biden of “rushing to falsely pose as the winner”, and said his team would go to court on Monday “to ensure election laws are fully upheld and the rightful winner is seated”.

But amid the noisy celebrations in the US and beyond, it seemed like increasingly few people were listening.

Biden edges closer to victory, urges unity

Joe Biden: Looking increasingly like the next US President (Photo: Gage Skidmore, Flickr)

Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden has the White House within his sights today after overtaking Donald Trump in the two key battleground states of Pennsylvania and Georgia.

A win in Pennsylvania alone, where Biden is currently ahead by more than 14,500 votes, would deliver him 20 Electoral College votes – enough to take him over the 270-vote threshold and guarantee victory.

He also has a narrow lead in Georgia, a traditional Republican stronghold, and continues to hold the advantage in Nevada and North Carolina.

In an address to the nation today, Biden called for unity and an end to “partisan warfare”, saying:

“Put the anger and demonisation behind us. It’s time for us to come together as a nation to heal.”

He added: “”The numbers tell us a clear and convincing story: we’re going to win this race.”

As both Republican and Democrat supporters rallied outside counting centres in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and other major cities, Trump repeated his unfounded claims that the electoral process was rigged against him.

In a statement, he insisted that “illegal ballots should not be counted”, and claimed that “the integrity of our entire election process” was at stake. However, Trump’s tone was decidedly more subdued than in recent days.

The former vice-president – who already has 253 Electoral College votes, to Trump’s 213, and is ahead in the popular vote by more than four million votes – said he had “no doubt” that he and his running mate, Kamala Harris, were on course for victory.

Notably, a growing number of Republicans have begun to distance themselves from Trump, and his baseless claims of election fraud.

Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey said: “The president’s allegations of large-scale fraud and theft of the election are just not substantiated.”

And Utah Senator Mitt Romney called Trump’s attacks on the electoral process “recklessly inflame(s) destructive and dangerous passions”, adding:

“He is wrong to say that the election was rigged, corrupt or stolen.”

Other Republicans, such as Senators Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz, backed Trump’s claims.

Trump, who needs Georgia and Pennsylvania to win the White House, is pressing on with numerous legal challenges in various key states.

However, some of those lawsuits have already been rejected, and his wins so far have been peripheral, relating to issues such as how close to the counting process observers can stand.

Biden nearly doubled his lead in Nevada and George overnight. In Arizona, his lead is slowly being whittled away, but not as much as Republicans had hoped.

Trump’s claims of election theft have spurred his supporters to take to the streets, demanding that some vote counts cease and others continue.

Meanwhile, some of Biden’s followers have been dancing in the streets to celebrate his leads in key states.

Outside Philadelphia’s Convention Center, where votes are being counted, they held up a banner proclaiming “The People Have Spoken”. Two armed men were arrested near the Convention Center yesterday.

Trump’s former adviser, Steve Bannon, has been permanently banned from Twitter after calling for leading public health expert Dr Anthony Fauci and FBI director Christopher Wray to be beheaded.

Sex workers pivot to walks, virtual encounters

Sex worker Estelle Lucas prepares for a virtual date (Image: supplied)

Sex worker Estelle Lucas* has been at the sharp end of Covid-19. The nature of her job means she’s had to drastically rethink how she operates.

As the 29-year-old, who is based in Melbourne, explains:

“Obviously if sex work is your only source of income, as it is mine, then you have to adapt.”

Estelle Lucas

While the entertainment and hospitality sectors have been vocal about the impact on people’s livelihoods of coronavirus restrictions, the sex work industry has also been badly affected.

In Melbourne, still struggling to emerge from its second wave, brothels have been shut since March. Sole operators had only a short window between waves in which to legally work.

Lucas, who has been in this line of work for 10 years, was able to apply for JobKeeper payments, but has still seen her income drop dramatically.

Initially, rather than sexual encounters, she offered socially distanced dates, usually involving a walk. These were popular, particularly with her regular clients, but became impossible once stage four restrictions were imposed in July.

