You will meet a tall dark stranger

29 Mar

wish-upon-a-star-andrea-realpeI watched the Woody Allen movie of this title last night, and was saddened by the slide into banality of a director I once found extraordinary. As is his wont, Allen again dissects the emotionally tormented relationships between comfortably off but miserable professional couples driven by their hunger for love, and the ensuing complications of their search for love’s validation.

The ironical musical theme of the movie is a sweetly gentle version of “When You Wish Upon a Star” and as the narrative unfolds it becomes apparent that while your dreams might indeed come true, dreams fulfilled don’t necessarily make you happy. In other words, be careful what you ask for. You might get it.

The film begins with an epigraph, Macbeth’s observation that life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. This announced the movie’s fundamental lack of imagination: as an epigraph this one has been done to death and I was reminded of how, as raucous and irreverent schoolgirls, we screeched the quotation at one another as we draped our adolescent selves across our wooden desks, mocking its nihilistic sentiment.

What the movie did cause me to ponder, however, are the many ways in which human beings can emotionally cripple ourselves and one another, believing we’re doing what we are supposed to do living respectable coupled lives, pursuing respectable ambitions, and conforming to the expectations of our culture. All the while, as in a witch’s bubbling cauldron, deep and guilty dissatisfactions are coming to the boil, provoking unforeseen behaviours that erupt from their repression and cause chaos in outwardly conformist lives. Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble…to stay with the Macbeth references.

As Freud observed, in order to maintain civilisation we must make a trade-off, and the price we pay is the voluntary relinquishing, through repression, of desire. This is the essential paradox of civilisation: we have designed it to protect ourselves from dissatisfaction and danger, yet it is simultaneously our biggest source of both. Allen’s characters are quintessentially civilised, yet their desires rupture their civilised veneer and reveal the turmoil and misery that lies beneath. Truth will out.

The catalyst for rupture is always desire, the “tall dark stranger” encountered at times of blind yearning for one knows not what, a yearning that is always at bottom a hunger for growth, and escape from circumstances that have come to represent imprisonment and stagnation. Yet few of us can pursue these needs without savage consequences, as they fly in the face of civilised culture and its constructed desires, leaving trails of wreckage that are largely perceived not as opportunities, but as destruction. Our culture values certainty, continuity and predictability. Our culture values what is antipathetic to desire. Those who break out, yielding to desire, are judged and found wanting.

Allen knows these truths well, given his own torturous history with desire. It’s disappointing that he hasn’t found a fresher way to dissect them: he’s become formulaic.

For mine, the meeting with a tall dark stranger is the meeting with truth or the real possibility of it, a possibility generally denied us by cultural demands and expectations. Discontent is a necessary by-product of civilisation. Civilisation, as Freud would have it, inevitably makes us neurotic. The only cure is love, and love is a stranger in an open car, tempt you in and drive you far away…

 

 

 

 

 

At the mercy of the state

25 Mar

Surveillance-State

 

There is something very rotten in the state of a nation’s politics when both its government and its opposition are able to co-operate on the introduction of legislation for intrusive mass surveillance of the nation’s entire population.

If you want to better understand the repercussions of this legislation for the individual, I’d recommend reading this piece, sending the suggested letter to your MP, then retreating to a corner to weep for what we’re becoming.

The government and opposition argue that these extreme surveillance measures are necessary to apprehend terrorists, pedophiles and major criminals, all of whom will by now have devised encryption methods to bypass government surveillance, and most of whom will have had such methods securely in place for years.

What has been most alarming in the lead-up to the Senate debate on the legislation today has been the apathy of mainstream media towards proposed state surveillance that frames every citizen who uses the Internet as a suspect. Not as a potential suspect, but as a suspect whose online activity can be accessed by agents of the state without a warrant, if they decide to go after you.

If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear, claimed AFP Assistant Commissioner Tim Morris. However, in Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s own words institutions aren’t perfect, as we well know from the institutional abuses of all kinds that are exposed daily by whistleblowers, many of whom will be left without a means to reveal corruption under the new legislation.

The “if you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to fear” argument implies that the state and its agents have the right to know everything about you in the first place, and that they will determine what is deserving of their attention in your daily activities. The term “hide” is used in this argument rather than the term “privacy.”

In the replacing of one word for another, the citizen’s right to a life kept private from the state is pejoratively reframed as having “something to hide.” We are now guilty until we can prove ourselves innocent, because what else can we be if our online lives can be investigated without even a warrant?

Metadata retention legislation does not uncover what every citizen is necessarily “hiding.” It destroys every single citizen’s right to privately go about her and his online pursuits under the assumption that privacy equates to hiding, and thus becomes the object of suspicion and intervention.

Like a suspicious spouse or the interfering parent of an adolescent, the government now assumes if you want privacy you must be guilty of something.

Those who have “something to hide” will continue to find ways to hide, just like Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull who uses an encryption service to send his text messages.

We know governments can’t be trusted simply because they are governments. We know institutions can’t be trusted simply because they are institutions. To give these bodies unrestricted access to our online lives is an insanity. We are now all at the mercy of the state and its agents to an unprecedented degree, a situation that is intolerable in a liberal democracy.

The ALP are a disgrace for supporting the Coalition in this Big Brother legislation.

Get encrypted. It’s not complicated. Senator Scott Ludlum makes some suggestions on RN Breakfast this morning.

And here’s a Get Up campaign that will help you go dark.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Tony Abbott  tells us he was never worried about metadata collection when he was a journalist so what’s the problem?

That man really knows his onions. It’s breathtaking.

 

 

 

Women are not responsible for the crap things men do. End of.

17 Mar

This piece by Paula Matthewson totally nails it on the “Credlin, Horsewoman of the Apocalypse” narrative aggrieved men in LNP circles are telling themselves and everybody else to explain away their shameful, dishonourable gutlessness, and I include Prime Minister Tony Abbott in this sweeping gender generalisation.

If Credlin is indeed the only person Abbott trusts and takes advice from, that demonstrates an appalling weakness in the character of the leader of this country. Not because she is a woman, but because Abbott is apparently fool enough to listen to primarily one advisor.

If Abbott allows his chief of staff to tyrannise all comers, that is evidence of Abbott’s inability to handle responsibility and decision-making.  Nature abhors a vacuum and Abbott is a vacuum and fate has given him Credlin to fill the vacuum that he is. It is the vacuum running the country we need to be concerned with, not the filler who can be replaced by another filler, and another, but always leaving us with the vacuum at the top.

 

empty head

 

The weakness is not Credlin’s but Abbott’s, and it will still be Abbott’s weakness if Credlin is despatched.

Even more alarmingly, Credlin’s advice seems to be driving Abbott on a hiding to nowhere and still he takes it, which only goes to prove my point. The man is stupid beyond redemption.

It is customary in this patriarchal sewer in which we dwell, fighting off the bloody rats, to blame women for the crap pathetic things men do. I’ve had a gut full, to be honest, having experienced this on a very personal level for the last few months. Women are not responsible for the crap things men do, whether it’s in politics or the personal, women are not responsible for the crap things grown men do, end of.

I do not say this to offer support for Ms Credlin, because I don’t feel any. I cannot abide people who wag their finger at other people, and Ms Credlin seems to do this rather a lot. It’s a gesture that reveals a multitude of other characteristics, none of which I find in the least appealing. Be that as it may, whatever Ms Credlin’s undesirable traits may be, they have absolutely nothing to do with Tony Abbott’s. They just happen, at this moment in time, to be a spine-chilling fit.

This is why Abbott got it so wrong when he attempted to use charges of sexism against Credlin’s many critics, and where the critics got it wrong as well. The problem is the Prime Minister handing over so much of his power to his chief of staff, regardless of gender, and what it says about the PM that he is willing to relinquish so much power to an unelected employee.

Abbott is a dangerously inadequate leader.  It’s got nothing to do with Credlin. He was before her and he will be after her. This is what we should be worrying about, not the bloody horsewoman of the apocalypse, which is about as big a piece of hyperbole I’ve heard in many a day.

Let me say it one more time. Women are not responsible for the crap things men do. If this is a government of grown ups, they need to acknowledge that first, and urgently.

 

Abbott shirtfronts an onion. It’s a lifestyle choice

16 Mar

Seinfeld. George eats an onion

 

Prime Minister Tony Abbott made international news the other day by eating a raw onion, skin and all.

This is a peculiarly Australian test of hegemonic masculinity – ruling class males must, before reaching retirement age, eat a raw onion to camera, ensuring a visual record of arrival at full status in the dominant group.

It is required of males in the political hierarchy that the Initiation of the Onion be performed sooner rather than later. Prime Minister Abbott has been somewhat tardy in fulfilling his obligations, as was evidenced by the discontent among his back benchers, who attempted some weeks ago to move a spill motion in an attempt to unseat him.

Eat the raw onion! they demanded, or get off the pot.

Hopes are running high now that after completing his final initiation Abbott, having absorbed the mystical power of the onion much in the way that primitive peoples believed that eating the heart and liver of warrior enemies would increase their strength and fortitude, will change his leadership style to one that better accommodates the many layers of complexity any leader must deal with in his followers.

It is the opinion of this writer that Prime Minister Abbott might have better served the country and his own interests by retaining the onion, intact, between his teeth, in the manner of a pig on a spit with an apple in its jaws. That way he would not have been able to yet again put his foot in his mouth, as he did when two days ago he decided to describe Indigenous people living in remote communities as making a “lifestyle choice.”

There are perhaps few other phrases so redolent of white middle-class privilege as the phrase “lifestyle choice.” Such language could not be more irrelevant when discussing remote Aboriginal communities, unless the Prime Minister is so impoverished in imagination as to believe that forty thousand years of attachment to country can be reduced to the contemporary concept of  “lifestyle choice.”

A more outstanding example of solipsism would be difficult to find, even from this Prime Minister whose great talent is his ability to perceive the world and everyone in it as existing only through his eyes. If he stops looking at us, we aren’t here.

Of course the term “lifestyle choice” has been used by ruling-class hegemonic masculinists before in relation to asylum seekers arriving here by boat. These people are not refugees fleeing persecution, they are serial pests flitting from country to country, stubbornly intent on fulfilling their lifestyle choices. Otherwise they are terrorists. Yes. The hegemonic masculine mind projects its own understandings on to the world outside of it, and look what it comes up with.

Personally, I think it would have been far more interesting had the Prime Minister shoved the onion up his arse. Much more of a talking point, and a unique way of adding value to that asset. After all, the apprehension is taking hold amongst Australian people that our PM speaks, increasingly, from that orifice.

Of course it would first be necessary to remove the suppository of wisdom in order to make room for the onion, but the shelf-life of suppositories is a short one, and much of it may have melted, making removal a relatively straightforward procedure.

Perhaps the consumption of the onion indicates the PM has taken a new if tentative  step along the long and winding road to wisdom. It was Socrates, I believe, whose advice for a good, wise and moral life was to first, Know Thine Onions.

onions-300x225

 

 

 

Pachamama. The earth is our mother.

14 Mar

pale_blue_dot

I’ve just heard a Radio National Science Show story that has stirred my imagination more than anything in a long time.

Robin Williams interviewed Canadian environmental activist, scientist and academic David Suzuki, who is  the driving force behind a movement to have enshrined in the Canadian constitution a clause that states everyone has the right to clean water, clean air, and food.

One hundred and ten countries already have protection for the earth enshrined in their constitutions. Ecuador, Bolivia and Mexico have guaranteed protection for Pachamama, Mother Earth, in theirs. Suzuki, together with First Nations peoples, artists, musicians, and writers such as Margaret Atwood, are taking the Blue Dot Tour around Canada and having extraordinary  success in their campaign to persuade cities and municipalities to adopt the Blue Dot Declaration for a Healthy Environment.

However, this isn’t merely a grand statement. So far fourteen cities, including Montreal and Vancouver, have committed to enacting legislation protecting the environment within the next two years.

The Blue Dot Tour takes its name from the famous essay by Carl Sagan, written after Voyager I cameras were, at his suggestion, trained on earth. Our planet appeared as a pale blue dot in a sea of darkness. Here is an extract from Sagan’s essay:

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on the mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. 

The significance of the proposed Canadian environmental protection legislation is considerable. The burden of evidence will shift from  activists who currently must prove a developmental project will damage the environment, to developers who will have to prove it will not. Such legislative shifts immediately change the discourse, putting the well-being of Pachamama and the human beings living on her and with her before economic considerations and profit.

As Suzuki points out, without air we die in three minutes. Without clean air we become sick. Without water we die in a few days. Without clean water we become sick. Without food we die in a couple of weeks.

In NSW, changes introduced by the LNP government now determine that the “principal consideration” for decision makers such as the Planning Assessment Committee must be the economic benefits of the proposed mining project. The massive Shenhua coal mining venture in the Liverpool Plains, vigorously opposed by environmentalists and farmers for almost seven years, was given approval at the end of January 2015, after twice being knocked back, under this “principal consideration” change.

However, the matter is now before federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt, who has “stopped the clock” on the project until further investigation into the effects of the mine under federal government Water Trigger Legislation, which states that

Australia’s national environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), was amended in June 2013, to provide that water resources are a matter of national environmental significance, in relation to coal seam gas and large coal mining development.

It will be very interesting to see how Greg Hunt handles this situation.

Those of us living on this part of the mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam could send an email to Greg Hunt, quoting the extract from the Carl Sagan essay above.

Pale-Blue-Dot

I don’t effing care if you call yourself a feminist or not.

8 Mar

Like Groundhog Day, International Women’s Day yet a fucking gain, finds itself hijacked and imprisoned in the eternally recurring culture war chatter, I won’t dignify it with the term debate, as to whether you call yourself a feminist or not.

I could not give a rat’s chlamydic arse if a woman calls herself a feminist or not. In fact the minute I get a whiff that the argument’s on I want to start flame throwing.

