You will accept everything you hear as a child as fact. You believe the adults who tell you that playing with Street Sharks is for boys and suggest you stick to the dolls and Barbies you share with your two older sisters.
You will accept what you’re told until you’re nine, when two significant things will happen. First, you start at a new school. Then, when it comes time to choose what to play in the school band, you’re dismissed from your first choice instrument when a teacher tells you that ‘girls don’t play the drums’.
You will know it’s not true or right, but can’t put your finger on why. You’re a few years away from discovering Janet Weiss or Meg White or Karen Carpenter or Patty Schemel or Sheila E. or Palmolive or Tobi Vail or Ali Koehler or Maureen Tucker or Tennessee Thomas or Molly Neuman or Steph Hughes or Jen Sholakis or Lane Kim from Gilmore Girls or the bucket-drumming episode of Broad City. Instead, you’re assigned the trumpet. You hate it so much that, after just two weekly lessons, you fake a stomach ache every Tuesday so you can instead spend the time in sick bay.
(You will hope your mum isn’t too mad when she reads this book and learns, almost two decades later, that you were faking the ‘sickness’ that led to those expensive tests with a doctor who was trying to cure a mystery gastrointestinal illness, House M.D.-style. I’m sorry, Mum, I really wanted to be a drummer and my lips were not made for that mouthpiece.)
You will ask for a Gameboy and the Pokémon Yellow game cartridge for Christmas that year because a boy you like said it’s the best one. You unwrap the game on Christmas morning and realise Pokémon is boring and confusing.
You will ask your uncle, on a trip to Italy, to bring you back a scarf for a soccer team that a different boy roots for. You’ve never watched a European soccer team play in your life.
You will pretend to enjoy so much noisy hardcore music because it’s what the hottest and coolest boys on Myspace in the early 2000s model their lifestyle and aesthetics after, and you want them to think you’re on their level.
You will tell yourself this behaviour is reserved for your teen years – and talk about it in retrospect with friends who similarly bought Nirvana t-shirts or masqueraded as hip hop fans to impress boys – despite the fact that you were a grown-ass woman when you requested an obscure and expensive imported ’70s disco album at the record store because you knew a boy man was into the band, and then showed it to him as if you’d just stumbled across it. What a coincidence! It’s fate! No scratches in the vinyl! What are the chances? You should come over and listen to it sometime! I am relaxed about this interaction!
You will spend your weekends watching your male friends play cricket or soccer, despite caring about sport about as much as you cared about pubic hair maintenance (then and now, TBH). You will have your mum drive you to every Saturday morning game in the hope that you can one day live out the plot of an early Taylor Swift video, where the boy realises his glasses-wearing, book-reading, platonic girlfriend is not like his skirt-wearing, cheerleading girlfriend, and finally sees what’s been under his nose (or, in your case, in the grandstands) the entire time.
You will wish you looked like the kind of girl from this plotline in movies.
You will sit quietly after one particular soccer game as the boys huddle around one family’s desktop computer and pretend to be girls on the internet to fool their friends on IM. You don’t see anything wrong with the way they talk about shop- ping and make-up and nasty gossip as part of their feminine masquerade. It goes unquestioned and unremarked-upon that teenage girls like the ones they’re impersonating are catty and vain and competitive. That cramped computer room stank of sweat and hormones and cruelty, but you were just proud to be invited, to be seen as one of the guys.
You will fall for the same ruse yourself later on, and say the most horrible things about another girl, not realising she is on the other end of the screen. You’ll justify it because you were just stating facts about how slutty she is and there’s nothing wrong with you saying that because it’s the truth and if she didn’t want people to talk about her like that she shouldn’t wear the clothes or draw the kohl around her eyes or kiss the boys like she does. You will wear it like a badge of honour when your dad calls you ‘Muscles’ as a nickname because it makes you feel strong and powerful, like a boy, not weak and mild, like a girl. Camouflage cargo shorts from army disposal stores and his hand-me-down t-shirts become your uniform.
You will begin waxing the hair between your eyebrows when you’re eight. The dark hair that creeps across your upper lip will first be bleached a few years later. A boy at school will see it up-close and tease you loudly for having a moustache, until an even nastier boy chastises him for being jealous he can’t grow one. Looking like a boy doesn’t seem as appealing when they don’t like you for it. You stop wearing the baggy shorts and t-shirts soon afterwards.
