Take Me to Church: The growing push for equality

Irish artist Hozier has topped charts and made headlines around the world recently with his song ‘Take Me to Church’. The song, Gospel-inspired and strangely reminiscent in sound of the Led Zeppelin my father played when I was a child, has a very religious overtone to it, praying and discussing worship repeatedly in the bridge and chorus. Dig a little deeper, however, and a new meaning begins to emerge.

“Lyrically, “Take Me to Church” is a metaphor, with the protagonist comparing his lover to religion” (Wikipedia). Beyond this, are layers upon layers of subtext and insinuation. Publicly, Hozier has discussed the song’s representation of his disapproval of the practices of the Catholic Church, something he was heavily exposed to as a child. More controversially, he has also discussed the undertones of acceptance for diverse sexualities and the importance and naturalness of the human sex drive, something made clear in the homosexual relationship represented in the official music video.

Talking to NY Magazine in 2014, Hozier summarises the key messages of the song:

“”Take Me to Church” is essentially about sex, but it’s a tongue-in-cheek attack at organizations that would … well, it’s about sex and it’s about humanity, and obviously sex and humanity are incredibly tied. Sexuality, and sexual orientation — regardless of orientation — is just natural. An act of sex is one of the most human things. But an organization like the church, say, through its doctrine, would undermine humanity by successfully teaching shame about sexual orientation — that it is sinful, or that it offends God. The song is about asserting yourself and reclaiming your humanity through an act of love. Turning your back on the theoretical thing, something that’s not tangible, and choosing to worship or love something that is tangible and real — something that can be experienced.”

Hozier has not been candid about his sexuality. When asked if there is a personal reason he has been so outspoken against homophobia he asserts that not only if there not a personal reason but he sees no need for there to be. In this one statement Hozier parallels and echoes views of other outspoken artists and public figures who have expressed, either publicly or through music, their distaste for homophobia.

Lady Gaga started a charity, the Born This Way Foundation, in 2011 to help combat homophobia and promote acceptance of gender- and sexual diversity in young Americans. Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis may have collaborated with Mary Lambert for their song Same Love but it certainly didn’t start with her; the two straight artists began writing and producing the song originally under their own impetus, proving that the push for equality in sexual orientation doesn’t have to come from those most directly affected.  Elsewhere, German celebrities lined up to kiss for a GQ piece denouncing the anti-gay protests and laws promulgated by Russia in the lead up to the 2014 Olympic Games.  And Hilary Clinton joined festivities on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia to make a statement, supported by the President of the United States, on the importance of promoting acceptance as a basic human right worldwide.

Everywhere you look the cries for equality are getting louder and louder. More and more countries are legalising same-sex marriage. Places like Uganda, Nigeria and Russia, countries with openly homophobic laws, are facing harsher and harsher criticisms and sanctions. The world is changing, more and more publicly, and being who you are is no longer something you’re encouraged to hide.

Celebrities and public figures far and wide, gay and straight, are joining the movement to end homophobia. The push for acceptance of diverse genders and sexualities has well and truly moved beyond the confines of LGBT sub-culture and into the public space. And it is beautiful. But we need more artists like Hozier and more songs like ‘Take Me to Church”. We need more diversity, strength and acceptance in our public figures. We need to keep pushing and fighting. And we need to win. Because being who you are, not fitting into someone else’s narrow and prescribed box, should never be shameful and should never be persecuted.

Beyond the Schoolyard

Today is Bullying Awareness Day in New Zealand. It’s no secret that most children are bullied at some point. Children (and teenagers) often lack the maturity and emotional intelligence of adults; they act on instinct and say and do things they don’t fully understand. This is normal. But some bullying goes so far beyond the realm of normal it’s soul destroying. And no bullying is okay.

When I was 10 my uncle was killed in a car accident. I had shown symptoms of alopecia (a rare form of stress-related hair loss) before but the accident set it off properly. I lost all my hair except for a ponytail at the back of my head. To cover my bald head I wore a baseball cap with Goofy on the front. I was the only child allowed to wear a hat inside so naturally the others were curious. They resorted to increasingly blunt methods of discerning why when the teachers wouldn’t tell them. One day, after the final bell had gone, I decided to stay late. I don’t remember why now but by the time I left there weren’t a lot of people around. As I walked out the door of my classroom one of the boys in my class ripped my hat off my head.  As I turned to grab it he threw it to a friend. They tossed it back and forth between them while I jumped around in the middle, tears pouring down my face. I can still feel the pain of that day in a place deep inside of me; somewhere the light never touches.

By the time I started intermediate my hair had grown in and I was able to wear it cut short. 2 to 3 times a week children asked me if I was a boy or a girl. They also used to tell me I wasn’t allowed to stand in line at the tuck shop because they didn’t want to catch cancer from me. Cancer.