I don’t care about your personal philosophies on this day at this time. I don’t care if you are personally confused about whether or not to put on make-up in the morning. I so, so do not care if you have a luxurious bush or a full Brazilian. I do not care if you are sometimes a good feminist sometimes a bad one, whatever the fucking hell either of those things actually are. Fuck off with all the confessional shit just for today, and engage with a bigger picture, I’m begging you.

I have a dream. In my dream every woman with a public voice just for once refuses these speaking and writing engagements and instead throws her weight behind a National Day of Mourning on March 8, for the women world-wide, and particularly in Australia because this is our homeland where we can best have influence, who are murdered and abused by intimate partners, as well as the children who witness and suffer.

I have a dream that if women with a public voice do accept speaking and writing engagements on this, our one fucking day of the entire fucking year, they will agree to speak out all day long about domestic violence, government responsibilities, and the safety and protection of women and children, and nothing else.

I have a dream that we will march in the streets with banners and posters and candles on this day, protesting the deaths and injuries, emotional and physical, that so many of us across all demographics endure or have endured in the place where we are supposed to be safe, our homes.

I have a dream that we will unite to take on this Abbott government full frontal in its despicable cuts to frontline domestic violence services that will leave women in the most remote and already under-serviced areas with absolutely nowhere to go.

It is far more important, sisters, that we keep women alive and capable of adequately functioning than it is that we get more already privileged women on to fucking boards, or listed in Wikipedia, or winning fucking literary prizes. The only way we will do this at this point, is to get our lady arses out into the sodding streets, and if necessary, just like the women who got us the vote, chaining ourselves to the fucking railings until politicians give our dire, deathly situation priority.

Dear ladies, for 364 days of the fucking year you can write and speak all you want about your bush or your Brazilian, or your personal philosophy, or how women have to learn achieve within the same rotten, stinking, oppressive power structure as men without even questioning that fucking structure, otherwise they will be automatically forbidden entry to it, but for one day, for one fucking, fucking day, can we focus on the biggest, most life-threatening danger to women in this country, and how nothing has improved in family violence statistics since feminism’s second wave, over forty years ago.

And if we can’t, I’m going to poke everybody’s eyes out with fucking burnt sticks.

Listen to this Background Briefing report this morning on the effects of the Abbott government’s funding cuts to frontline domestic violence services. Then tell me your fucking pubic hair choices matter. Tell me after listening to this whether you call yourself a feminist or not matters jack shit in the scheme of things.

Sorry for all the language.

No, I’m fucking not.

I-am-a-feminist

 

 

Vale all the dead women. IWD 2015

8 Mar

“IWD is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.” Right. We’ve come a long way, baby. Can’t deny that.

Though I don’t see a lot to celebrate recently, to be honest. Perhaps we’ve hit a plateau. I hope it isn’t a brick wall.

I’d attend a dawn candlelight memorial service for women and children all over the world murdered by violent partners, but I don’t think that’s caught on as an International Women’s Day ritual. It’s alarming that it hasn’t, really. So, at the risk of raining on the self-congratulatory feminist talk-fest parade, here’s where my thoughts are at, and who IWD ought to be for.

No celebratory event should begin today without first acknowledging the women and children who’ve died, and those who live and suffer often for their whole lives, from the violence perpetrated against them.

May no woman be murdered in Australia today.

coffin_full

For women who today will be subjected to violence in their homes everywhere in the world.

For women today who will suffer sexual violence.

For women in Australia, and the children who are with them who have no sanctuary, because the refuge nearest them has been closed down by the Minister for Women.

For women who will be admitted to hospital every three hours today with injuries sustained in attacks by intimate partners.

For the children who witness.

For women in Australia who can no longer access legal aid to protect them from violent partners, because the service has been terminated in their area by the Minister for Women.

For Indigenous women who remain consistently overlooked, disregarded, disrespected and silenced.

For women and children who are homeless.

For women everywhere who are in harm’s way.

For women who struggle with every kind of oppression for no reason other than they are women.

 Lily. Georgia O'Keeffe

 

For the women who believe they have smashed a glass ceiling by being permitted, that is being permitted to eat their celebratory lunch at Tattersalls’ men-only club in Brisbane.

You’ve been colonised by a particularly insidious type of masculinity. Or, to put it more crudely, you have pricks in your heads.

For the Minister for Women. No you aren’t.

Violence-Against-Women-is_Page_01

So, remind me. What’s to celebrate?

International Women’s Day. Australia. 2015.

Candles

A Royal Commission worth its salt

7 Mar

royal_commissionFormer headmaster of Knox Grammar, Ian Paterson OA, has over the last few days experienced a most spectacular fall from grace as he attempted, before the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse in Institutions, to ‘rewrite’ the history of his mismanagement of the sexual abuse of students under his care, by what appears to be a nest of pedophiles employed by the school as teachers.

Stripped of all his considerable power, Paterson was confronted by the realities of his alleged failures and their consequences, while arrangements were made at Knox to rename the Paterson Centre for Ethics and Business as part of an eradication plan that includes calls for him to be stripped of his Order of Australia.

If ever a Royal Commission was worth its salt, this one is. I understand there have been some five hundred referrals by the Commission to police for further investigation.

However, what the Commission demonstrates more powerfully than anything else is the complex web of secrecy and denial that allows the sexual abuse of children, both in institutions and the home, to continue at unthinkable levels for many, many decades. Only with the enabling silence of others can crimes such as these flourish.

We have witnessed, heartbreakingly, since the Commission shone its light on the Catholic and Anglican churches and the Salvation Army, as well as other institutions, that their common practices were designed not to protect the children in their care, but the pedophiles who filled young lives with confusion, fear, and long-lasting trauma.

It is worth remembering that our Prime Minister and Minister for Women, Tony Abbott, himself provided support and a reference for convicted pedophile John Nestor, describing him as “a beacon of humanity.” (This link is a thorough and interesting read, by the way.)

It is also worth remembering that Cardinal George Pell, compassionately challenged towards the victims of his pedophile priests, was a moral and spiritual advisor to both John Howard during his term as Prime Minister, and Tony Abbott. Pell was Abbott’s personal confessor, and Abbott is a staunch Pell defender. The Cardinal’s recent hasty removal by the Vatican from the Commission’s inquiry into sexual depravities in the Catholic church, to take on fiscal responsibilities in Rome, was convenient for both men.

The conspiracy of silence perpetrated by those with power and authority such as Paterson, Pell, Abbott and many, many others has caused the misery and ruination of untold young lives. If the Royal Commission achieves nothing else, it has exposed this conspiracy and some of the powerful names who supported it. Most will not, of course, suffer the same fate as Paterson, though they undoubtedly deserve to.

We can thank our lucky stars this Royal Commission was instigated by the previous government, because the likelihood of the Abbott government allowing these atrocities against children to be exposed and interrogated is less than none.

We are witnessing, and not just in Australia, the overthrow of a cruelly silencing and mendacious narrative, and in its place, the narrative of experiential truth. This is a global shift of extraordinary proportions, and I think we can take heart from it, even in these dark times.

 

 

 

 

 

A government of barbaric inconsistency

5 Mar

Only weeks after announcing cuts to frontline services that assist women and children escaping domestic violence, Prime Minister Tony Abbott today announced the government will spend $30 million on a domestic violence “awareness campaign.”

While public education on the matter of domestic violence can never go astray, funding such education while simultaneously removing frontline safety nets for women and children experiencing violence in real-time is an act of unconscionable duplicity, and barbaric inconsistency.

One woman each week is slaughtered by an intimate partner during episodes of domestic violence. One woman is hospitalised every three hours with injuries due to domestic violence. KPMG reports domestic violence cost Australia 14.7 billion last year, some 1.5 billion more than in 2012.

Minister for Women Abbott has slashed funding to front line services such as legal aid, and refuges to which women and children in fear of their lives can flee. Offering a sop of $30 million for education while leaving women and children unprotected and with nowhere to turn, is political expediency of staggering proportions.

I do not recall money being offered for “awareness campaigns” on the matter of young men subjected to king hits. I recall an absolute outcry from all levels of politics, and proposals for immediate legislative changes.

I do not recall any politician, state or federal, ever holding a prayer vigil for women and children slaughtered in their homes by an intimate partner, though there was no shortage of them at the vigil held this morning for Chan and Sukumaran, the Australians sentenced to death for drug smuggling in Indonesia.

Let’s not forget Abbott’s reputation for punching the wall beside a woman’s head, and his reference to a woman as a “chair thing.”

In fact, if you want to refresh your memory about the many disparaging things the Minister for Women has said about women here you go

This man doesn’t care about women. No man who cared about women would remove services that helped them escape violence, injury and death. Any man who cared about women would move heaven and earth to ensure essential services are in place.

No man who cared about women and children would financially prioritise an “awareness campaign” before actually saving lives.

The Minister for Women is a dangerous and opportunistic fraud. He has blood on his hands, the blood of women and children who now have nowhere to go to escape violent homes. How many more will he allow to die before he reinstates front-line funding?

Or does he think he can get away with a band-aid?

domestic_violence

 

 

 

 

ABC TV Qanda excludes Indigenous women yet again

4 Mar

 

Adventures in Democracy

 

ABC TV panel show Qanda will mark International Women’s Day in its March 6 program with a panel consisting entirely of women, and hosted not by the urbane Tony Jones, but by Kitchen Cabinet’s Annabel Crabb.

The panel consists of Julie Bishop, American Roxanne Gay, Professor of English at Purdue University; Holly Kramer, CEO of Best and Less; Germaine Greer, “feminist icon” etc. and Yassmin Abdel-Magied, founder of Youth Without Borders, an organisation focused on enabling young people to work together for the implementation of positive change within their communities. 

Indigenous women are not represented on this panel.

As was noted in the recent Qanda panel on domestic violence, no Indigenous women were invited to participate in that either, although Antoinette Braybrook, CEO of the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria, was allegedly asked by producers if she could recommend an Indigenous man to appear on the show.

The exclusion of Indigenous women from the national broadcaster’s celebration of International Women’s Day reveals again the depth of racism and apartheid  in which this country is so thoroughly steeped it is normalised, and unremarked.

There is no possible excuse for this exclusion. It is absolutely shameful.

If you are moved to ask Qanda why Indigenous women have been excluded from their IWD panel you can do that here. You could also invite the producers to get really adventurous in democracy, and adopt the practice of  inclusion.

You could also remind the ABC that Indigenous women and men pay taxes, and it is their ABC as much as it is any other citizen’s of this country.

I also wish they would stop wheeling out Germaine Greer as our “feminist icon.” I don’t know what a feminist icon is, but I do know Greer hasn’t said anything interesting for a long time though other women have, including Indigenous women.

This woman won’t be watching.

 

 

 

 

 

Censured: The problem is Brandis not Triggs.

3 Mar

George Brandis

 

Yesterday’s Senate censure of Attorney-General George Brandis for his treatment of Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs, has no direct constitutional or legal consequences. It is important, however, that the censure motion is on record as an example of attempts to bully into silence the head of a statutory authority the Attorney-General is obliged, in his job description, to defend against malicious attack.

If the government of the day is dissatisfied with the performance of the head of a statutory body there are presumably procedures in place to deal with that situation. I doubt very much that one of them is instigating personal public attacks. At the very least, the Attorney-General should be aware of the proper way to go about addressing perceived performance failures, and follow those guidelines.

Professor Triggs was entitled to natural justice. Instead she was subjected to an appalling attack by the very person who is obliged to ensure her right to natural justice is honoured.  This alone is just cause for censuring the Attorney-General, who could not have more blatantly failed to carry out his duties.

An Attorney-General who behaves in such a manner has gone rogue. He is not upholding the principles and duties of his office. He is making up the rules as he goes along. He is supported absolutely in his feral abrogation by his Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.

This is our problem. It isn’t Gillian Triggs. It’s a government that has scant regard for any statutory body, any procedure, any law that doesn’t suit their ideological ambitions. The HRC is an anathema to the Abbott government, not least because one of the Commission’s responsibilities is to monitor and report on the actions of that government. What better way to demoralise and disempower the HRC than to publicly and ferociously go after its head?

 

 

An Abbott hagiography. Wonder and awe.

1 Mar

true-believer

 

You all know about The Australian’s paywall, right?

The first paragraph of the Greg Sheridan hagiography of Prime Minister Tony Abbott reads thus:

NO Australian prime minister has been quite so complex, or quite so spectacularly misunderstood, by supporters and detractors, and indeed the public, as Tony Abbott.

I implore you to read this if you haven’t already. It is an outstanding example of delusional thinking. It isn’t spin, which is calculated and deceitful linguistic manipulation employed in order to achieve a specific outcome. Sheridan is a true believer, an acolyte, a devotee, a worshipper at the altar of Abbott, and I read this piece with wonder and awe. Look:

Abbott is decisive…But decisiveness is a bit like papal infallibility. As Pope Pius IX is said to have remarked: when you are infallible, you have to be very careful of what you say. 

Abbott loves to write. He loves words in the service of ideas. He is a truly gifted headline writer: stop the boats; a great big new tax on everything;

He loves soldiers, I suspect, for two main reasons. They have a culture of getting things done. And they have engaged in heroic sacrifice beyond even that which he has done himself.

It is a rich personality, as varied and complex as that of any occupant of the Lodge in our history.

Right now, Australians find him a riddle wrapped inside an enigma. After all these years, they don’t know him yet.

As Ray Charles grieves, so does Tony Abbott:

You give your hand to me
And then you say, “Hello.”
And I can hardly speak,
My heart is beating so.
And anyone can tell
You think you know me well.
Well, you don’t know me.
(no you don’t know me)

 

 Sheridan does acknowledge some of Abbott’s faults, but to him they are only temporarily misdirected strengths and he will, if allowed to remain Prime Minister, grow out of them into full maturity.