You will subscribe to a surf and skate magazine for teenage girls that prides itself on being unlike all the other ultra-femme magazines geared towards you; the ones that make girls feel bad about themselves by selling them beauty products and telling them how to be cute for boys and reminding them to be thin at all costs. This magazine isn’t like that; it has a section called ‘GIVE HER A BURGER!’ that features photos of thin celebrity women who could do with some fattening up. This magazine is empowering! It is cool and edgy because it reminds you that acting like boys and dragging down other girls is cool!
You will call other girls sluts if they kiss boys at parties, but all you want is to kiss a boy at a party. They’re sluts if they wear skirts you decide are too short, but you will dream of the self-confidence to wear those same skirts over your dimpled thighs that rub together. The girls, you figure, are also sluts if they kiss one another because they’re just doing it for attention. You would love both a little of that attention, and to kiss a girl without anyone watching.
You will learn about feminism in an official capacity in high school, when your Modern History teacher shows your class P!nk’s video for the song ‘Stupid Girls’ during a lesson on Emmeline Pankhurst and the white women’s suffrage movement. You will find something uplifting in the music video’s depiction of the ways women are shortchanged – in the world in general and in the entertainment industry more specifically. (Even if, years later, you will understand enough to know that ‘politically ambitious tomboys’ and ‘girls who get spray tans’ aren’t mutually exclusive, and thus find its brand of girl-hate-disguised-as-feminism repulsive.) You’ll start to look at other music videos and TV shows through this newly clear feminist lens. That lens will be blindingly beige for years.
You will implement your feminism after high school in very black-and-white ways: by avoiding work made by men and seeking out work made by women; re-blogging flashing .gifs of the female symbol on the Tumblr blog named after your imaginary roller-derby name; inserting the word ‘problematic’ into every expression of criticism or dissatisfaction; reading The Bell Jar during a period of depression and relishing in the act of crying in public over a woman who finally gets it.
You will stop shaving your armpits the day of your 21st birthday, and the tufts of hair that eventually sprout will make you feel like you earned a bronze medal in the feminist Olympics. When you’re invited to a black-tie event a few years later, you decide to shave the now-fluffy pits. It takes a few razors to tackle the hedge, and you won’t quite feel like yourself afterwards.
The first time you pay a talkative Greek girl to rip hot wax from your bikini line, you’ll remember the friend you made in high school who recommended you slather depilatory cream all over your arms because boys don’t like girls with hairy arms. She had a boyfriend so you didn’t question it; the logic held up. The cream was expensive and stank like a hospital and petrol station all at once. It burned as you covered your arms with it, something you regretted doing as soon as the chemical cream ran down the sink. You could feel every gust of wind or drop of rain in the pores on your now-bare arms, like every pixel of skin had a thousand nerve endings. You waited years – maybe too many? – to get a wax because, you reasoned silently, if the deliberate presence of body hair felt like a feminist act, what would happen to your politics when it was removed? You lay there on a plastic-covered table, your legs spread under fluorescent lights, imagining the tower of feminist credibility you’d so consciously built up over time come tumbling down with each follicle being yanked out of your swimsuit area.
You will watch films and listen to music by women that will change your life.
You will watch The Virgin Suicides in an effort to keep up with the coolest and smartest girls on Tumblr, and it will open you up to the work of Sofia Coppola, through whom you will then discover Spike Jonze. You’ll feel immediately guilty because of how greater your connection to his work is, comparatively.
You will watch films by women that will change your life, but you’ll also watch feminist films that you can’t fucking stand. You would rather watch The 40-Year-Old Virgin on a loop for eternity than sit through some of the art films about vaginas that you sought out in the dusty shelves of the university library’s AV section.
You will experience a crisis of identity and taste.
You will feel guilt because feminism should mean supporting the work of women, especially those with the talent and perseverance required to float to the top of the barrel of butter that is the film industry.
You will learn about the Bechdel test – a way of measuring a film’s representation of women by noting whether or not it includes two women with names who talk to each other about something other than a man. You’ll use it as a shorthand for good and bad, feminist and misogynist. You’ll stomp your foot on a shoddy soapbox to declare it the barometer of equality. It’ll take realising that late-stage Woody Allen films and Twilight pass the test (a mother asks her daughter about an antique chair in Midnight in Paris, and Bella tells her mother about the injuries she got thanks to her vampire boyfriend’s vampire mates) – not to mention that the test says nothing of sexual, racial, gender or cultural diversity – for you to step down and reconsider using it as the gauge.
You will remind yourself that you don’t have to hate work made by men purely because of the fact that it was made by men. It will take years for you to become secure enough in your convictions to like what you like because of the joy it brings you, rather than for the message your consumption of it sends. You will remember to hold women to the same standards by which you hold men, while always factoring in the shifting rules women’s lives operate under. You know that being born a woman means the goalposts are set farther back and stretched apart. And also it’s raining on game day and the ball is deflated and nobody’s uniforms fit quite right. And the referee is hungover and looking in the wrong direction. And also there are way more players on the other team who’ve been encouraged to play since birth.
