The Line Between Party And Paralytic

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So, taking a break from my rapping challenge, I wrote this piece on teenage binge drinking. Published in the NZ Herald on the 17th of December, available also at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11173420

As a teenager, there is a huge pressure to accept the cool pragmatism of “this is how it is” when it comes to binge drinking.

Hard drinking is accepted as just part of our culture. So challenging the way we drink means you come close to being called a crusty. A bore. Dull. And to generation Self-Obsession, me, this is terrifying.

But there is a problem with teenage binge drinking, and especially among girls.

The Alcohol HealthWatch and Women’s Health Action report, released earlier this month, showed young women are drinking more than ever, and any other woman. According to research from ALAC in 2005, 40 per cent of under 17s binge drink. In 2012, Massey University research showed that 28 per cent of 16- to 17-year-old girls binge drink.

So yes, there’s a problem.

Now, I’m totally in favour of going out for some drinks and a good night. But I’m not keen on those nights of getting wasted, vomiting outside Macca’s, and passing out.

So how do we navigate the line between party and paralytic? We need dramatic social changes in how we see alcohol. This comes from education, family attitudes and challenging social norms.

So these new laws on the 18th can lay down whatever they want. If the laws are going to work, they need to be accepted. And for us to accept that binge drinking isn’t hot, we need fundamental social change.

I would start with three norms.

First, a lot of girls drink to boost their confidence. We think alcohol makes us interesting, fun and flirty. It’s ironic really, most drinking nights end in crying and bitching about our best friends.

But we continue to see alcohol as the key to confidence. This isn’t healthy. The Alcohol HealthWatch report found that women who see alcohol this way are more likely to binge drink. It’s quite logical, if alcohol brings us confidence, we want it by the bucket.

We need to remodel alcohol. Traditionally, in Italy, Spain and Portugal, alcohol isn’t magical.

It’s not mystical. And it’s not going to get you laid. (Does anyone find the subtle complexity of “wanna root?” attractive?) We need a similarly demystified view of alcohol.

Secondly, we need to stop seeing alcohol as a badge of maturity. Alcohol in NZ is a rite of passage. I try to forget high school. But it’s not far away enough to be suppressed yet, and memories of trying to impress older guys resurface regularly.

I’m sure you’ve done the same. Talked up to some guy how much you can handle. It turns out he’s Russian, and you knew you were a lightweight anyway, but you can’t back down now …

Next thing you remember, you’re waking up under a pizza box.

If we want to stop teenagers OD-ing on the booze, we need to stop painting it as the sign of maturity. Advertising is important here. But it’s also important we change what it means to be “mature”. We need to stress, particularly in schools and families, that maturity doesn’t come from a yardy.

Lastly, parents need to take a look at themselves. Twenty-three per cent of New Zealand adults binge drink once a week, according to research from ALAC in 2005.

If parents are showing that binge drinking is how you have fun, then I’m not surprised teenagers aren’t sipping OJ. The actions of our parents are crucially important in shaping our behaviour.

That makes families and adult friends the start for serious reform of teenage binge drinking.

So governments can pass all the laws they want. If they really want to make a difference, it needs to start at home.

RAPPING CHALLENGE: The lyrics

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So becoming a rapper might  be harder than I thought it was. I have been practicing. Well, singing to Justin Bieber’s ‘boyfriend’ in the shower.  I’ve realised I have the rapping ability of a fried egg. I sound like Siri making love to a rooster. But I think the fact that I’m awful makes the challenge even more interesting.

 I’ve also decided that I’m going to do a comedic rap. I can’t seriously say the word bitch without mentally hearing my mum’s scandalized “VERITY!” SO this rap is going to be a bit of a joke where I take the piss out of myself.  At least I’m better at that than rapping.

 To business then, what is my work of musical genius to involve?

I’m currently writing them beats, yo. And this means listening to lots of ‘ya trippin, shorty?’ There’s also a lot of Spanish involved, although that might be because the only rapper I know, apart from Kanye West, is Pitbull. But with the help of Wikipedia, Urban Dictionary and Google, I’ve been broadening my rap knowledge.

You know it’s gotten serious when I asked myself this morning:  “Should I have  sugar on my Weetbix uh huh?”

From forensic, intensive interrogation of such gems like ‘Rack City’ I have discovered that I have to refer to three things in my lyrics.

One I have to talk about my lifestyle. Well. I’m disappointingly middle class. I’m rather boring. But nonetheless, I must refer to my crib and my life. This is probably going to be the first rap about avocado ever.

Two, I need to shamelessly objectify the other sex. This could be fun. But considering that I’m English, and it took me eighteen years to actually say..you know…vagina, these lyrics could be a long time coming.