I can truthfully say this is the first time I have ever heard the notion of the Prime Ministership as a training ground, a learning space reminiscent of Montessori or Steiner in which the incumbent is awarded the opportunity to fully realise his or her potential according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I honestly thought the position was something to do with the interests of the country and its citizens, rather than a path to personal fulfilment.

Abbott does not, according to Sheridan, hold grudges. Someone needs to tell that to Philip Ruddock before he stumbles off like a defanged Shakespearean Father of the House of Liberals, overthrown by a trusted son whose rampant ambitions would see the old man banished to the chilly outers to languish and rot, friendless and unmourned.

On reaching the end of the Sheridan piece I was reminded of a Seinfeld episode in which George observes of a mutual acquaintance, “There’s more to him than meets the eye.”

“No,” says Jerry, “there’s less.”

 

 

 

 

Labor is the despicable winner in the Triggs affair.

27 Feb

 

The Abbott government’s attacks on President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, have served the ALP’s interests more than any other.

They certainly have done nothing to ease the ongoing plight of the 1,129 children successive Australian governments have kept in mandatory detention in appalling circumstances. Many of the children suffer long-term damage from the experience of being treated as criminals for no reason other than that they exist. The conditions under which the children have and continue to be incarcerated would likely make Charles Dickens flinch and look away, yet since the release of the AHRC report, nobody in the major parties has bothered so much as to mention their suffering.

Abbott’s attacks on Triggs have done nothing for the

233 assaults involving children
33 reported sexual assaults
128 incidences of self-harm
34% who require psychiatric support

documented in the recent AHRC report.

However, what the government’s latest lunacy has done is to hand the ALP on a silver platter access to a high moral ground which they do not for one moment deserve, having been as despicably callous towards asylum seekers for their own political gain as has the LNP. There is not a bee’s dick of difference between the two major parties in terms of their ill-treatment of those they consider less worthy than the rest of us, and therefore infinitely exploitable in their mutual pursuit of power.

The ALP is now bellowing self-righteously about the government’s treatment of Professor Triggs, but not, of course, about the contents of Professor Triggs’ report. About that they cannot bellow, as the report condemns equally ALP asylum seeker policies implemented under the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd incumbencies.

Labor has now referred Attoney-General George Brandis to the AFP for allegedly inducing Triggs to leave her position at the HRC for something less disturbing to him. Carefully worded denials have ensued, reminding us that language can be used for ill, and in politics, invariably will be. In case we forget what was said about the Triggs “inducement” at the estimates hearing:

 

If this disgraceful fracas surrounding Professor Triggs tells us anything, it’s that the majority of our elected members on both sides of the house care nothing for the lives and fates of asylum seekers, and logically, it is only a matter of time before they care nothing for the lives and fates of many of their own citizens. Once a government makes scapegoats of one group for political expediency,  they’ll have no qualms scapegoating any other for the same motive. Indeed, there are those who could put up a good argument that this is already the case.

We do not, in this country, have a good record for the treatment of children by authorities. The history of child abuse unfolding before us in the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, for example, demonstrates as nothing else ever has the prevalence and consistency of the savage mistreatment of children across all demographics, from institutions that house the most underprivileged child, to institutions that house the children of the wealthiest and most influential citizens in the country. It is inevitable that our cruelty seamlessly extends itself to children of asylum seekers.

We are in dire need of politicians of calibre, who are capable of and willing to refuse the lure of political gamesmanship and instead do what they are elected to do, and represent the interests of those who gave them their trust. The ALP has no high moral ground on which to pitch its tents on the matter of the Triggs report and the ensuing unseemly brawls. Given its own foul record, the ALP has no choice but to either admit its failures and undertake reform, or make whatever miserable and poisoned political capital it can from the government’s sickening attacks on Gillian Triggs.

All in all, we are one of the most fortunate nations in the world, cast adrift in a tumultuous sea aboard a ship commanded by fools.

 

PiersonShipOfFoolsLE27x32WS

 

 

 

A PM who only knows aggression is a threat to the country

26 Feb

Agressive Abbott


The Abbott government’s attempted defenestration of President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs has, like so many of this government’s ventures into domination through aggression and bullying, badly backfired.

This latest debacle is yet another example of the Abbott government’s pugilistic default position, and follows hot on the heels of the Prime Minister’s combative approach to Indonesia in the matter of the looming execution of Australian drug smugglers Chan and Sukumaran.

Attorney-General George Brandis, chief instigator, along with Abbott, of an extraordinarily vitriolic personal attack on the head of a statutory authority, was yesterday asked what next in their campaign to publicly eviscerate Triggs, presumably to force her resignation which does not seem to be forthcoming, and why should it?

I can’t unscramble the egg, Brandis replied, in a rare admission of stupendous failure.

The egg certainly is all over the faces of Brandis and Abbott. In a move of unfathomable stupidity, Abbott decided to focus personally on Professor Triggs, rather than the report on children in detention the HRC published last week. Seemingly bereft of all politically savvy, Abbott made this choice despite the fact that the report fully covered the previous government’s abysmal record on this matter, and despite the fact that more children have been released from detention by the Abbott government than were by the previous Labor incumbents.

The down side is that this government keeps fewer children in detention for much longer. However, in spite of this reality there was much political capital to be made had Abbott chosen to take that path. Instead, he embarked upon a vicious campaign to force Professor Triggs out of her job, to be replaced, rumour has it, by the Brandis/Abbott protegé  “Freedom Boy” Tim Wilson, who, as you may recall, was parachuted by Brandis into his position at the HRC without so much as an interview.

This latest in the Abbott government’s expressions of contempt for the HRC has caused the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights to write to the government protesting its attacks on Professor Triggs.

As Wayne Janssen explains,  the ICC  co-ordinates relationships with the UN human rights systems. Its accreditation system is based on compliance with the 1991 Paris Principles and grants access to UN committees. Australia currently enjoys “A” status which allows us speaking and seating rights at such committees.

Abbott’s attacks on Triggs imply state interference with the independence of the AHRC that may be a transgression of the Paris Principles. If this is the case, Australia stands to lose our A status, and the access to speaking and seating rights this status confers.

Add to this the suggestion that Brandis attempted illegal inducement by offering Triggs another job to get her out of the HRC, an allegation now referred to the AFP, and it’s difficult to see how this move has brought the government anything other than ongoing grief.

Abbott’s aggressive, combative, high conflict personality dominates his thinking and his decision-making. He has proved repeatedly that he is not capable of controlling his pugilistic instincts. He is entirely unable to overcome his primitive need to shirtfront somebody, anybody, even his own back benchers, by instead employing mature, considered thinking and mental clarity. This is a personality defect that has catastrophic potential for a country led by him. It has equally catastrophic implications for the party he leads, as many of its MPs surely know.

Like an abusive partner in an intimate relationship,  Abbott is in the process of isolating this country from the rest of the world, and from international bodies such as the United Nations that offer what little opportunity there is for cohesion and communication between nations. He is an isolationist, as the violent always are. He seeks to sow seeds of discord and disharmony within our own communities, in his efforts to assert the superiority and domination of white, middle-class alpha masculinity, to the exclusion of all other groups.

He’s a threat to this country. He may be the biggest threat this country faces. He needs to go.

Men. This is what you can do for us.

24 Feb

 

keep-calm-and-respect-women-37

The increasing tension provoked by men participating in public discussions about family violence is serving only to distract us from our focus on the topic.

This excellent piece by Amy Gray in The Guardian in which she analyses the problematics of a dominantly male panel on ABC TV’s Qanda last night (unfortunately titled “Family Violence Special”) affirms my assertion and I urge you to read it.

Denying anyone a voice is not my thing, often to my own disadvantage and at times almost ruin, but on this topic, at this stage, I don’t think men on panels are doing us much good at all.

I speak only for myself, and when I see that a panel on family violence, perpetrated by far more men than women, is a panel actually dominated by men, my question is WTF?

Followed by, I’m tuning out because there is nothing men have to say on this topic that I am ready and willing to hear at this point. That doesn’t mean I don’t like you, respect you and in some instances, love you. It means you need to step away because we need our moment, like we need the air we breathe.

I want the issue handled publicly by women, and there are thousands of women in this country who have the most extraordinary insight, expertise and personal experience to keep a thousand panels going for a thousand and one nights.

If I was a man I can’t imagine fronting up to such a gig and thinking my point of view counted for very much at all in that setting.

Addressing reasons why men are violent towards women and children is of course fundamental to prevention. Perhaps this is a topic that could sustain a panel all of its own, and not be conflated with the rare opportunity for the primary victims and survivors of family violence and their advocates to speak publicly on the topic.

I am likely going to cop all kinds of shit for saying this, but what I ask of men is that you focus your attention on other men, and vacate the space, just quietly leave the space of public discussion such as last night’s Qanda, for women. This is what you can do for us.

I know not all men hit women and children, and I know it’s offensive to some men to be lumped in with the hitters. But what I say to you is your sense of offence is nothing compared to us being hit, so don’t ask us to deal with it, and don’t expect us to listen to it because we can’t, and there’s no reason why we should.

We cannot stop violent men making non violent men look and feel bad. You have to do that yourselves.

Women need our moment. We need it like the air we breathe. You can do this for us. Respect.

 

 

 

It isn’t what it effing is.

24 Feb

id est quo id est

I’m not a physically violent woman but when somebody says “It is what it is” I want to smack them repeatedly upside the head  and bite them till they swear never to say it again, at least not in my hearing.

What does it mean? What does it effing mean? What does it mean when someone stands in front of you like Obi-Wan Kenobi and says, “It is what it is” and why is it wrong to want to poke them in both ears with your Jedi knight light saber?

The meaning of the phrase is illegible. It lacks any relation to reality. It contributes nothing to the understanding of our lives.

The phrase belongs in a suppository of ersatz wisdom of the kind peddled by pop psychology hacks, who think that the mere repetition of words like “Love” “Happiness” “Acceptance” “Joy” “Family” will make everything that’s nasty go away, especially if you paint those words on a piece of distressed faux wood and hang it on the wall.

The signs claim and are claimed to represent the real.  This is a fine example of Baudrillard’s “order of sorcery” in which meaning is conjured so that it appears to be referentially linked to the real, but in fact simulates reality and renders meaning illegible and obsolete.

Our biggest and most difficult concepts reduced to prescriptives on distressed faux wood.

Representation used as replacement for the real. Unlike the myriad forms of art, which at their best are an exploration of the emotion and psychology of our big ideas that move, inspire, frighten and otherwise stir the human heart.

From a psychological perspective the phrase sounds to me like resignation, capitulation, the verbal expression of a depressive perception that nothing can ever change, because “it is what it is.”

Or it’s a closing down of conversation, as in, what is the point of talking about this anymore because “it is what it is.”

Well, sod off, Jedi Master. By all means say, I don’t want to talk about this anymore. That’s honest. But don’t disguise your reluctance for discussion as the utterance of a universal truth.

It isn’t what it effing is. If we have learnt nothing else these past decades, we ought to have learned the inevitable fluidity of circumstances, that nothing is or can be certain, and that one of the most damaging things we can do to ourselves or others is to demand certainty where there can be none.

finis

 

 

Benefit of the doubt. What the Minister for Women doesn’t say

23 Feb

 

Minister for Women

Minister for Women

In his desire to distract the general public from the depth and breadth of the country’s increasing contempt for him (with the exception of Gerard Henderson, bless) Prime Minister Tony Abbott has resorted to the good old conservative standby, fear, in an effort to somewhat fancifully reinvent himself as the nation’s protector.

As part of this cunning stunt (no doubt thought out by someone in his office I’m not naming anyone but I wouldn’t employ them to wash my dog and he’s dead) Abbott announced that anyone perceived to be a potential terrorist would no longer be given the benefit of the doubt.

Immigration and Centrelink have been touted by the PM as two possible areas for increased scrutiny. That is, don’t admit possible potential maybe somehow some day terror suspects in the first place. Failing that, it is incumbent on someone behind the Centrelink counter to exclaim oh my! Immigration missed that this person might potentially possibly somehow maybe some day somewhere be a terrorist and I must not give him/her the benefit of the doubt even though Immigration did, damn their eyes, and I’m not giving them any welfare and I have now foiled a terror attack.

Man Haran Monis, perpetrator of the Martin Place Lindt Cafe horror, passed through both Immigration and Centrelink. He was also well-known to police in matters of domestic violence for which he was on bail, and there were a string of allegations of the sexual assault by him of some forty women.

Strangely, we have not heard the Minister for Women Tony Abbott once mention that anyone who perpetrates domestic violence ought to be noted as a potential terror suspect, and definitely not given the benefit of the doubt.

If Immigration and Centrelink are to be burdened with the task of identifying potential terror suspects and withholding the benefit of the doubt, why not police who are at the front line of domestic violence allegations?

Of course, the idea of expecting either Immigration or Centrelink to have the capacity to assess a potential terrorist is ludicrous, as is my suggestion that police assume terrorist potential in every person they arrest for domestic violence.

What is interesting, however, is that Abbott did not even go to the latter option, which out of all of them makes the most sense in a triad of bone-achingly senseless options. Obviously, no agency has the capacity or the training to identify terror suspects unless they are so bleedingly obvious as to have already embarked upon their ghastly vocation.

The number of ways in which the Minister for Women avoids the topic of domestic violence are spectacular. What other Minister in any government ever in the history of Western democracy has remained so consistently silent on his portfolio and kept it?

 

 

 

 

 

Cabinet of Wonders

22 Feb

Cabinet of Wonders

 

I’ve decided to re-open my blog The Practice of Goodness as the place where I post stories, poems, fragments, etc, keeping No Place for Sheep for politics and commentary. This piece to my late husband is the last of its kind I’ll post here.

 

Cabinet of Wonders

I dreamed I was walking through the park at the end of an autumn day. The tree shadows were long and the light golden. I saw you on the path in front of me, and hurried to catch up. Your hands were in the pockets of your jeans. You wore the dark purple sweater I knitted for you to keep out the cold you felt so keenly. The pattern was elaborate, it took months to finish, and you marvelled that my hands, with wool and needles, wove for you enduring warmth.