New clients also appreciated being able to meet her and possibly forge a connection before booking her more traditional services down the track when that option becomes available again.

“It’s hard to maintain relationships [with regular clients] without bookings, so I just talk to the ether that is social media, just letting them know that I’m still around, I’m surviving,” she said.

Lucas has also been offering virtual dates over Zoom, but like many people she finds the platform quite challenging.

“I don’t offer anything sexual on screen, just because I’m not comfortable with it,” she said. “I might make a few exceptions for people that I know but I find it hard to work on that medium.”

With hers being a relationship-based industry, Lucas points out you can’t keep up a relationship if you’re not seeing people.

“The fire tends to dwindle.”

Messaging existing clients is not common practice, because of privacy issues. But that makes it difficult for her to maintain her regular client base for life after lockdown.

Red Umbrella March for sex workers’ solidarity in Canada, 2016 (Photo: Sally T Buck, Flickr)

Lucas is not the only one finding this year tough. Dylan O’Hara, from the support group Vixen Collective, told the ABC that some sex workers were struggling financially because they had been unable to access JobKeeper or JobSeeker payments.

“Sex workers predominantly work as independent contractors, but because of the need for privacy … [and] to protect ourselves from stigma and discrimination, that produces a disincentive to out yourself to the government,” said O’Hara.

“It can make it difficult or even impossible to actually provide evidence of your prior earnings and financial records in order to access the urgent government support.”

Instead, many sex workers are having to rely on donations made through the national support organisation Scarlet Alliance.

Lucas has also dived into adult content creation, advertising a VIP membership through her site which is similar to the OnlyFans site, with a one-off fee of $150 for the first 100 members.

The content includes images, videos and stories that could be considered erotic but are not pornographic.

It seemed a natural step for Lucas, being a similarly adult-themed field. However, she says a sex worker’s skills are probably more akin to those of a therapist than a content creator.

Lucas has also been focusing on her other business, a website builder for sex workers.

*Not her real name

Eat Your Veggies! – Australia and the Obesity Epidemic

The obesity epidemic is growing, and experts are calling it a “system wide” problem with over-processed food dominating our lives. Only three percent of Australians meet the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommended five serves of vegetables (at 75g per serve, which is about half the weight of a baseball) new ABS data shows.

And one in three Australian adults (67%) are overweight or obese according to the last national health survey.

If you’re above a healthy weight there’s a higher risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and possibly more severe Covid-19 symptoms according to a paper in the US on the impact of nutrition on virus susceptibility.

Australians don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables but consume too many salty foods, ABS data released in June shows.

The study measured sales data but could only make estimates of the actual food eaten without food consumption data from restaurants, fast-food establishments or food wastage.

Professor Stephen Simpson, biologist and co-author of ‘Eat Like the Animals’ has spent the better part of 30 years studying nutrition and dietary causes of obesity in humans. He said the majority of people not eating enough serves of the necessary food groups is likely because about 50% of Australians’ calorie intake comes from ultra-processed foods instead.

These are things like soft drinks, chips, chocolate, ice-cream, or chicken nuggets.

This may seem like an obvious reason for the increase of obesity around the world but it’s a very complicated issue, let’s take a closer look.

The proportion of overweight and obesity in adults rose from 57.2% in 1995 to 66.4% in 2018. Although it appears that the proportion of overweight people started to drop from 2007 this is likely because they moved to the obese category instead.

“What we can see if you start to understand the biology of overeating, overweight and obesity is that it’s a tremendously powerful biology that is in most cases not simply ignorable or overridable by using your willpower,” Simpson said.

The amount of protein we consume has a huge effect on our health and body weight. We have a set target of protein to reach each day, of about 15% so that when combined with other important nutrients we can survive at our healthiest.

There are two ways that our protein target ties in with the obesity epidemic.