Three, I need to talk about my ethnicity. Unfortunately, I’m pretty dull; I’m just English.Not even any scandalous intermarriage with the French centuries ago. Does this mean I need to rap about poor dental hygiene and perpetual disappointment? At least I can rhyme tooth floss with lip gloss.

As you can see, the lyrics are a little shaky right now.

 I tried to rhyme Dora the Explorer with plethora. (Ever since I learnt the word in school I’ve wanted to use it. But it’s the giraffe of the English language; wherever I put it, it just doesn’t fit.) So it’s not going too well. But I’m sure it’ll improve in time.

 In the meantime, I’m going to get inspiration by cruising down Queen St, in an off white Lexus. That’s what Jay Z does in Empire State of Mind. However, I think I might look slightly worse than him .Particularly because he is a God. And I am a 19 year old without a driving licence. So I might have to cruise in the bus… 

I Will Become A RAPPER! Dawg!

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As you can see from my video, I am white, female and rather middle class. Therefore, I feel rapping is my natural career path.

Why? I’m glad you asked. This year, I was sick of people hinting passive aggressively that I was boring. And I was also bored of myself. University was supposed to be about experimentation! Drugs! Identity! Gender normative non deterministic clothes!

So I decided to experiment. I couldn’t afford drugs and, as a control freak, I have no interest in loosing myself, dude. Identity? Dear God, it took me this long to figure out who I was already. Don’t make me do it again!

Whilst I was wondering how I could experiment, I had a conversation with my friend that went something like this.

“Ugh. God, Pitbull’s music is so shit. I could make better music myself.” See, making mainstream music is like poetry. Every pretentious teenager thinks they can do it. So let’s see if I can.

The light had clicked. I would become a rapper.

I tell people that I’m going to become a rapper; people laugh until they cry. I think that’s good. At least I’m fulfilling the next goal on my list – become a stand-up comic.

And the reaction made me more inspired really. People are always saying: you’ll never do that. This is going to be the theme of a little project of mine. I’m going to take on jobs people think I can’t do. Then I’m going to film them, write about them, and chronicle my experience here.

Except skydiving. Because I would literally shit myself. And flying shit is not exactly what I’d like to contribute to the world.

Anyway, yes, rapping is the first thing on the list of challenges. I am going to make a rap song, and music video, and do rapperly things. And it will almost certainly end in my total humiliation. So I hope you guys stick around to see the decimation of self-respect. I’ll be entertaining in that sense, at least.

Lies I've Told To Impress Guys

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I smoke. I thought he was a tough guy, so I told him that I smoke. I was hoping it would make me look a little less, small, middle class white girl. It turns out he hates smoking. As he is now my boyfriend, I have to pretend to have given it up. So I’m now in imaginary recovery from an imaginary addiction. Only I can’t wear the nicotine patches, because then I would actually get addicted, would start smoking, and would have to quit – again.

I knew what a spit roast was. When asked if I knew, I obviously didn’t, and so replied with a disdainful “of course.” Having assumed an air of superiority, I couldn’t back down. So when asked if I’d done one, I gave another dismissive “of course.” Then I went home and Googled it.

I have hipster music tastes. I don’t. I’m a Britney babe. I listen to Justin Bieber. And Pitbull. And any mainstream generic crap you can put an unce-unce-unce to. I told a guy that I did have music taste, solely because I wanted to appear hipster. But I now know that hipsters are faking their music tastes. Hipster music sounds like a police siren underwater, mixed with a rooster and a magpie making love. It’s impossible to like. They can’t like it. They’re obviously  just too self conscious to admit they like Britney, so hold a ‘passion’ for Persian Folk Punk.  

I speak French. I am not the first woman to find herself willing to say anything to get attention from a handsome Frenchman. Unfortunately, when you say you can speak French, they have an annoying habit of speaking to you in it. As my French ability stops at year 4, I could give him a weather report. However, describing heavy cloud cover is not the strongest of aphrodisiacs. Unless you’re British, when talking about weather is the closest we get to emotional expression.

What did I learn from this? If I’m going to lie, make sure the person doesn’t realise. Otherwise, you’re in for a night of vomit, weather talk and severe judgement. Which is pretty much every party I’ve been to in a nutshell…

 

Anti Rape Pants?! You’re not serious….

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Screen shot from the Anti Rape Wear Adverts.

read at http://www.idealog.co.nz/blog/2013/11/problem-rape-panties

When I first saw the current advertisement for Anti Rape pants, I thought it was a YouTube parody.

I thought some smart person was highlighting public disgust with the Roast Busters, and Willie Jackson and John Tamihere debacle. But no.

AR wear, a New York clothing design business, has been fundraising for $50,000 on Indiegogo to start mass producing their new Anti Rape underwear. They’ve reached their target, and so will go ahead in making them.