You will remember not to compare men to women, because the game we are playing is rigged and it’s impossible for everyone to play by the same rules.
You will feel fury rattle inside your chest like bronchitis as your close friend, a concert percussionist, tells you that he doesn’t think his describing a female drummer as being ‘good, for a girl’ is an insult. You know the words you need, but they’re evading your fingertips and you can’t grasp onto them. You feel defeated and give him the silent treatment instead of trying to make him understand how favourably the odds are stacked for him.
You will remember not to compare men to women.
You will believe women when they tell you their stories about men.
You will not reward men for displaying basic human decency as though it were a revolutionary feminist act.
You will remember not to compare men to women.
You will need to be taught many things: not to equate womanhood with vaginas and uteruses; not to laugh at R. Kelly jokes; to carry your keys between your knuckles when you’re walking home alone; not to describe curvy women as ‘real’, as if thin women are somehow made of vapour and wigs; to reverse-condition yourself and eliminate pejorative words from your vocabulary instead of making excuses for how they came to reside there in the first place. Understanding that your female-ness is not a strike in the bowling alley that is oppression – that other women are operating without the bumpers or the right shoes or a team behind them or the opportunity to get back up for a second chance after bowling a spare – will take a little time. You will be indebted to the women who help you to understand and express intersectional feminism. You’ll remind yourself that it is not their – or anyone else’s – responsibility to hold your hand and pass on what they know.
You will learn that intersectional feminism is actually just feminism.
You will need to learn independently.
You will be overwhelmed a lot. Like, just so much. But that feeling will pass in time.
You will soon have a foundation upon which to keep building your feminist ideologies, even if sometimes the bricks form a secure and warm house, and other times they become a wobbly sculpture.
You will rely on your friends – mostly, but not only, women – as well as the music of The Julie Ruin and Rihanna and Nicki Minaj and Banoffee and Stevie Nicks, and the films of Nicole Holofcener and Christopher Guest and Gina Prince-Bythewood and Wes Craven and Joyce Wu and Cate Shortland and Celia Rowlson-Hall to show you that there is not just one way to be a woman.
You will learn a lot and unlearn even more. But unlearning doesn’t mean forgetting.
You will remember it all, every step and every fuck-up and everyone else’s words you quoted when you didn’t have any of your own. The steps keep going, they don’t end, but that’s okay because you’re not tired of climbing yet.
You will learn about privilege, and be made aware of the ones your white skin and somewhere-between-working-and-middle-class upbringing awarded you. You might get a little defensive about it, before the lightbulb goes off, telling you what a privilege it is to be made aware of privilege twenty years into your existence on earth, rather than growing up knowing you have a lack of it. You go to tweet something flippant like, ‘what did the internet talk about before we knew about privilege?’, and realise what a fucking arsehole you are for taking yours for granted, even when you’re aware of it. You go home and write this chapter instead.
You will write your own rules eventually.
Brodie Lancaster is a writer, editor and occasional DJ based in Melbourne, Australia. Her writing has appeared in Rookie, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Jezebel, Vulture, Hello Mr, The Walkley Magazine, Junkee, Noisey and The Pitchfork Review. She has spoken at TEDxYouth, Melbourne Writers Festival, Emerging Writers' Festival, National Young Writers' Festival, Drunk TED Talks and the EMP Pop Conference. No Way! Okay, Fine. was shortlisted for The Richell Prize for Emerging Writers 2015 and is her first book.
About the Book
No Way, Okay Fine! is a memoir about pop culture, pop music, feminism and feelings.
From the small town in regional Australia where she was told that 'girls can't play the drums' to New York City and back again, Brodie has spent her life searching screens, books, music and magazines for bodies like hers, girls who loved each other, and women who didn't follow the silent instructions to shrink or hide that they've received since literal birth. This is the story of life as a young woman through the lenses of feminism and pop culture.
Brodie's story will make you re-evaluate the power of pop culture in our lives - and maybe you will laugh and cry along the way.
'Brodie is whip smart; merging pop-culture references with vulnerable, personal experiences to create a collection that reads like a hilarious catch-up call with an old friend. What a pleasure to hear from this fresh, extremely relevant point of view.' - Abbi Jacobson, co-creator/writer/star of Broad City
** The following except is published by Hachette Australia. If you'd like to purchase the book, move your curser mid-bottom page to click through on the Buy link.