That year was particularly hard. My English teacher was awful to me and would tell me off and criticise me in front of the class. She enjoyed shaming people publicly. My parents complained to the school. One day my form teacher pulled me aside and told me I was imagining it and to stop causing trouble. In hindsight, I think she had a crush on my English teacher. Anyway, the misery was too much and all my hair fell out again.

The following year I wore my first wig. I was teased a lot for having unrealistic looking hair (children are remarkably perceptive) but life was quieter. Until my best friend became the first person to join the I Hate Stephanie club. That one cut deep.

High school went well. My hair grew back then fell out again when my first boyfriend broke up with me but I had good friends so I coped. Something changed in seventh form, though, and my friends started being unkind to me. At lunch, when I was talking to one of them, they would turn mid-story, ignore me, and starting talking loudly to someone else. They told me I was imagining it. It was insidious but it stuck.

My first year of university my flatmate started emotionally manipulating me while my boyfriend was overseas. No one believed me. When my boyfriend got home we moved out but the damage was done. I become co-dependent and needy; I didn’t have a shred of self worth that wasn’t tied to my relationship. We broke up 2 months later.

At the age of 22 I started working full time. My team leader didn’t like me and would set me up to look stupid in front of my team. I complained to HR and my manager, her best friend, got involved. She told me I was imagining it. I left that place with depression and anxiety and no one in my team even said goodbye.

People always say bullying is more about the bully than the victim. But when you look at a list like this, when this is your own personal history, the line becomes blurred. How do you lay the blame at other peoples’ feet when the only common denominator is you?

You never forget your bullying. The worst bits stay as stories but it all stays as scars; your brain, your heart – nothing escapes. Becoming an adult doesn’t change anything. The fear, the anxiety, the emotions: It all sticks around to haunt you. It sabotages your best efforts and intentions and undermines your confidence when you least expect it.

I haven’t escaped my demons. They comes as little voices in my head telling me no one loves me. They tell me the whole world is in on some sick joke where they all pretend to like me but secretly all laugh behind my back. They clap their hands with glee when friends cancel plans and convince me that the best thing I can do is stay home instead of going out. They cancelled my birthday last year when three people couldn’t attend; they told me it was because no one wanted to spend any time with me. They told me I wasn’t important enough; that everyone had better things to do.

It’s only in the last couple of years, with the help of friends and  family (and strangers on the internet; thank you, Twitter) that I have begun to heal. I fight back when I can, tell the voices to shut up. But they’re still there, lurking in the corners of my mind. Some days all that keeps them at bay is the knowledge of how far I have come.

We all know how important it is to teach children courtesy and respect but I worry we don’t model the behaviour we try so hard to enforce. We come home from work and moan over dinner about our work colleagues. We insult people who cut us off on the road. We criticise people in the public spotlight whom we’ve never met. Then we remind our children to always be kind.

For this Bullying Awareness Day I decided to tell my story. It isn’t much, but it’s mine and it’s at the heart of so much I do. If it can help one person then it was worth the pain and the tears.




For International Women’s Day Marie Claire Australia put together a video detailing just how prevalent sexism still is in the Western World. The English speaking Western World. America. England. Australia. New Zealand. With statistics like “women work for free after 3.45pm” and comments from prominent personalities like “when a man is talking you don’t interrupt” it’s rather damning. It can’t be that bad, can it? It’s the 21st century! How many of us have been told we’re overreacting? That we’re reading too much into it? That we’ve mistaken the intent? That we’re being precious? Equality is worth the push. Always. It isn’t asking a lot.

Feminism & Shaming: When is Enough Enough?

I think we may have crossed the line. Or missed the point. Or taken a wrong turn. In any case, something has gone amiss.

Feminism seems to have descended into a raft of criticism. Criticism of other women, in particular. When did that become a keystone of gender equality? When did we decide the route to feminist freedom was to belittle and critique others?

I have attributed a name to this trend (a trend so awful it fills me with the burning anger of a thousand fiery suns): Fem-shaming. Fem-shaming’s core tenets are to use condescension, criticism and shaming (obvs) to prove, however subliminally, who the better feminist is.

Shall we have some examples? All of these are real world and from my own experience.

1) A self-proclaimed feminist once told me I am wrong to want to improve my body image by way of exercise or eating changes. Isn’t feminism about supporting women’s rights to make their own choices about their body and lifestyle? When did we get to start deciding how other people should and should not want to look?

2) How about a feminist blogger criticising or ridiculing a woman for being religious? For not believing in abortion? For not wanting to use birth control? When were we given a mandate to regulate uteruses? Who are we to make someone feel inferior for their own beliefs?

When did we declare war on each other?

Surely feminism is the desire to achieve equality? What better way to do that than to support each other first? If we can’t rely on each other who can we rely on?

I’m not going to tell you how to do feminism. That isn’t my place. I will suggest that next time you’re about to criticise or shame take a moment to re-assess; It’s amazing how often our reactions are affected by our own preconceptions.