My wife made this, you told people.

Sometimes you would cradle my face in your hands and look at me and say, my wife.

When I caught up with you I slipped my hand into your pocket to touch yours. You turned your head and your look was quizzical. I saw the man I thought was you, wasn’t. The difference was barely discernible, but it was there. Shaken, I pulled my hand out of your pocket. We kept walking side by side, in silence.

We came to a bandstand, painted white with green trim, and hung with paper lanterns. Silent still, we walked up three wooden steps to the platform. We stayed there for some time, leaning on the railing, watching park life. I started to cry. You gazed at me then you pointed to a small house with double doors, off to the right, whose windows top and bottom looked to be filled with hand-carved toys, painted silks, and the mysterious devices of starlit sorcery. A cabinet of wonders, I thought. Our hearts.

You started down the bandstand steps. I cried harder. You looked back at me and smiled and pointed again to the house. I was to go with you there, I believed.

I could barely see for weeping as I stumbled down the wooden steps and followed you. But I was far behind and you forged ahead and I knew I wouldn’t catch up.

That moment in time, between when I put my hand in your pocket and when I realised the man I thought was you was not, has now settled deep in the cradle of my belly, where it has taken on the qualities of eternity.

I watched as you looked back and raised your goodbye hand. I watched as you disappeared into the cabinet of wonders. I watched as its doors closed behind you and I did not try to follow.

Awake, I know again that you are dead, and there is not one part of me that does not grieve you.

Wife. Time. Eternity. Wonders. The mysterious devices of starlit sorcery. Come back, and I will throw my arms around you.

The Bali Two, and profiting from human misery

21 Feb

 

heroinSmall

 

In his piece on Thursday in The Drum, Jonathan Green asks what of the victims of heroin traffickers Chan and Sukumaran, had the two succeeded in smuggling their product into Australia?

Green points out that the traffickers made a “Faustian” pact, the reality of the death of others against their own enrichment: the most brutal and callous entrepreneurship imaginable.

There’s no contesting that fact. Yet if we’re going to discuss profiting from the misery of others, more than half the human species will be found guilty of that Faustian pact. If these millions (billions?) of guilty face the fate of Chan and Sukumaran, the planet will be drenched in blood, a good deal of it the exsanguination of people in high places.

While it’s de rigueur to focus attention on the drug trade as the cause of suffering and death from which others make enormous financial profit, the list of such businesses is long, many of them are legal and many of them are state sanctioned, from the war machines of the Western world, to the liquor outlet that sells more alcohol to the already drunk who then get in a car and kill innocent bystanders.

And this is only thinking in terms of profiting from death. What about the myriad other forms of misery inflicted on one human by another for profit that results not in death, but in a tormented life? Then think about what we do to other species in the unrelenting search for profit, and the prestige, comfort and power profit brings.

That Chan and Sukumaran should be singled out from all the rest for execution makes little sense.

It is one of the awful realities of victimisation that justice is rarely commensurate with the crime.

Chan and Sukumaran chose to deal drugs, knowing that fatalities would result. Users choose to buy and use them, knowing the risk they take with their lives and the lives of those who love and care for them. These ghastly transactions take place in a society that is wilfully blind to its own stupidities in the matter of illegal drugs, such as how that illegality is determined and on what prejudices it is based, and the resulting  failure of that society to combat both the trade, and its devastating effects on so many lives.

In other words it is a systemic failure, and the system as it currently functions enables a marketplace for the plying of the deadly business.

I have no truck with celebrities unconvincingly claiming “I stand for mercy” in the matter of Chan and Sukumaran. Not because I want those two young men to die such ghastly deaths. I don’t. But as Green points out, where are the celebrities when thousands are put to death in the US, China, Saudi Arabia, and where are the celebrities when foreign nationals are tied to posts for execution in Indonesia?

And where are the celebrities when yet another user dies a solitary death because a government refuses safe injecting rooms, and needle exchanges, and  leaves its young to die alone in filthy gutters?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning to swim

20 Feb

Last night on ABC TV one of the more interesting truth seekers of the last decade, documentary film maker Louis Theroux, spent time with paroled sex offenders in Los Angeles.

I was a little chary of watching after growing up with abuse. It’s never possible to be certain that something you see or hear or smell or taste or feel or touch won’t revive a memory you thought safely long gone, as Proust observed some while before the term “trigger warning” was coined.

Theroux has the style of the best therapists: his presence is fearless, he will go wherever his subject wants to take him, and his skilled use of silence creates a space in which others can speak what they may not otherwise say.

As he frankly admitted, there were ways in which Theroux liked some of his subjects, while at the same time being unwilling and unable to set aside from his thinking their crimes, and the effects of those crimes on others, particularly children.

I felt sadness and pity for the broken, lonely lives led by the offenders.

It is almost impossibly difficult to express any emotions other than revulsion, hatred, and outrage towards sex offenders, and their crimes are deserving of all those feelings.  It is understandably required of us that our compassion be directed only towards their victims. But I am wondering if it is possible to hold the care and concern for the victim, and the sad pity for the perpetrator in the mind and heart at the same time.

It isn’t something I could have considered until I’d spent decades dealing with an aftermath of traumatic abuse that never really ends. It just changes. There are ways in which a life is broken by such experiences, and is only really ever cobbled together again. If you haven’t had a childhood, nothing and no one can ever give it to you. There is a loneliness in knowing darkness, because darkness separates you forever from those who haven’t known it. The predator passes on their broken, lonely life.

Because of my circumstances and its effects on me, I never learned to properly swim. One day, Mrs Chook said, I am going to teach you to swim properly.

I was full of fear. I couldn’t put my head under water, or breathe. She coaxed, and encouraged, and rewarded and persisted, and one day it all fell into place, and I was swimming properly.

This is one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given me. I can be a child in the pool. I never knew what it was to be a child in a pool. Now I take that child for a swim whenever I have the chance and when we’ve swum our laps, we play.

 

Quint Buccholz Two

 

So the point of this is, I  was wondering if this long, gradual, infinite process of healing myself as best I can, with the most enormous amount of help and love, has brought me to a place where I can watch Louis Theroux give a voice to people like the one who stole my childhood, and feel sad pity for his broken life. I am wondering, is this what forgiveness is?

I am currently confined by two circumstances. Illness, and the edges of tropical cyclone Marcia. Our house is like a snug, dry cave and through the windows there’s our garden, lush, green and dripping. Confinement has it purposes, if one can but see them.

Treading on bees

18 Feb

This post is not about politics. Don’t complain that I didn’t tell you.

bee lifting leg

I woke from a dream of my lover’s shoes. 

He always wore dirty black shoes with square toes when we met up. I asked him as I watched him undo them in preparation for getting into bed with me, “Do you ever clean your shoes?”

He shook his head. “I only have one pair,” he told me.

I thought that was all right. I have lots of shoes but I prefer wearing boots. Mostly in the climate I live in it’s better to go barefoot. The only problem with going barefoot is treading on bees. I accidentally tread on bees a lot and as you might know, a bee sting can itch for around five days and it’s no picnic.

I’ve been trying to keep a dream book for a while and interestingly, the effort has provoked more dreaming than I can remember for years. Dreams are like poems, or bits and pieces of them.

Shattered people are best represented by bits and pieces. Rainer-Maria Rilke.  I know this to be true. I have never in my life been able to sustain a continuous narrative.

My lover was in his shoes in the dream, but I couldn’t see him. I wrote down the bits and pieces  I could remember, and then the phrase ” erotic vulnerability” dropped into my head from out of nowhere so I wrote that down too. A writer ought to jot down everything, no matter how disparate the bits and pieces might seem at first blush.

After that I could no longer ignore what I was trying to avoid. I was having one of the worst feelings I’ve ever felt in my life. It was a feeling of the most abject, and infinitely lonely desolation. I was looking into an abyss, but it was inside me. The abyss was filled with the miasma of all the grieving I have never done.

I did what I was taught to do, and let the feeling linger for as long as it wanted. That made my day difficult, trying to be ordinary as all the while this dark, dank grief came over me in minor thirds.

The grief wasn’t about my lover. It felt as old as the world. Yet somehow, his dirty black square-toed shoes took me right into it. I forget, sometimes, the unsaid things we do for one another, without even knowing that we do them.

The next day the feeling was mostly gone. Only a few miasmic wisps remained. I thought, well, that’s interesting. I’ve felt the most abject feeling of utter desolation that I’ve ever felt in my life. For a whole day I looked into the abyss, and it didn’t, as I’ve always feared, kill me.

Childhood sexual abuse damages the soul. I don’t use that word in a religious sense. I use it to describe the sense of oneself that is forbidden to a child who is sexually abused. The sense of me. Sometimes a child has little chance to form that sense of me, if the abuse begins very early.  Sometimes the task is to restore it after the damage.

It never crossed my mind that I might find a fragment of me in the abyss.

I have been in the garden, sitting under the mango tree beside Big Dog’s grave. Of course, on my way barefoot across the grass  I trod on a bee.

I don’t know what will happen next.  The abyss will probably be there again some time. These things never entirely leave us. We are shattered people and we are best represented by bits and pieces. Sufficient unto the day.

 

Mansplaining shrink gets the flick, or the death of the author

17 Feb

Of all the things for which one could acquire a tainted reputation, chronic plagiarism must be one of the most ignominious.

Psychiatrist and columnist Dr Tanveer Ahmed, winner of the inaugural No Place for Sheep Order of Arrogant Ignorance for his mansplaining article on domestic violence, has just been “let go” by The Australian for plagiarising great chunks of the ill-informed drivel he claimed to have written for that newspaper in his role as a White Ribbon Ambassador. This here link tells you what that organisation thought about it. I gather they planned to send him to re-education camp.

The very notion of The Oz letting one of its people go for plagiarising had me ROFLMAO. (That’s rolling on the floor laughing my arse off, if you don’t do Twitter). What, they’ve suddenly acquired some integrity over there? They fire people for plagiarism? Lies, distortion and right-wing propaganda are fine, but Rupert won’t have plagiarism at The Oz?

Ahmed was sacked by the Sydney Morning Herald a while back for the same offence.

Obviously he’s a post-structuralist. He believes in the death of the author, that every text is a tissue of all other texts, that there is no single authorial voice, that one does not need to know the author’s identity to distill meaning from the text.  It’s a post-modern pastiche, a bit of cut and paste with intimate violence for its theme.

I once taught with someone who asked me to give a lecture for them when they were ill. I read the lecture the night before I was due to deliver it. Every word lifted. Every single bloody word. What aggravated me most about that, I have to confess, is that my senior colleague thought I’d be too ill-read to recognise the work. That, and having to write another lecture at the eleventh hour.

The fact that Ahmed plagiarised is not as important as the dangerous misinformation he plagiarised and peddled about. Fortunately, there won’t be any mainstream media willing to employ him again, I don’t imagine, so we’ve one less ignorant arrogant mansplaining voice to put up with.

Actually, I think Roland Barthes is nifty. And I don’t know that he ever recommended non-attribution.

Roland Barthes Death of the Author

 

 

The government you have when you don’t have a government

16 Feb

I woke up this morning thinking that I don’t feel as if we actually have a real government, or a real Prime Minster.

Tony Abbott seems to be increasingly decompensating under the stress of discovering he’s so unpopular with his party he had to face the prospect of a spill motion without even a challenger for his leadership, and that must be a rare political event just about anywhere.

(Decompensation, psychology: the inability to maintain defense mechanisms in response to stress, resulting in personality disturbance or psychological imbalance.)

After the acute trauma of the spill motion passed, everyone involved needed a little time to collect themselves, pass around the talking stick, and begin the process of healing. Instead, Abbott went right out and sacked Philip Ruddock as his Chief Government Whip, on the grounds that Ruddock had not adequately warned him of growing backbench discontent.

This is amazing. The rest of us knew all about it, but the PM’s office didn’t?

I’ve had doubts about the efficiency of this office for quite some time, after all, they’re supposed to be there for Tony yet every day since he took office things for him have traveled increasingly south. At first blush, it appears the PM’s staff are incompetent on a Monty Python scale.

Perhaps their secret agenda is to ruin him, or I have been watching too much In the thick of it. Either way he should sack somebody in that office and hire Malcolm Tucker, but instead he went after Ruddock.

I don’t care much what happens to Ruddock: I will never forget his days as Immigration Minister in the Howard government during which he instigated a powerfully successful campaign to demonise and criminalise asylum seekers arriving by boat, largely through the use of language he adopted from Nazi anti semitic propaganda of the 1930’s. Without Ruddock we would have no Morrison. He might look like a hurt old man, but I’m not fooled.

Then there were Abbott’s belligerent attacks on President of the Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, after the Commission’s report on children in detention was tabled in Parliament on Wednesday. In a typical conservative shoot the messenger and make so much noise that everybody will forget the message tactic, Abbott railed long and hard about Professor Triggs, while entirely disregarding the appalling findings of her report.

With the stubborn determination of the utterly cloth-eared stupid, Abbott keeps the three-word slogans hiccoughing off his far too evident, lizard-like tongue: boats, mining tax, carbon tax, boats, carbon tax, mining tax; we are open for business but not for boats, carbon tax, mining tax. I wonder to myself, does he or anyone in his office really think there are still people out here even listening to this drivel?

It is a measure of the collective desperation of Abbott and his staff that they continue to cling to this cringe-worthy robotic recitation: they have totally failed to come up with anything new, for all the millions of tax payer dollars we’ve spent on them.

The zeitgeist as far as I can tell is one of trembling, panicked uncertainty: what will their leader say next, how much longer can this go on, how can they make it better without looking like the ALP. This latter possibility seems to be the very worst thing they fear could happen to them.

It isn’t, though. Worse things are happening every time their leader opens his mouth and puts both feet in it. But hey, it’s good for the ALP.