“First, you’ve got protein diluted by large quantities of industrially produced fats and carbohydrates, and the geometry of that is fairly straightforward. You need to eat more calories as fats or carbs (it doesn’t matter which) to get to your protein target,” Simpson said.

Even if you have an abundance of protein available, if it’s swamped by lots of fats and carbs then on average you will eat more calories then you actually need to reach your target.

The second way Simpson said is, “Anything that causes the protein target to go up will make you have to eat more calories in a given low protein environment then if the target was a bit lower.”

Simply, the higher your protein target, the more excess calories you’ll have to eat in order to reach it.

There are a few reasons your protein target might be set too high. For example, an elite athlete or bodybuilder will have an above average target because they need more protein to maintain muscle. But if they move to a more sedentary lifestyle, then their target will remain high for a while and they may become overweight.

More worryingly Simpson said, “Your protein target may be set too high even at birth because of what your mother and father ate pre-conception and during pregnancy.”

“Similarly, if you go on a higher then optimal protein diet very early in life, we think that might set the target too high and it explains why some of the infant formula fed babies have higher risk of obesity later in childhood and adolescence.”

However, a problem with most explanations for the obesity epidemic is that if the issue was just eating too many calories then the expectation is that the population would become increasingly overweight and then plateau and stop.

Simpson says this is because the bigger you are, the more calories you need. If you continue to eat more calories than eventually, you’re going to need all of them because there’s more of you.

“Instead of going up and plateauing the obesity epidemic has accelerated and what we realised is that there must be something that’s moving further and further away that we’re essentially chasing in our biology, and we realised that’s the protein target going up,” Simpson said.

Jane Martin, the Executive Manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition and President of the Australia New Zealand Obesity Society advocates for policy and regulatory reform, with a focus on food marketing, labelling and pricing measures.

Martin says the ultra-processed food industry frames the issue as a problem of parents and individuals, but it’s a system problem.

“These companies aren’t really paying for the harm that they cause so that’s where a health levy on sugary drinks comes in for example,” she said.

“Some of the money that these products are imposing such as on dental health and leading to overweight and obesity are being recouped for the cost of treating these diseases.”

After tobacco smoking, diet is the leading cause of the burden of disease followed by overweight and obesity at number three. Altogether this is a really big source of death and disease in our society.

Martin suggests stronger warnings on food packaging about high sugar, salt or fat content and stricter junk food advertising laws would be helpful in tackling the issue.

“Reducing exposure and the power of promotion so protecting children and putting a levy that tells people two things – It tells them the products’ harmful and it raises the price which stops a lot of people from buying those products,” she said.

Martin says she doesn’t think people know what’s healthy anymore outside of fruit and veg, there’s a lot of confusion about ready-made meals and manufactured foods like muesli bars. This is partly because the Australian Government haven’t promoted the Australian Dietary Guidelines as effectively as they could have.

“[Australians] are eating this food because it’s easy and it’s a much simpler decision. It’s hard to eat healthily, it’s a challenge for most people,” Martin said.

Main image by Dan Gold on Unsplash and all graphs created by Brianna O’Rourke.

Bully Romances – Not The Power Exchange You Think

Literary experts call romance fiction “a genre where women win” and bully romances are no different. Contrary to the negative schoolyard connotation, the sub-genre has gained increasing popularity over the last few years.

Bully is aimed at a large range of women between about 18 and 45 and is often accompanied by a trigger and 18 plus warning. The added drama creates extreme angst, tension and suspense.

Many bully books are on Kindle Unlimited and make for intriguing self-iso reads, while your social life is on the back-burner.

If you’re a stranger to this niche genre, then keep an open mind and consider the phrase in its most literal interpretation: ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’.

What the hell is bully romance?

These stories usually take place in an academic setting and have one or more antagonistic heroes.

Bully is often combined with reverse harem, a genre in which the heroine has several love interests and eventually ends up in a polyamorous relationship.