The knickers have a coded chastity belt-esque device. Only the wearer can take them off. So if someone attempts to rape a girl on a night out, they can’t get her knickers off.

The ads are targeted at young, white girls who go out drinking. Girls like me. In the advert, which is going around the web right now, the girls try on the pants whilst pouting into mirrors. They then go out, get sloshed, and get eyed up by a black homeless man.

And this masterstroke of marketing is a serious advert.

It’s targeting girls like me who go out, as the key victim of rape. Public discussion makes us the centre of the rape debate too. Is everyone just ignoring facts? The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network states that 73 percent of rapes are committed by a person who isn’t a stranger to the woman. This group isn’t the one most at risk.

Never underestimate the divisive power of knickers. The subject is polarising my friends right now.

The practical girls say “when I’m walking in town at night, I do feel unsafe. If I had Anti Rape pants on I’d feel safer.” The argument is coated in that level headed, reasonable tone that makes it so damned logical and sensible.

Such pragmatism is so convincing in conversation. So I’ll be practical.

Girl about to be raped by stranger. Stranger can’t get pants off. Do they get up calmly, apologise and walk away? Or do they get even angrier and, led on by sexual and power frustration, attack the girl even more violently?

They’ve already made the decision to break the law when they tried to rape her. Why stop now?

Furthermore, the ‘practical’ scenario they’re marketed for is not as realistic as it appears. As I said above, girls going out to town aren’t the ones who need to be most worried about rape.

And on a theoretical level, because it’s me wearing the pants, it feels like my responsibility to prevent myself being raped. When did being raped become my fault? Shouldn’t we be attacking the overall rape culture?

I know that’s a difficult culture to change. But surely we should focus on trying to change it rather than distracting people by waving around miracle panties. Changing and educating about rape culture, consent, judgement and dignity might be hard to do. However, it is the most important place to start attacking the rape debate.

On another note, if I go out jogging without my Anti Rape pants on, and I get raped, is it my fault? Can you hear the war cry “If you’d worn the pants it wouldn’t have happened….”

I know it would have to become fairly common to wear the pants for people to start thinking like that. But girls my age are scared, and getting more so. Rape seems to be everywhere. In this tense atmosphere, it is easy to see Anti Rape pants becoming normal.

Does that mean we are going to start relying on these pants to feel safe? I reckon that feeling like we have to wear them will just exacerbate our existing fears of rape.

We’re already worried, so we wear them, we depend on them, which constantly reminds us of our fear, which makes us more worried…..

When it becomes normal to wear them, the pants become a  serious privacy invasion. Our underwear is one of the most intensely private parts of us. It should belong to us. And only us. Letting them be regulated kills a little part of our freedom.

And think about it, is this going to lead to us arguing women should cover up everywhere?

After all, the Anti Rape knickers show that women should bear the responsibility for rape prevention. Will we soon need to cover all of ourselves, for protection against the uncontrollable lusts of men? As a woman, that idea makes me sick. But if I was a guy, I’d be livid.

My knickers are my knickers. They are not controlled by my boyfriend. They are not controlled by society. And they are certainly not controlled by fear.

Choosing Myself

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Verity Johnson, centre, went to Australia for a fresh start. Me with the fellow Kiwis in college in Melbourne

read at http://thewireless.co.nz/themes/free/choosing-myself

At 18, I moved from Auckland to Melbourne for university.

Normally I hate moving from the couch to the toilet. I need a sack they give hospital patients … So moving countries was a big deal to me.

Everyone talks about the freedom of university. It’s true. You can wear PJs in public. You can wear bed sheets in public. You can wear twigs and a garden gnome. But apart from freedom from normal oppressive, bourgeois, gender thingy dress styles, there are two vital freedoms – The freedom from old you and the freedom to become a new you.

Until uni, I was a child. My life was pleasant, dependant, and decided by my parents and school.

But when I moved to Australia, I suddenly had to make basic decisions. I had to in order to be a socially acceptable human. Should I buy food? Should I wash this? Should I go to this random’s flat to see his goldfish?

The sudden necessity of basic decisions made me think how I’d never made decisions in my emotional life either.

I had never chosen my identity. I started to ask: Was I the person I wanted to be? How did I want my life to be in 10 years? Why was I friends with a person who made me want to pour bleach in my eyes?

In my old life, I was a blob of plastecine, moulded by circumstance. But now the constant need for decisions freed me from passivity; it woke me up to the need to choose myself.

Australia was a fresh start to do that. No one knew me, or my previous sweating disorder, or my habit of google stalking Pitbull. I could create a new Verity; one freed from childhood. Now I realised that I had to, and was allowed to, decide who I was.