There’s been a cute white rabbit appearing in our garden for the last few days, and like Alice in the wonderland, I’m thinking of drinking the potion to make me oh so tiny, then I can follow White Rabbit down his hole.

But wait! I’m already there!

The final straw is the sudden wheeling out of Margie. You know he’s a dead man walking when he rolls out the wife.

Tony & Margie Abbott

 

 

 

 

Regulating desire: 50 shades of mind your own business

15 Feb

Keep calm & spank me

 

I haven’t seen the film Fifty Shades of Grey. I’ve read perhaps three pages of the first book which was far more than I needed to tell me it wasn’t going to cause any quivers in my nethers, and it would be self-abuse to persist in reading the excruciatingly awful writing for absolutely no reward.

The narrative centres around the relationship between an “ordinary” young woman and a wealthy man in which she is his submissive, and he controls her life. They practice consensual bondage, domination, sadism and masochism.

I was interested in what some others were saying about the movie so I read the erudite scorn of Razer, the feminist outrage of Tyler, and the, well, I don’t know quite how to describe Mia Freedman’s take in which she claims that reading all three books brings both knowledge and understanding to the film, a brand new angle on the concept of a lord of the rings trilogy which seems to endow Fifty Shades with far more intellectual and imaginative gravitas than it can possible deserve.

Tyler’s piece in the Conversation launches a full frontal attack on the practices of bondage, domination, sadism and masochism, which she claims are only ever abusive, even when engaged in by consenting adults. Adults are never capable of “individual” consent, the argument goes, because all of our actions take place within the context of a culture that constructs our desires, so  people only think they want BDSM because they’ve been taught to be dominant or submissive by the patriarchy. BDSM eroticises domination and subordination and this is wrong, she writes, when we consider how many women are subjected to violence and abuse to which they do not consent.

This argument is a little like saying that nobody should be allowed to eat hot chips because some people are dangerously obese.

The conflation of intimate violence with consensual BDSM offends me mightily. I haven’t explored all the potential of BDSM yet in my life, but I do know the erotic delight of yielding and submission, and the equally erotic delight of dominating in sexual games played in an atmosphere of trust and exploration. I’m not that interested in hurting and being hurt, so I’d be a very low-level kind of BDSM person in that it doesn’t take a lot to transport me to the altered state where complex emotions and sensations are aroused by submitting, and by dominating. And this is surely what BDSM is about – people want the feels and will do what it takes to get them, and who is to say they shouldn’t and when the physical performance is abusive, excepting those involved?

Yes, there are times when BDSM goes wrong. There are times when practically everything you can think of goes wrong: we inhabit a Manichean universe of dark and light, and oftentimes the distance between the two is narrower than a bee’s dick. Of late, this universe seems to be increasingly populated by those who wish to prevent anything ever going wrong, an impossible task that can only result in nobody being allowed to do anything at all, in case it goes wrong.

I have experienced family violence and childhood sexual abuse, and there is absolutely no comparison between those experiences  and consensual BDSM, and it is dishonest in every way for anybody to claim they are inevitably the same. They may well become the same if wishes aren’t respected in BDSM encounters, just as ordinary old heterosexual sex can go wrong if wishes aren’t respected. What is wrong in both instances in the disrespect of wishes, not the practices.

To be honest, I’ve had it with pearl-clutching repressives who want to vanilla the world, and try to achieve that by shaming others about their sexual desires and practices. They are far more of a menace than Fifty Shades can ever be.

In a period of our evolution in which we are supposedly increasingly free from sexual oppression and repression, merely by virtue of being allowed to speak of sex in ways that were unthinkable fifty years ago, it seems to me that this freedom has brought with it a focus of concentration on the morality or otherwise of how we perform sex, rather than on the more important matter of respecting another’s wishes in sexual encounters of all kinds.

If I want to be spanked, I’ll get spanked, and problems will only arise for me if I’m spanked when I don’t want to be. Then I’ve been assaulted and there are already laws in place to address that.

But I can’t see anything in the least coherent in telling me I can’t have a spanking because others are being subjected to intimate violence. Conflation is one of the scourges of our times.

 

 

Advice to women. Not.

14 Feb

createordie-neon

 

Were I ever to give advice to women which I wouldn’t because I continue to learn that the ways in which I can be stupid are infinitely more numerous than the ways in which I can be smart and to give advice to anyone it ought to be the other way around, but if, stupidly, I disregarded that little spark of self-knowledge and went ahead anyway, I would say, a woman in a family must resist the domination of the managerial if she wants her creativity to survive.

By the “managerial” I mean that aspect of ourselves so competent, so deft, so practical, so capable it could run a global corporation with one hand tied behind its back, and blindfolded. In my life as a partner and mother, and in the lives of many women I know, this aspect became so dominant it stole the oxygen from every other. This occurred as much because it suited everyone else that I manage the family’s daily affairs as it did because I thought I was supposed to.

Virginia Woolf grappled with  the problem the managerial can present to women, describing its pernicious influence as “The Angel in the House”  with irony and humour, but with deadly seriousness as well:

You who come of a younger and happier generation may not have heard of her — you may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it — in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others…

I now record the one act for which I take some credit to myself… I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self-defence. Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing. For, as I found, directly I put pen to paper, you cannot review even a novel without having a mind of your own, without expressing what you think to be the truth about human relations, morality, sex. And all these questions, according to the Angel of the House, cannot be dealt with freely and openly by women; they must charm, they must conciliate, they must — to put it bluntly — tell lies if they are to succeed. Thus, whenever I felt the shadow of her wing or the radiance of her halo upon my page, I took up the inkpot and flung it at her. She died hard. Her fictitious nature was of great assistance to her. It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality. She was always creeping back when I thought I had despatched her…

For me, it wasn’t entirely about reviewing male writers and depending on charm to get me by, although the spectre of disapproval, the fear of offending and as a consequence being despatched to the margins also has to be regularly fought off if I’m going to write what I truly want to write. My recent foray into erotica, for example, was a frightening experience of voluntary vulnerability, as is any self-revelation, but if we are to write about what it is to be human, that writing will always provoke anxiety in its author, and likely at times in its readers.

As unlike Woolf we had no household staff, for me the managerial was about knowing where everybody’s socks were, remembering the washing and the shopping and the cooking and the lunches and the driving and the.. look, I can’t even bear to go back there, you all know what I mean. I lost myself. I became The Manager, and worst of all, I found it almost impossible to turn her off in my head. I came to hate her. She was like the strangler fig parasitically stealing the life of the rainforest tree.

This suited everybody in the family, but it didn’t suit me.

One of the wisest pieces of advice any woman ever gave me was to cultivate absent-mindedness. For example, when people asked me where their socks were I would gaze thoughtfully at them for much longer than necessary. I would assume a puzzled expression and tug at my lip. Oh, darling, I would say finally, I know I saw them somewhere but I can’t think where…

I had to strictly discipline myself  in order to be able to do this. My every conditioned impulse urged me to take responsibility for everything in our household’s daily life, and this conditioning had to be constantly and consistently resisted. Family members do not easily relinquish their dependencies, and tend to passively and aggressively fight changes in a wife and mother with every bone in their bodies. I think it was harder than giving up smoking, and there were no quit lines to help me.

It took quite some time, but eventually I noticed they weren’t asking me to manage their entire lives for them quite as often as they used to. Then one morning I overheard one child saying to another, I’ll ask Mum. She won’t know, replied the other, she’ll just look at you as if she doesn’t know what you’re talking about, she never knows where anything is, we’ll have to find it ourselves.

And I knew I’d done it.

This proved to me that you can’t change anybody but yourself and if you do change yourself there is a good chance that  people who really love you will eventually learn put up with it, and change as well.

There are many advantages in being thought a muppet by your family. Muppets are not renowned for their managerial abilities, and nobody expects it of them.

Sometimes, it’s the only way the creative woman survives.

Many thanks for the inspiration for this post to the lovely M, who sends me a poem to wake up to every morning. The two words “managerial mess” in this poem by Jennifer Strauss, What Women Want  summed up an entire period of my life. 

 

Is domestic violence gender-based violence? Two

11 Feb

language-matters-85837543Yesterday’s post on whether or not domestic violence should be framed as gender based violence caused some discussion, which is excellent, these discussions must be had, disagreement and all, if we are to ever find ways to deal with the awful cost of intimate violence.

One tweet that particularly impressed itself on me is this one from Margaret Foley:

It refers to the “king hitting” of one brother by another, in a public place. As is pointed out, this is not described  as family violence or domestic violence, but why not?

I also received some tweets from a man who thought I was suggesting that the LGBTI community consists of people without gender, a reading of the blog I find bizarre on a number of fronts. Gender is a role, a performance, and it is the aim of some in the community to challenge the performance of traditional gender roles, for example Norrie, who succeeded in having a non-gender specific category legalised for use on official forms. Assuming that same-sex couples emulate heterosexual gender role stereotypes is homophobic.

My fear, shared by others, is that using the terms domestic and gender with regard to violence may actually work against women, because of the perception those terms immediately create about the nature and seriousness, or lack thereof, of violence perpetrated against us. I am willing to relinquish the right to have violence against me described as gendered and domestic, if it will go some way towards changing perceptions about that violence so that it is regarded as just as serious and criminal as any other form of violence, such as a bro king hitting a bro.

I speak with some authority on this matter. I survived horrific violence in my family of origin, violence of the kind that has left me with life-long post traumatic stress disorder. I do not want that violence diminished by language. The violence I experienced was violence in the home, perpetrated by a man against a woman and her child. The cultural connotations of both domestic and gender-based diminish what happened to me, and I have yet to see an argument that convinces me that they don’t. They shouldn’t, but they do.

We can either struggle to change society’s perception of these terms, or we can struggle to have violence recognised as criminal no matter what the circumstances in which it is perpetrated. At this point I would choose the latter, as the situation is far too grave to wait for public perceptions around the domestic and the gender-based to change. It is violence. It is a crime. When you are a victim and a survivor of violent crime, any language that diminishes your experience is not a language you want to use and hear used, even though it is theoretically accurate.

 

Is domestic violence gender-based violence?

11 Feb

Domestic Violence

 

Domestic violence is usually included in the umbrella term gender-based violence, that is, violence that is directed against a person because of her gender, and violence that reflects inequalities between men and women.

Domestic violence, intimate partner violence, (IPV) and family violence are defined in Australian federal and state government policy released in 2011 as gender crimes, committed overwhelmingly by men against women and their children.

As the majority of domestic arrangements in our culture are heterosexual, that seems an obvious conclusion to draw. However, look at any one of a number of world-wide studies on domestic violence between same-sex partners and you’ll find the similarity to heterosexual couple violence, not only in occurrence, but also in performance.

Domestic violence is about power and control between men and women, women and women, and men and men. If we lived in a culture in which same-sex couples were as prevalent as heterosexual couples, it’s safe to assume the incidence of domestic violence would hardly vary.

My point is that to define domestic violence as gender-based is inaccurate and unhelpful, particularly to those in the LGBTI community whom it excludes. Many researchers suspect a current under-reporting of same-sex couple violence, perhaps in part due to that definition. The proportionally equal rates of domestic violence in hetero and LGTBI communities suggest the violence is not gender-based, but an outcome of couplings in which one party exerts control over another using violence, regardless of gender.

Framing domestic violence as a gender-based problem does little to help combat the issue, as decades of failure to reduce the figures suggests.

It’s sometimes argued that LGBTI couplings mimic the heterosexual and the abused party in LGBTI relationships is “feminised” by virtue of being abused, therefore the abuse is still in that sense gender-based. This argument has a ring of making the evidence fit that leaves me unconvinced.

Our problem is that the need to exert power and control over others is endemic in our culture and manifests itself in a multitude of ways, from school bullies to violent intimate partners. My concern is that in making gender the focus in domestic violence we’re allowing ourselves to be distracted from the core problem, and as long as we do that we are unlikely to find workable solutions.

As long as our dominant couplings are heterosexual, there’s no reason to think women will not continue to bear the brunt of domestic violence inflicted on them by male partners. But does that make intimate couple violence gender-based, and ought we to be addressing it solely from that perspective?

We need to have adequate protections in place for people needing refuge from violent domestic situations, and our Minister for Women, Tony Abbott, has cut funding to women’s services that will in the next couple of weeks severely curtail these protections. It is not always to our advantage to have domestic crimes against us defined as gender-based.

Mansplaining domestic violence. The 2015 Award.

10 Feb

Mansplaining

 

It’s very early in the new year to be handing out awards for anything, however this piece by psychiatrist and White Ribbon ambassador Tanveer Ahmed on domestic violence earns the author the 2015 No Place for Sheep Order of Arrogant Ignorance for mansplaining violent domestic crimes against women and children perpetrated on them by the men in their lives.

Mansplaining, if you aren’t sure what it is, is defined in this timely piece in The Conversation by Monash academic Howard Manns.

I know. I know.

“Mansplain” has been declared the word of the year by the Macquarie Dictionary:

verb (t) Colloquial (humorous) (of a man) to explain (something) to a woman, in a way that is patronising because it assumes that a woman will be ignorant of the subject matter. MAN + (EX)PLAIN with s inserted to create a pronunciation link with explain.

Admittedly, Dr Ahmed was explaining his theories on domestic violence to everyone who reads the Australian and that’s not just women, nevertheless, in this writer’s opinion, he is still deserving of the Order.

Owing to the Murdoch press paywall which is sometimes by-passable and sometimes not, I’ve copied Dr Ahmed’s piece and you can read it at the end of this post.

Basically, Ahmed is claiming that “male disempowerment” caused by 1970’s radical feminism has led to a power inequality between the genders. One way some men address this imbalance is by beating the women and children in their lives, sometimes to death, or murdering them by other means.