The hero generally hates everyone and everything (including the heroine at first) and is normally quite jaded.

The heroine is often a new addition to the school and is either a gutsy, defiant character with an ‘I-don’t-give-a-shit’ attitude. Or a more subdued, quiet personality who has to find the inner strength to stand up for themselves.

Delightfully, the heroine will often then pursue their revenge in a VERY satisfying way before she joins sides with her bully/bullies.

The group will usually face an outside adversary while the heroine becomes romantically involved with one or all of them.

Why on God’s green Earth would someone read that?

Well Karen, we asked some of the fans what traits suck them in to find out.

Samantha Ubaldo, 30, said she’s more character driven in stories than plot, and in bully romances there’s a lot of room for that development.

Ubaldo, a legal secretary and victim advocate, said, “You’d think I wouldn’t like to see bullying because I was always dealing with family violence, that’s why I need to see that progression to where it’s not an abusive relationship.”

Many readers mentioned the lack of ‘love at first sight’ or ‘soulmate’ tropes were a pull, and several recounted the intense emotions felt in bully.

Jennifer Allenback, 25, shared that she was bullied in high school and says reading this genre helped her be at peace with her bullies.

“A majority of the bullies in the books, the root of the cause was normally centred in home family environment, or even to fit in,” she said.

Professor Lindsay Herron, who teaches English at Gwangju National University in South Korea said the themes of bully romance revolve around strength, courage, and survival in the face of adversity.

So unsurprisingly, most fans required a strong heroine that didn’t take any bullshit.

Herron said, “We love to cheer for an underdog who overcomes the odds; such characters help us imagine we, too, can overcome whatever life throws at us.”

Power exchanges and defeating the patriarchy

According to Dr Jodi McAlister, lecturer in writing, literature and culture at Deakin University, the central pleasure in bully romance is about power, but not in the way you think.

McAlister described the sub-genre’s central idea as more the bully falling in love with the bullied character rather than the bullied one falling in love with their bully.

“[Women in romance novels] exist in a patriarchal structure where men have all the power but because these men fall in love with them, the women symbolically win the narrative,” she said.

It’s important to note that after the initial bullying there’s an integral second step to the fantasy, the power is subjugated to the one that was bullied. The bully character then has to win over the heroine, which as you could imagine can include some grovelling.

McAlister said, “I think [readers] are kind of interested in watching them squirm and seeing that power subjugated to the one that was bullied.”

She added that flipping the power dynamic in a relationship appears to be the central pleasure in the genre. This is the moment when the character with no power suddenly possesses all the power over the bully.

“There’s clearly substantial pleasures to be had in the genre otherwise there wouldn’t be a readership,” she said.

Jump down the rabbit hole of romance sub-genres

Silke Jahn, 40, founder of Romance.io, a site that allows users to filter particular tropes in romance down to the last detail explains how genres can evolve quickly.

In a typical display of supply and demand, Jahn said often if one particular trope or book is successful then more authors will write into the niche to reach a larger audience.

“If you look into the genesis of these tropes then they’re always evolving and so it’s something we have to be mindful of because meaning can slightly shift,” she said.

For example, bully romance used to fall under the dark romance umbrella, but the darker sub-genre has further evolved to encompass stories with dub-con (dubious consent) and even non-con (non-consent).

Jahn said she noticed both bully and reverse harem romances were becoming more popular.

“I do believe [the draw] is the cathartic element of the confrontation and then the hero having to do penance and having to win her back.”

Feminism and relationships with assholes

English Professor Lindsay Herron said some second-wave feminists like Janice Radway have argued that abusive heroes in romance novels encourage women to interpret abuse in their own relationships as stemming from (misguided) love.

Herron disagrees: “There’s a separation between fiction and reality, between what we enjoy experiencing vicariously, in fiction, and what we’re willing to accept in real life.”

