Alex Casey on The Bachelor and Feminism

Writer Alex Casey tackles the big issues with a dose of humour


Alex Casey. Picture / Guy Coombes.

A few years ago, photographer Petra Collins uploaded a rather festive looking waist-down picture in her underwear to Instagram, her pubic hair visible around the sides of her green knickers. Although those familiar with Collins’ previous work applauded her statement, the move proved too profound for conservative users, and the social media service deleted her account.

While the subject of women and their pubic hair shouldn’t still be contentious (and Petra continues to run into opposition for challenging the hairless brazilian) such ideals are often dismissed as the domain of the radical.

So how do you educate people about gender issues in a way that appeals not only to the well versed, but the oblivious?

Well, there are people like Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer, who are creating television that challenges traditional depictions of gender and the issues surrounding it. On the other side of the screen we have commentators who watch and bring to light issues through their keyboards.

One such local hero is television writer Alex Casey, who, at the modest age of 24, is creating accessible feminism by making mass audience shows such as The Bachelor and Dancing with the Stars unlikely platforms for discussion.

Take her essay, “In Defence of Chrystal Chenery”, which was published on The Spinoff website in July this year, for example. If you recall, during one of her routines on DWTS, The Edge shock jock Dominic Harvey posted a screen grab of Chrystal’s crotch mid-move on social media. While many were quick to take the masculine side of the argument in the media storm that ensued, Alex was relentless in her defence of Chrystal.

“Obviously this was a vile thing to do,” she wrote, “symbolic of not only Dom Harvey’s particularly terrifying brand of ‘naughty school boy in grown man’s body with one of the biggest media platforms in the country’, but illustrative of a much larger problem: the right to faff around with women’s bodies however one so desires.”

She continues: “Women aren’t supposed to be like Chrystal. Women are supposed to be quiet and ‘handle the jandal’ as so many true blue Kiwis have written online.”

This is prime evidence, Alex says, of why reality television shouldn’t be dismissed as crap.

“In my eyes, I look at The Bachelor and what I see are all the discussions that have come out of it around the way women are treated.

“It’s more complex than you think. We get 20 women on screen at the same time. When can you ever say that about another show?

“On The Bachelorette [US] this year, she slept with one of the men really early on, and it caused this massive outrage and America kind of hated her, and it opened up this massive conversation around slut-shaming. And I just thought it was amazing. Where else are you getting this kind of conversation?”

Alex has had enthusiasm for film and television from a young age — growing up in Featherston, just outside of Wellington, she made a habit of snapping up sale-bin bargains when all the video stores closed down in the small town.

It wasn’t until she moved to Auckland at 13 and attended Auckland Girls’ Grammar that she discovered the subject of media studies.

“I kept thinking I was getting away with something. Like, ‘You mean I can study this? Write essays about it and actually be rewarded for it?’

“I still feel like I’m kind of getting away with murder in that regard.”

After graduating from high school (as the media studies prefect, no less) Alex went straight to the University of Auckland, where she studied film and television and sociology.

“That’s where everything kind of coalesced in my brain. Because I think for ages I was just watching movies and writing about lighting and soundtrack, and I’d always be kind of bummed out because I didn’t get the point. But then when I started doing sociology and gender studies, it all kind of fused in my brain. It all started to make sense.

“Ever since then I felt like I’d really found my feet with my writing.”

After university, Alex got a job at the Lido Cinema in Epsom as a projectionist, which although may have been mundane work, allowed for copious film consumption.

“We got to watch all these movies for free, and I kind of tried to use that the best I could.

“So I was writing a blog (The Filminist) for flicks.co.nz and I tried to bring in feminist things, and I realised there wasn’t a lot of other stuff like it, coming from New Zealand at least, and people seemed to really like it.”

Her writing also caught the attention of journalist Duncan Greive, who had been hunting for new talent for his website The Spinoff.

“I was blown away,” says Duncan.

“She’s basically a genius of gender politics. She sees this very sharply and with a deeply moral sensibility.

“We have a running joke that when [Alex] gets sweaty palms about an issue, that’s the clear marker she should be writing about it. But then when she does, it’s always, always with black humour right through.

“That’s why the stories run as far as they do. Because anyone can get mad about something. But if you want to change minds, making them laugh and think is a far more effective method.”

As Alex says, it’s like slipping the spinach in with the cake.

“You can actually tackle quite aggressive, lofty, serious feminist theories that would often make people scream and run away, if you do it in a funny, relatable, low-key way,” she says. “That’s what I want to do, I want to slowly poison everybody.”

Alex does that through instances such as the Chrystal Chenery “event”, but also by looking at everyday examples: criticising the Men’s Panel on the now defunct Good Morning for discussing how to deal with grumpy women; another column (and now podcast) called On the Rag challenges representations of women in pop culture, news and around the world.

Even if audiences might need cake in order to digest the spinach, if Alex’s reach is anything to go by, the message is getting through. And perhaps then, they’ll be more inclined to consider hairier issues.

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New Zealand Herald

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