In reaction to this male violence against them, women have formed a “cult of victimhood” that has so skewed society’s perceptions of male behaviour that beating women and children in acts of intimate violence and sometimes murdering them has led to a “psycho-prejudice…in which what men and boys do is seen as socially disruptive.”

If men and boys beat and murder anyone outside their families it is certainly seen as “socially disruptive.” Think king hits.

But that’s not all: “The growing social and economic disempowerment of men is increasingly the driver of family-based violence…[working class male work] has become “feminised.”

In other words, domestic violence occurs entirely in the working classes, “newly arrived ethnic groups,” and fatherless sons of single mothers are apparently particularly prone, says Ahmed.

This is drivel deserving of a hundred Orders of Arrogant Ignorance. It is well-estabished that domestic violence occurs in every demographic, and I can personally attest to that, the perpetrator in my family of origin being, like Ahmed, a doctor, and not at all economically disempowered, or disempowered in any other way either.

While it is true that there are male victims of domestic violence and they shouldn’t be neglected, drivel such as this is of no help to them or anybody else.

It’s also true that a particular view of gender relations can at times be less than helpful. However, domestic violence and murder are crimes, and those who perpetrate the crimes are criminals. Gender relations do not a beater and a murderer make, and men like Ahmed need to grasp that.

With mansplainers like White Ribbon Ambassador Ahmed as our “friend,” who needs enemies?

 

Men forgotten in violence debate

TANVEER AHMED

THE AUSTRALIAN FEBRUARY 09, 2015 12:00am

THERE is too little acknowledgment of the importance of male disempowerment in debates surrounding domestic violence. Gender relations have changed dramatically in the past few decades, but discussions about family violence are stuck in the mindset of 1970s radical feminism.

This emphasises power inequality in gender interactions and on perceived societal mess­ages that sanction a male’s use of violence and aggression. The focus is on male villainy, denial of biologically based sex differences and a cult of victimhood. This is part of a broader movement that defines normal maleness as a ­risible kind of fatuous and reactionary behaviour. As US anthropologist and masculinity expert Lionel Tiger, who coined the term “male bonding”, says: “We have a psycho-prejudice, in which the norm is the female norm and what boys (and men) do is seen as ­socially disruptive.”

The Prime Minister’s move to acknowledge the Australian of the Year award to Rosie Batty and community outpouring on domestic violence through a COAG committee is worthy, but it risks becoming dominated by ­radical feminists and a worldview around the powerlessness of women.

Just as women are now more likely than ever to enter university, be breadwinners and have affairs, they are also more likely to commit family violence against partners, children or relatives. But the anti-feminists who focus on female perpetrators of family violence, such as Michael Woods from male advocacy group Men’s Health Australia, forget the growing social and economic disempowerment of men is increasingly the driver of family based violence. Woods is a strong critic of what he says is a domestic violence industry and diluted measures of what constitutes violence.

The focus on female disempowerment alone will not achieve an improved existence, since they are often surrounded by disempowered men. Men for whom the security of unionised labour in the manufacturing industries is becoming a distant memory are experiencing a huge displacement from modern economic trends. It’s been replaced by casualised, service-oriented work with relatively low wages. In essence, their work has been feminised.

British social researcher Paul Thomas questioned British youths of different backgrounds for a study in 2010. He found white, working-class men feel they are the real outsiders and disenfranchised from opportunity.

Likewise, family violence within newly arrived ethnic groups is often related to the sudden dilution of traditional masculinity, leaving men lost and isolated, particularly as females enjoy greater autonomy and expectations. This is primarily positive, but a greater acknowledgment of the huge displacement such men endure from the cleavage of the institutions of family, clan and tradition in less than a generation may help alleviate their sense of humiliation.

Despite the cries of domestic violence being an epidemic, we should also consider that fatherlessness could fit such a category, with 40 per cent of Australian teenagers living without their biological fathers. It was Margaret Mead who said fatherhood was essentially a social invention. But as the Left increasingly dilutes the notion of biological differences in sex, amusingly illustrated by Greens senator Larissa Waters imploring parents not to buy gender-specific toys for Christmas, we are downplaying the notion that fathers are even desirable.

Statistics don’t lie. It is true one woman a week dies at the hands of a partner, current or former. As part of a broadbased strategy, it is critical that improving arrest and prosecution rates, establishing shelters and abuse hotlines, pushing for state provisions against stalking, and creating protections for immigrants all have the goal of getting victims out of abusive ­relationships.

But the broader movement that has long fought against violence towards women remains stuck in a view of gender relations from decades past, which will limit its effectiveness in stemming the problem in an inclusive way.

Tanveer Ahmed is a psychiatrist and White Ribbon Day ambassador.

 

Dear Mr Abbott. Unlike god, the people are not infinitely forgiving

9 Feb

 

Good Government

 

“Good government starts today,” promised Prime Minister Tony Abbott, fresh from his party’s first failed spill motion this morning in which 39 members of his team turned against him, and one of them cast an informal vote. We are moving on, the difficulties are now behind us, is the vein in which he continued.

All of which begs the question, what kind of government does he think we’ve we been enduring since the LNP won power in September 2013?  Many of us already sensed it wasn’t a good one, and it’s reassuring to have this view validated by our PM, who is, after all, responsible for its lack of substance and quality.

These last seventeen months, as Bill Shorten remarked in a splendidly energetic display during Question Time this afternoon, are seventeen months of the nation’s life it will never get back, and what has it been good for?

Abbott’s determination to put all this behind him and make a fresh start reminded me that he is a Catholic, and so is very used to making fresh starts and putting awkward things behind him.

This is one of the many things I fail to understand about the Christian god. He is, apparently, infinitely forgiving and that to my mind is just plain stupid. Generous human beings will forgive much, but we have the sense to know when forgiveness is a waste of time and the offender has no intention of changing his or her behaviour.

One of the many problems in believing in a god who will forgive infinitely is that it can make you morally sluggish. It doesn’t actually matter what you do, you can count on being forgiven. We’ve seen this played out a million times in the Catholic priest pedophilia scandal, for example. Those priests surely confessed their crimes against children and were forgiven every time, then went right out and did it again, because why not?

And didn’t Abbott give one of them a reference once?

The concept of putting things behind one has much to be said for it, on the proviso that one has learned the lessons to be learned first. To be honest, I don’t have much trust in a government that admits it’s only starting good governance today, seventeen months after it took office. That’s a little long to stay on the training wheels, and they weren’t actually out of office long enough to forget how to govern.

I am also becoming more than a little aggravated with mainstream media commentators who are busily writing a new narrative about volatile, over-sensitive voters causing leaders to crash and governments to fall. This is codswallop. With the advent of social media and the twenty-four hour news cycle, voters are more engaged and more vocal than at any time in our history and we often do not like what we see. Politicians are more scrutinised than ever before, and we all too often and with very good reason take a set against what our scrutiny reveals.

The problem lies not with an hysterical (and therefore feminised, don’t you love it) electorate, but with the lack of substance and integrity of many of those who seek high office. The Abbott government (and the Newman government in Queensland) attempted to inflict its pathological ideology of inequality on a nation whose general ethos is still, miraculously, the fair go. We’ve turned on them. We’ve done this because we are largely a decent people who don’t believe those at the bottom  of the food chain should be ground even further into misery, while those at the top profit obscenely. We haven’t done it because we are volatile, over-sensitive and hysterical.

Politicians and mainstream media can find democracy a struggle.

Abbott is on notice, from his party and from the electorate. Not only does he have 39 home-grown dissidents to contend with, his personal polling figures are abysmal. I have no idea what the PM’s idea of “good government” might be, but I do think it is an admission of grotesque failure that he is promising the electorate good government from today, when he’s been in office all this time and only now because of a revolt and attempted coup. In other words, Abbott has been forced to consider “good government.” It hasn’t come to him naturally.

Prime Minister Abbott might well be about to learn the hard way that unlike god, we the voters are not infinitely forgiving, and he’s likely had his one and only shot at reforming himself and his ideologically driven party.

A song for the changed Tony Abbott: Bruno Mars and Today my Life Begins 

“I will leave the past behind me…”

Abbott’s future: lose-lose

7 Feb

Pragmatic480w

 

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, former Oxford boxing blue, is up against the ropes in the biggest fight of his political life, a fight he can only lose.

He could of course do as John Gorton did, vote against himself and run for the deputy leadership, but Abbott does not strike me as a man capable of voting against himself.

Should his party dump him as leader on Tuesday his losses are obvious, and all that remains to be seen is what he does with them.  Retire from politics? Stay as a back bencher? If so, what kind of back bencher: obstructionist and vengeful, supportive and calm?

Given his powerful desire to stay where he is, any of these options are humiliating smacks in the face over a prolonged period with the equivalent of dozens of stinky wet fish. Quite a come down for the bloke who threatened to shirtfront Putin.

Should he retain his position it will be as a mortally wounded leader who can only limp, bleeding and bandaged though the rest of his term.

To a great extent Abbott has set himself up for this latter option, by haranguing colleagues and backbenchers as to the need for the LNP not to become the ALP and strand the country in similar chaos and angry bewilderment by changing leaders in their first term. This is a spurious argument. The two situations are entirely different, as I’ve argued here. It is an indication of the limitations of the conservative hive mind that nobody seems willing or able to differentiate between the Rudd/Gillard leadership woes, and the current LNP leadership woes, and it may well be their undoing that they can’t.

The false dilemma functions as a powerful argument for Abbott, and some would claim the only one he has.

The chances are few MPs will genuinely embrace retaining Abbott, but the majority may well embrace the desire not to be seen as resembling the ALP.  They will also be concerned at the prospect of the ongoing difficulty of dealing with the buckets of mockery and scorn they poured on the ALP being thrown right back at them, particularly in an election campaign. The threat of members losing their seats may not yet be great enough for them to throw Abbott out, and they may be inclined to give him another chance in an effort to avoid the appearance of Labor-like dysfunction.

The vote will not be for Abbott, but against the appalling prospect of being seen as like the ALP, mirroring the sentiments of the electorate who gave the Abbott government power in the first place as a reaction to its enraged disappointment with the Rudd/Gillard shenanigans.

If Abbott stays on as a wounded leader, this will not work in the government’s favour as far as the electorate is concerned. We do not want a wounded leader. We want a strong, competent, active, engaged, visionary leader. Abbott has so far shown no signs of being such a leader, either to the electorate or to his party. The leadership challenge in itself damages an already seriously damaged Prime Minister, and the LNP will have to weigh up the costs to them of keeping him, as opposed to the costs of cutting him loose.

Either way Abbott will have to personally bear the brunt of the consequences, and this may well be the only act of real leadership the man ever performs, albeit entirely involuntarily.

 

How to use women to get you out of the deep excrement other women got you into.

6 Feb

Good woman:bad woman

 

Deconstructing a Paul Sheehan piece can be like shoving bamboo splinters under your toenails and watching them bleed. Fortunately I have pain killers.

Sheehan has, remarkably even for him, reduced the entire Abbott government leadership crisis into that good old patriarchal standby, the good woman/bad woman trope.

In yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald Sheehan makes this claim: Tony Abbott’s new order: An invisible Peta Credlin and a visible Margie Abbott is the new template. Better late than never.

The new template? Template for what? The template for how, when all else fails, to use women to get you out of the trouble you think other women have got you into?

Margie Abbott is apparently at one with Sheehan on this strategy, calling for LNP “wives and partners” to get behind her man, a move Robyn Oyeniyi analyses succinctly in her piece on the topic.

Does Sheehan actually believe voters are so gullible as to be swayed by Tony Abbott wheeling out his wife in his time of sorrow, while tucking away controversial Chief of Staff Peta Credlin in a cupboard, presumably till things get back to normal for him, at which time he’ll pop Margie away again and let Peta out, because he can’t do without her?

Reading between Sheehan’s lines, which are so far apart you have to be careful not to fall into the abyss between them,  he’s claiming something as simplistic as Peta Credlin got Abbott into this, and now Margie will get him out.

In an extraordinary own goal of unintended irony, Sheehan writes:

Mrs Abbott has never sought publicity but at the height of then prime minister Julia Gillard’s “misogyny” diversionary campaign in 2012 (amid several scandals) she famously intervened in defence of her husband:  “Do you want to know how God turns a man into a feminist? He gives him three daughters … I believe a disservice is being done to women when the gender card is played to shut down debate about policy.”

Presumably, Sheehan and Mrs Abbott think they aren’t “playing the gender card to shut down debate about policy.” Really? Because it seems to me that’s exactly what they are doing.

In a desperate attempt to avoid the substantive issue, which is that some Abbott government policies have profoundly offended so many Australians the Prime Minister has been haemorrhaging political capital practically since the day he took office, Sheehan looks to a change of the woman behind the man to obscure this harsh reality, and save the government’s sorry bum.

Then there’s Mrs Abbott’s remark that God turns a man into a feminist by giving him daughters. And they say we should have god in schools. This is what happens when you let god in schools. Women grow up thinking we’re vessels for god to give men daughters to make them feminist. I can’t even….

Next we have this from Sheehan:

She has since endured attacks on one of their daughters over a college scholarship, with information accessed illegally and leaked to the media to embarrass the Abbott family.

No, Paulie, the Australian people had the right to know that while the Abbott government was intent on making higher degrees excruciatingly expensive for everyone else, the Prime Minister’s daughter was awarded a once-off scholarship to see her through her tertiary education. If this knowledge becoming public embarrassed the Abbott family, so it should. Though I doubt it did. Annoyed them, maybe, but embarrassed them? I doubt it.

The reason some men love the good woman/bad woman trope so dearly is because it removes all responsibility and accountability from the man. He is helpless as a babe in the face of the influence of a good or bad woman. Sheehan is an unreconstructed idiot, peddling this ignorant, venomous trash. It no more serves a woman to be put on a pedestal than it does to be despatched to the gutter. One can make allowances for Euripides, given his times, but Sheehan has no excuses.

Playing monogamy Two.