“One can admire the heroine’s strength and force of will in the face of bullying without necessarily being willing to endure bullying or abuse in real life, just as people can play first-person shooter games and still be horrified by real-life school shootings.”

Silke Jahn, said it’s a question of how you view romance books.

“Do you view it as a: ‘they actually depict ideal relationships’ and hence you should model your own relationship after it, or do you view them as fantasies and say ‘it’s a great way to explore fantasies you might have’, and I do believe it’s the second one,” she said.

Jahn added that labelling something as a ‘high school bully romance’ makes it clear that what you’re going to read is abnormal behaviour.

It’s called out before you even open the book as something problematic, which allows the genre to deal with the problems in their fantasy relationships in a more conscious way.

“In a way, it’s less problematic than seeing normalised sexist relationships in other media such as films, where you have a million examples of really problematic behaviour but that’s just being represented as normal or standard,” Jahn said.

Have you read any bully romances lately? Take a look at the Goodreads shelf and let us know what you think in the comments.

Cutting Hair Isn’t Saving Lives But It’s Definitely Something

There has been a lot of confusion surrounding hairdressers as an essential service after a 30 minute time limit was imposed last month and then removed three days later.

However, salons and barbers must still abide by the one person per 4 square metres rule.

The confusion continued leaving some hairdressers feeling guilty for remaining open and their clients shamed for going.

Lauren Weller, 38, owner of Hair Oasis on the Central Coast runs her salon out of a studio at the back of her property.

She says there’s a lot of guilt about people keeping their hair appointments at the moment.

“I’ve had clients sitting in the chair say that they feel really bad that they haven’t seen their own family members, but they’ve come here to my home.”

“I feel bad too, in some ways because I’m still open,” she said.

Lauren Weller’s Instagram post thanking her clients during a difficult time.

Lauren says there are a lot of people in the hairdressing online community that are against salons being open at all.

The Australian Hairdressing Council started a petition in March to close all hairdressing salons as a part of the social restrictions to limit the coronavirus outbreak.

Many hairdressers have closed since, despite still being included in the essential services list.

Lauren works from home in a studio disconnected from her house, however, finds this can be more difficult sometimes.

It’s a bit of a blurred line as you’re not allowed visitors in your home, she explained.

“I’ve got visitors coming to my home but it’s my place of business as well,” she said.

Similar to other business owners, Lauren has increased her frequency and intensity of cleaning in order to remain open.

Things like door handles, furniture, hair clips and brushes are now disinfected twice a day instead of the pre-pandemic every few days.

However, multiple clients have had to cancel their appointments.

“They [clients] have cancelled their appointments and are hoping to return when everything goes back to normal,” Lauren said.

This is a for a few reasons, such as some of the over 60s clients worrying about leaving their house at all.

Some have had to cancel simply because their kids are at home distance learning.

They can’t bring them to the appointment because of physical distancing restrictions which only allow her and two clients in the salon at once she says.

Lauren says one regular with Emphysema has cancelled her appointment because she was worried what others in the salon would think of her coughing.

However, those that keep coming back are mainly trying to support Lauren’s business during these uncertain times.

“The majority of my clients have been coming to me for a long time so they know a lot about me, they know my struggles and they know how many hours I’ve put into running my business.”

“I think people’s minds are put at ease knowing the type of person I am.”

Lauren Weller

She says that she believes all clients to date have been honest with her and have cancelled if they’ve felt ill at all.

Working as a home hairdresser has given her more autonomy with her clients.

“I can control who comes in and they all respect that I have a family and that they’re coming into my family home or at least my salon that’s on my family block of land,” she said.

Joy Hulley, 53, a regular at Hair Oasis continues going to the salon because “it’s time for yourself.”

“You’re going directly from your car and into the salon, so there’s no shopping mall to walk through.”

Joy says she trusts her hairdresser as “she’s very diligent in her cleaning” and she’d “like to help her out with her business.”

Zeinab Arjah, 22, just got a new colour at her local salon and says how her hair looks effects her self-esteem.