3 Feb

 

infidelity

 

Fourteen months into my first (and last) relationship with a married man, I knew I’d gone as far as I could go with it.

I’d been feeling that way for some time. Since the beginning really, it had never seemed like something that was going to work for me. I liken it to learning to smoke when I was a teenager. That made me feel horrible but I persisted, enjoyed it, became dependent, and then went through agonies of withdrawal when I realised for the sake of my health I couldn’t do it anymore.

There were many reasons why the situation wasn’t good for me, but the one that’s most relevant here is the precedence his marriage, and his professed desire to maintain it, took over everything else. I say professed because he swung wildly between his desire for “us,” and his desire not to lose everything else.  From the beginning I agreed to give his situation precedence, and then gave him the gift of absolute trust in me that I wouldn’t do anything to disturb that situation. And I didn’t.

But this agreement demanded that I put my own life and well-being second to his marriage, and this gradually caused me to feel more and more worthless. Why, I wondered, was my life and the effects the relationship was having on it, any less significant than his, or his wife’s? His children are well into adulthood, so there was no question of disturbing young ones or adolescents. I wrote:

All the time we have been conducting this so as not to destroy your life, and your wife’s, and all the time mine has been destructing. I can’t live like this anymore.

You believed, and I went along with it, that the fact of your marriage was what needed most consideration and protection. Because I no longer live in my marriage we assumed it would be easier for me. As if the fact of a marriage is the only possible reason for a life to explode in these circumstances. As if the destruction of a life that does not involve a marriage is not quite so much of a destruction. But that is wrong. The effect this is having on my life is as significant as it is for anybody else, marriage or not. This affair has damaged me in ways I haven’t yet begun to unravel, and I can’t do it anymore.

(He ignored this by the way, and begged me to get on a plane and come and see him “in the flesh.” He couldn’t get on a plane and come and see me because he didn’t have any money except what his wife doled out to him. But that’s another story).

The privileging of pretend monogamy is fundamental to an affair. The levels of dishonesty required with self and others are equivalent to the density of the earth’s layers. At the core is the demand for the protection of the central lie: while outwardly the married person lives monogamously (currently the most highly valued, highly respected and highly protected relational arrangement in western culture) he or she is secretly non-monogamous. The deceits multiply outward from that central point.

The recognition that monogamy can be extremely difficult for some people has spawned a movement led by American columnist Dan Savage. Advocating “honest infidelity” Savage recommends that partners “go outside the bounds of marriage if that’s what it takes to make the marriage work,” with the permission of their spouse. Honesty with one another is Savage’s core principle, and he is insistent that any potential infidelity must first be discussed and agreed upon.

The problem with Savage’s thesis is that it privileges marriage absolutely, at the expense of any other person. For example, what of the individual one uses as the sexual and/or emotional outlet required in order to maintain the marriage? Is this practice not using another as a means to an end, in the service of the couple, and doesn’t using another as a means to an end dehumanise him or her?

How and why has marriage become so important, that the intimate use of another human being to maintain it can be justified?

Or does Savage simply assumed the world is littered with available, selfless women and men just waiting to help couples maintain their marriages with a spot of sexual and emotional infidelity? People who will happily set aside their own needs in the service of the institution of marriage, so rich in generosity they will agree to begin and end an intimate relationship entirely in accordance with the couple’s timetable, and always in the knowledge that whatever happens, the relationship they undertake has as its only purpose  making someone else’s marriage work?

Savage refers us back to a time when “men had concubines, mistresses, access to prostitutes” and were not considered disloyal to their wives in doing this. Sex with concubines, mistresses and “prostitutes” was not regarded as breaking the vow of monogamy, because these women were perceived as of less value than their wives. These “lesser” women served the purpose of keeping the  marriage intact, and had no value outside of the services they provided. They were, at least, paid or kept; Savage seems to be expecting his imagined sexual servants to be doing it for free.

From a woman’s perspective, attitudes such as Savage’s, and that of any man playing at monogamy who wants a secret lover on the side, are continuing a very long history of perceiving and using women as a means to an end. Society is largely silent on the predicament of a woman who is discarded when a spouse discovers an affair. Society is not silent or backward in denigrating her, describing her in the most appalling terms, and expressing general views that she deserved what she got for trying to take another woman’s man, and probably breaking up a marriage.

This latter charge surely ought to be levelled at the faithless spouse.

With Savage’s “honest infidelity” the female lover is less likely to incur such abusive wrath, unless of course it all goes south and the marriage breaks up despite the honest fidelity. However, she is still being used. Anyone, I would argue, who engages in an intimate relationship with another human being in the full knowledge that they will never consider that human being as anything more than secondary to their primary relationship, is using her. Or him.

It was this knowledge, initially inchoate and held at bay by passion, that caused my discomfort from the very beginning of my relationship with a married man. I knew on a very deep level that I was letting myself be used, no matter how many declarations of love he made. I just couldn’t let the knowledge in. He knew it better than anyone, having used women for decades, including, some might argue, his wife.

The legitimising of the ideal of monogamy as the best option for relationship is one of the great deceits of our culture. Not only does it cause us to fail at monogamy, it also causes us to fail at non-monogamy: it is a lose-lose situation.  Society needs to stop lying about this, and solutions such as Savage’s are not as progressive as he seems to think. From this woman’s perspective they take us backwards, or at the very least keep us trapped in a binary of good woman /bad woman, wife/mistress, worthy/unworthy.

There are people for whom monogamy works well, and it should never be abandoned as an option. But it is just that, an option, and nothing more. It’s not sacred. It’s man-made.

There are also people for whom being a lover works well. I acknowledge that just because I’m not one of them doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

 

Stephen Fry to the Christian god: How dare you?

3 Feb

 

Divine Vengeance

Divine Vengeance

 

Abbott at the Press Club

2 Feb

Drink!

 

There were so many slogans, I was drunk by 1.15.

We cut the carbon tax! Drink!

We stopped the boats! Drink!

We’re building the roads! Drink!

Margie and the girls! Drink!

Tony Abbott’s National Press Club speech had as its not so subtle leitmotif  blaming Labor for everything. In other words the man still hasn’t got out of electioneering mode and into governing mode. Someone had obviously instructed him to get a poke in at Labor at every opportunity, and that is just the kind of instruction he can follow.

How long can a government blame a previous government for the difficulties of governing? Is there a time limit? Please, somebody, make one, because this long since became ridiculous.

One of the many things I find intolerably offensive about the Prime Minister is his insensitive and egotistical penchant for co-opting awful tragedy into his autobiographical narrative. So we had his self-described  “brave” captain’s call about the shooting down of MH17 over the Ukraine brought in as evidence of why he can’t undertake never to make another captain’s pick. He subjected us to a little homily about the nasty rebels and the stricken families, as an example of why a captain must always be allowed to have a pick. He’d actually been asked about the knights and danes, as Senator Jacquie Lambie likes to call them. Great Danes. Danish people. Who knows. Abbott can confer an honour on anything with a pulse.

We had the role he’d played in the release of journalist Peter Greste from his Egyptian prison, and how the PM had been so warmly thanked by the relieved Greste family on the phone this morning.  Abbott had high praise for Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, with whom he and his foreign minister Julie Bishop negotiated Greste’s release. He said.

There were the usual promises not to lead us into chaos, as did the ALP Drink! with party unrest and leadership changes. We are on a journey together, said the PM, leaning earnestly into the lectern. This is a new year that will be very different from last year with more consultation Drink! and more collegiality Drink! he promised.

I don’t recall the journo who went to the trouble of adding up the number of times since the election that Abbott has promised more consultation and collegiality, but it was something like fifteen or sixteen. Why should the backbenchers start believing him now, asked the journo, quite reasonably. Ah, well, look, lip smacking, Drink!

Abbott then contemptuously wrote off the entire Queensland election result by saying voters had favoured the ALP over the LNP in “a fit of absent-mindedness.” That should endear him to them come the federal election.

Oh, look, fuckit, if you want to know all the details there’ll be a transcript somewhere.

Abbott’s energy levels were high until the last ten minutes, when he began to visibly tire and I wondered if the drugs were wearing off. Much of his message was directed at his own party, reminding them of the dangers of division and visible unrest. The Australian people had elected both the government and the Prime Minister, he claimed, which is codswallop, we don’t elect the PM in the Westminster system, the party elects its leader. If voters had control of electing the PM, Abbott would never have got the job. He did, however, make the rather convoluted argument that once a government has been elected the voters have elected the PM. Drink!

Oh, and the PPL is in cold storage. Drink!

 

 

 

Beyond Monogamy: exploring the possibilities of the human heart

1 Feb

 

monogamy not amrried to the idea

 

Like many of our abstract sacred moral concepts, the cult of monogamy is reified to the degree that it’s considered “natural” for humans to live within its framework. Never mind that people break out all the time, and that the entirely monogamous relationship exists more in the theory than in the practice, still the monogamous ideal dominates our culture’s sexual and loving relationships.

However, “it just is” has never been a persuasive argument for me, and the reification fallacy of misplaced concreteness always comes in useful when thinking about morality.

I’ve wondered often if one of the unacknowledged goals of monogamy is to protect us from experiencing difficult emotions such as jealousy, insecurity, a sense of abandonment, of being displaced by another. Of loss, of insignificance, and so on. These are emotions we first experience in childhood, for some of us when we acquire siblings, and for all of us when we realise that no matter what we do we will never be able to enjoy an equal relationship with any of our primary carers. As children, we will always be excluded from their adult mysteries. The parental figures upon whom we are entirely dependent will never be exclusively ours. They are our centre, but we are never entirely theirs.

The only chance we ever get to heal this insulting psychic wound is in an adult monogamous relationship of our own. In this, we believe, we will be loved to the exclusion of all others, and we will love exclusively in return. In this way we will at last achieve what we have so long yearned for: the exclusive gaze of the beloved lover.

There is an enormous industry dedicated to the maintenance of monogamy, and the healing of sexual and emotional betrayal. One of it’s more bizarre branches is the one that claims infidelity can save and enrich your marriage, and none of its proponents seem at all aware of the irony of recommending breaking out of monogamy in order to make it easier to stay in it.

The idea of using the aftermath of infidelity to strengthen a marriage has spawned a million books and papers. In privileging the relationship of marriage, however, any other relationship and any individual other than the married couple is perceived as little more than a means to an end. The morality of that use and manipulation of a third-party is rarely examined, so strong is the stranglehold monogamy has on our culture.

But what if the desire for exclusivity is based on a deep need to avoid the difficult emotions we struggled with and never managed to resolve in childhood? And what if learning to negotiate those difficult emotions could enrich our lives and deepen our intimacies? And what if intimately loving more than one person is not “wrong,” but struggling not to love more than one person is our biggest relational mistake?

Which brings me to polyamory, defined as:

The practice, state or ability of having more than one sexual loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved. Polyamory, often abbreviated as poly, is often described as “consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy” An emphasis on ethics, honesty, and transparency all around is widely regarded as the crucial defining characteristic.

Overcoming difficult emotions that close the heart rather than open it is the goal of polyamorists. Challenging the inevitably tribal nature of family founded on monogamy, and replacing it with family founded on an acceptance of the remarkable ability of humans to love more than one person deeply and intimately at the same time, is their daunting task. Imagine a society in which intimate love is not exclusive but inclusive, and the emotions that prevent such open-heartedness are viewed as emotions to be grown out of, rather than avoided through confinement and threat of punishment.

According to polyamorists, it isn’t a betrayal of one person to love another as well, it’s a skill that can be decently acquired. The heart can learn to be open instead of closed. This makes so much more sense than a monogamous ideal in which we are rewarded for confining ourselves in a closed system, in which we must be everything to one other person, and that person must be everything to us.

Because monogamy is a closed system. Not only are many married people forbidden to intimately love anyone else, they are frequently urged to avoid close friendships with others, or to engage in any kind of affection that might be threatening to the primary relationship. The monogamy industry produces another million books and papers on how friendship can threaten the marriage, how work relationships can threaten the marriage, how emotional attachment to others can threaten the marriage, even how other family members can threaten the marriage. Just about anything, it seems, can threaten monogamous marriage, and it is privileged to the degree that every other relationship is by default subservient to it.

This admitted fragility of the monogamous marriage, it’s susceptibility to threat, ought to be telling us there’s something seriously awry in the arrangement.

We have to learn to manage and overcome all kinds of difficult emotions in the process of maturing. We can’t give anger and aggression the physical expression we did when we were two, unless we want to end up incarcerated and friendless, for example. Is it really so outlandish to imagine mastering jealousy and insecurity in much the same way, so that we can allow ourselves and others the freedom to love and express that love? People do fall deeply in love with more than one person, and usually have to make a choice. The experience is fraught with secrecy, guilt, and shame, and powerful distress all round. But does it have to be? Who says it has to be?

I’m not suggesting it would be an easy way to live, because it demands a generosity of heart and spirit of which our dominant culture currently has no recognition, and thus permits no expression. As things stand we privilege exclusivity, and all the undesirable ramifications that can lead to, inside and outside of the monogamous relationship. Polyamory requires a new way of thinking about love, and about being human. It requires a level of honesty and ethical interaction that is quite foreign to monogamy. In monogamy, loving another is treachery and betrayal, usually done in guilty secrecy and fear. In polyamory, loving another is done openly, in transparency and in willing negotiation through inevitably difficult emotions and tensions.

I am hard-pressed to see much moral virtue in closing the heart, as opposed to opening it. If I love you, and I see that another’s love enhances and enriches your life, am I “right” to demand that you forego it? And if I do, what do I gain?

Love whoever you please

 

 

 

Are conservatives irrelevant in the 21st century?

1 Feb

irrelevantThe extraordinary Queensland election result saw former LNP Premier Campbell Newman lose his seat, and the ALP chuck an unprecedented Lazarus and rise, as gobsmacked as was anybody looking on, from its cold political grave. Newman’s government lasted just one term, after the largest win in political history by his party left the Queensland ALP with just seven seats. Now the voters have seriously turned. You could not make this stuff up.