“I love it, it makes me feel confident.”

Zeinab still likes going to a hairdresser because “you can talk to them about anything.”

She says she mostly enjoyed it because it was different to her normal repetitiveness while self-isolating.

“You’re mingling with people, you’re socialising, and it feels normal,” she said.

Main image by Cesar Saravia on Unsplash.

Top Tips to Remain Sane During the Pandemic

Originally published on Hatch.

Although the novel coronavirus is a respiratory based illness, social distancing measures taken to control the virus are wearing on our mental health too, write Brianna O’Rourke and Dinita Rishal.

Many people across the nation have taken to expressing the term as ‘physical distancing’ in an effort to highlight that though we may stand 1.5m apart we still stand together.

But social distancing has left many Australians without their usual coping strategies in times of stress.

A recent YouGov survey found one in two Aussies felt isolated, one in four said it put their relationship under strain and 57 per cent of the nation felt generally stressed due to the pandemic.

Impacts of Covid-19 (Art: Dinita Rishal)

Professor Patrick McGorry, psychiatrist and former Australian of the Year, says it’s not just the threat of the virus it’s actually the responses that are necessary to deal with it that are wreaking havoc.

“Everybody’s affected but there’s a sub-group of people that will be pushed over the edge over the next few weeks and months,” he said.

“We will see a big surge in need for care and the mental health system is not well prepared for it. We’ve got time to prepare, just like we had time to prepare for the physical risks of the virus.

“We now have, I would say, a few weeks to really get our act together to really strengthen our mental health system and deal with this.”

The YouGov survey also revealed one in five Australians are buying more alcohol than usual during the pandemic, that 70 per cent are drinking more than normal and a third are consuming alcohol everyday.

McGorry says anxiety is the driver in many forms of mental health and the simplest way people are dealing with their anxiety is booze.

This actually causes harm in itself and “so we have to offer better options to reduce general anxiety”.

Sarah Hosking, a clinical psychologist with the Psychology Board of Australia says there could be multiple mental health impacts of the coronavirus.

She says anxieties associated with catching the illness and the stress of vulnerable relatives being at risk are both likely.

In addition, financial and economic stress will become more common alongside fears of job loss.

Hosking also mentioned the different Medicare numbers that anyone having a hard time mentally may contact.

“The local mental health network is also encouraging tele-health sessions via Skype,” she said.

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) has released reports to aid people with pandemic anxiety.

APS’s tips for coping with coronavirus anxiety revolve around positive mentality and keeping things in perspective.

They advise you to change your mindset and ask yourself the below questions rather than imagining the worst-case scenario:

  • Am I getting ahead of myself, assuming something bad will happen when I really don’t know the outcome? (Remind yourself that the actual number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia is extremely low)
  • Am I overestimating how bad the consequences will be? (Remember, illness due to coronavirus infection is usually mild and most people recover without needing specialised treatment)
  • Am I underestimating my ability to cope? (Sometimes thinking about how you would cope, even if the worst were to happen, can help you put things into perspective)

During these abnormal times of self isolation there are othervmeasures you can take to cope with the difficulty of a lockdown the APS says.

They suggest you try to stay connected as positive social interactions are essential for our mental health.

“This can be as simple as phoning a friend to share your experience, using videoconferencing technology to check in with a family member, or spending quality time with the people you live with.”

Australian Psychological Society

The APS advises you to structure and plan out your day while in iso, “to restore a sense of purpose and normality to your daily life”.

You should change out of your PJs every morning, have a dedicated workspace, and limit distractions.

When WFH it’s easy to lose motivation so setting a strict schedule and clearly defining work hours allows you to switch off when needed.

Self isolating with other individuals 24/7 can give rise to arguments and tension.

APS suggests sharing positive emotions between housemates and communicating your worries and concerns among each other.

Written with Dinita Rishal.

Main image by Tumisu/Pixabay.

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