In November, Victorians threw out their LNP government, also after only one term, and returned the ALP to power.

In NSW we have an election in March, and LNP Premier Mike Baird is likely apprehensive.

It’s early days, but what seems apparent at first blush is that increasingly, Australians don’t care for the conservative method of governance. In general, we don’t take to entitled, privileged bullies fattening themselves and their besties at the taxpayer trough while simultaneously stripping us of public assets, and grinding into the dirt those who can least afford any further grinding. Unrestrained self-interest does not go down well with the Australian public, it would seem.

Neither do we take to blatant liars in our governments, nor to arrogant, dismissive leaders who think power means they never have to explain, and account for their actions.

As all of the above traits are endemic in the current conservative personality, and as the voters aren’t willing to tolerate them for longer than one term, the LNP state and federal may well be looking at some time in the wilderness of opposition, having had a brief and turbulent taste of their utter lack of relevance to 21st century Australians.

The ALP ought not to become over-confident. All too often the party has shown an alarming tendency to go along with what are essentially conservative ideas, to the point where many of us have fallen prey to  a chronic despair that has expressed itself in the phrase “There’s no bloody difference between the two major parties.” There’d better be a bloody difference, and if ALP politicians state and federal have any sense, they will be taking a good look at resurrecting the party’s core values, and listening hard to what voters are telling them.

Increasingly, voters appear to be willing to give governments only one chance. Till very recently, our attitude was to give them a second go in a second term. We seem to be on the cusp of a significant change in that attitude. This may well have to do with retribution. If our major parties don’t give so many of us a fair go, why the bloody hell should we extend that generosity to them?

For mine, it would be a great advancement if politicians were as a first principle capable of remembering their job is to serve the people, and not the other way round. I don’t know how many arses need to get hit by the door on the way out before they grasp that fundamental article of their job description.

 

 

 

Monogamy’s police

31 Jan

 

Wandering eyes

 

I saw an advertisement on television the other day in which a man, thinking himself unobserved,  is “caught” by his wife looking longingly at a young woman. The wife’s face assumes an expression of furious exasperation, of the kind that infers the intense frustration of one who knows they have little control over such situations, that is, the male randomly desiring gaze, yet will not, ever, give up seeking that control.

When the husband realises he’s been “caught” he cringes with guilt, averts his gaze, then attempts to placate his aggravated wife with a shrug intended to convey his both his apology, and his helplessness in the face of his nature.

What I immediately saw in this small scenario was a deeply embedded heterosexual cultural belief that it is wrong for men to look at women other than their partners with admiration or any form of desire, and it is the female partner’s job to police his gaze and wrangle him back under control.

Frankly, I’m sick to death of this infantilising by women of men. They are such children they must be micro managed and surveilled by their female partners to the point where looking at another woman is a cause for her anger and his guilt? Are even children subjected to such an intensity of repressive surveillance?

Haven’t we got anything better to do? I mean, really. Haven’t we? We must be mummy-wives for our entire lives?

According to the advertising industry, which one imagines has its finger on the majority pulse, yes we must.

I’m not sure about how this works in reverse. There is a prevalent myth that women are not as visually sexually stimulated as are men, so our gaze is not as inclined to wander. However, I would vigorously contest that myth. I think women are very capable of experiencing and enjoying visual stimulation, but we aren’t supposed to be. It’s another of those culturally imposed gendered beliefs that are attributed to biology, the “nature” of things, essentialism: men get turned on by looking, women don’t. It’s elephant shit. I speak with the authority of personal experience. So instead of watching who he’s watching, get some visual pleasure of your own.

Apart from all that, the idea of being constantly watched by a partner when we’re out and about, just to see who I’m looking at so I can be brought under control is, quite frankly, absolutely creepy.

We are rightly infuriated when women are blamed for being raped because of what we wear, where we go, whether we’re drunk or sober. Rape is the rapist’s responsibility, not ours. Yet at the same time, women are encouraged in monogamous heterosexual culture to believe we have sole responsibility for controlling the male gaze and what that gaze might lead to, because he can’t be trusted to do it himself. Apparently many of us accept this responsibility and in the acceptance, enable the man-child, not the man.

If heterosexual monogamy needs this much policing by women, it’s a failed project.  Struth, any relationship with policing at its core is a failed project, isn’t it?

I can’t remember what that ad I saw was for. I can only remember the ludicrous content. So epic fail in that project too,  advertisers.

 

 

 

 

Playing monogamy

30 Jan

monogamyWere I to write the thinking woman’s book of advice for potential lovers of the already committed I would firstly say, it isn’t thinking that gets us into such situations, and it usually isn’t thinking that gets us out. It will come as a confronting shock for many thinking women to discover that thinking only goes so far, and cannot by itself save you from yourself.

I would then say, it is extremely important for your own survival to remember there are always three people in your relationship, one of whom is quite likely unknown to you.

It is also important when everything goes pear-shaped (probably more important than anything else) to invest time in understanding why you decided to inflict this particular kind of torment on yourself in the first place.

I don’t want to gender my imaginary book: women take extra marital lovers as well as men, lesbians are unfaithful and so are gay guys, and I don’t know how gender and sexual orientation change the dynamics of betrayal, or if they only add variation to its expression.

Also, for the sake of convenience I’d use the term marriage in the largest sense, to include committed relationships without the State’s imprimatur.

In my case, I blundered into a marital minefield. Because of what I knew of my lover, and also because of what he said, such as “I am only doing this because you are irresistible, I don’t tell lies to my wife,”  I thought adultery was a rare event in his life.  As it turned out he’d been engaging in extra marital affairs since the 1970s, and they were, in fact, part of the established pattern of his long marriage. I was a rarity in the sense that, according to his wife, I was “the only one he’d done this with,” this meaning  fallen in love with, and so deeply threatened the marital equilibrium. The others had apparently been little more than co-operative receptacles for his ejaculatory fluids, and of minimum consequence, and she’d seen them off without too much trouble. Annoyingly, I have this sense of myself as an equal human being, and an unwillingness to crawl under a stone when someone decides I am no longer of use to them.

My lover’s wife had, she told me, become very cynical about men and their pathetic sexual desperation. I told her I couldn’t imagine becoming cynical about an entire gender, but, I added, perhaps that was my downfall. I don’t think sexual desperation is particularly gendered, women can and do yearn and desire. Woman can and do go looking for a zipless fuck, and feel ashamedly desperate both for wanting it and doing it. It is one of our culture’s epic fails, that human sexuality is looked upon with such severe moral judgement, and such complete lack of understanding.

As well, I felt sorry for my lover’s wife. After all those years she probably thought his adulteries were over, and then he’d gone and done the worst one of all.

These people were to all appearances living in a long-term monogamous marriage, the kind that is held up to us as a model, as a desirable peak of  human intimate achievement. They were “pillars of the community,” forgive the cliché, an outstanding example of a bourgeoisie that still exerts repressive control over public morality, and expectations of sexual behaviour. They do not, as she accused me of doing,  “write intimate things all over the Internet.” But they are pretenders. There is nothing in the least monogamous about their marriage and hasn’t been for decades. Indeed, the biggest threat I apparently represented to this couple was not the ending of their marriage, but the power I had to reveal them to their community and family as two-faced long-term fakes.

You always take enormous emotional risks when entering into affairs with married people. But when you walk into an already well-established pattern of infidelity it’s like walking into a spider’s web of lies, half-truths, games, dishonesties, and an accumulation of dysfunction, all of which cling to your face and heart with a nasty stickiness that is extremely difficult to remove.

They are practised at playing this game, you may not be, and believe me if you aren’t, you will not know what has hit you. You are a pawn. They will use you. You will be the means to their duplicitous end. You, and others before you, have served to keep together a marriage that otherwise might long ago have blown apart, had it been truly monogamous instead of only pretending to be. You are an outlet, dear. For a man’s or woman’s desire that cannot be contained and satisfied within the monogamy to which he or she has committed themselves, and lacks the courage to examine.

“I knew I should never have let him meet you that first time on his own!” his wife raged at me and I saw immediately that I was not dealing with an adult when I got involved with this man. I was dealing with a naughty child who couldn’t be let out without a wife to guard him from himself. But by then it was too late. I’d done it.

Personally, I don’t see the point of monogamy as a life goal, or as any measure of moral achievement. It may be an ideal situation for some people. I can see it has potential. It worked for me because I never found anybody else as interesting as my husband, which was simply great good luck, not to do with any strong moral sense about monogamy, or strong resistance to temptation. Of which I obviously have neither.

It isn’t the desire for another that is wrong, or even the acting on it. It’s the arrogant sense of entitlement that allows people to use and then dispose of other women or men as temporary sexual and emotional outlets, in order to help them maintain the treasured illusion of the perfection of monogamy, that in itself counts for so much in the assessment of what is a “successful” marriage.

When we are devastated by betrayal, and the profound hurt and jealousies it brings, it can seem to help, I suppose, to call up a moral framework from within which to hurl fury and pain at the perpetrator. Not only have they done you wrong, they are  wrong, in the terms of this moral framework. It might temporarily help with the pain, but in fact, it’s just another illusion.

I am a symptom of the troubles in your marriage, I told my lover’s wife. I am not the cause. To her credit, she agreed with me.

It is a mystery to me why people do not sort these things out. Come to some mutual arrangement about a partner’s ranging desires. Refuse to come to such an arrangement and leave. Live as single people free to love who they will. To play the same old game of betrayal and remorse and broken promises for decades, in the service of a constructed ideal of  family founded on monogamy, smacks of idiocy to me. I prefer the deeper intimacy that comes from acknowledging and sharing the truth of a situation, even if it means frightening change and sometimes endings.

What is  “family” if there isn’t truth at its foundations?

This all matters very much, because the monogamous relationship is held to be the cornerstone of our culture. It’s increasingly challenged, and that can only be good, because I doubt my experience is an isolated one. I suspect there are many more playing at monogamy, and I suspect that the cornerstone is neither strong nor true. Challenging its cultural stranglehold is likely one of the more significant tasks we face, and the ramifications are extensive.

 

 

 

The Credlin thing.

29 Jan

Credlin & Abbott Two

 

I don’t get all this Murdoch-inspired hoo haa about Peta Credlin, the Prime Minister’s embattled Chief of Staff.

Ms Credlin has been in the spotlight ever since her boss was Opposition Leader.

Remember how her IVF journey was so thoroughly manipulated as to become “evidence” for Abbott’s “compassion” for women?  Ms Credlin gave generous media interviews about this most personal of experiences, and never once mentioned her partner in the journey, her husband, Brian Loughnane. Instead, it was entirely about how her boss was helping her by keeping her eggs in his fridge. I can’t think of any other situation that compares, in which a Chief of Staff so publicly reveals her or his private life for the sole purpose of  helping her or his boss win an election.

It was Abbott’s apparent unpopularity with women voters that provoked the Credlin IVF pieces. It was intended to portray him as a softie with the ladies, as was hauling out his three daughters who giggled on cue about their lovely churchy dad.

I may have a limited imagination, but I find it hard to visualise a male chief of staff being so forthcoming as was Credlin  about his personal life, in order to make his boss more popular with the voters.

It therefore makes a kind of bizarre sense that when things go as badly wrong as they have for Abbott, ridding himself of Credlin is seen as the first move that might lead to some kind of improvement. It won’t, of course, because the man is beyond all help, but they have to try something as they aren’t ready to replace him. Yet. May they continue not to be. He is the ALP’s best asset.

As far as Ms Credlin is concerned, the situation sucks. She obviously isn’t responsible for the numerous outstandingly appalling decisions the Abbott government has attempted to inflict on an electorate that trusted them to behave in entirely different ways. It is, of course, impossible to know what her input has been into these decisions, nevertheless, Abbott has taken them, and being above Ms Credlin in the chain of command, is entirely responsible for them. With great power cometh great responsibility.

There was a period in which Ms Credlin and Mr Abbott were photographed so frequently together on occasions when one would have expected Mrs Abbott to be at her husband’s side rather than his Chief of Staff, that prurient speculation as to the nature of their relationship was rife. It has today been suggested that Mr Abbott is “psychologically dependent” on Ms Credlin. (That link may be paywalled, but it may not. I did my best). Psychological dependency on another person can be a problem, especially for a political leader. It can cloud his or her judgement, and lead him or her to become deafened to other points of view.

We cannot, of course, escape the gender issue in this latest government drama. Is Ms Credlin easier to scapegoat because she’s a woman? It was her gender that was exploited in Abbott’s election campaign, and nobody much complained about it then, least of all Ms Credlin. Female gender was exploited to gain Abbott votes. Female gender will be exploited again if it is considered to be a factor in losing Abbott votes.

When a man is an idiot, blaming the woman behind and beside him is a common default position. There is in our culture a pervasive belief that women are responsible for controlling men in almost every situation one can think of, and this belief could well be at work in the Credlin situation. Of course, we women aren’t and can’t be responsible for what men do, and the sooner we all divest ourselves of that mythology the better.

I have suddenly remembered footage of Wendi Deng hurling herself in front of her then husband Rupert Murdoch at the News of the World hacking hearings, when somebody attempted to assault him with a cream pie. Sometimes we ladies are our own worst enemies.

 

 

 

 

 

Missing you.

28 Jan

Today, for the first time since you died, I sat with someone in a room and wept and wept for the loss of you.

I know you will understand why it has taken me these whole six months to find the strength to grieve for you. You well know the strength that grieving demands. You thought Freud was firstly a poet, with his “labour of mourning.”

I am trying to imagine which quote you would find for me now, because you always found a quote for me in all my situations and at times, I was less than grateful.

Perhaps it would be Auden: “In the deserts of the heart, let the healing fountain start.”

Perhaps it would be Dylan: “He not busy being born is busy dying.”

Perhaps it would be Blake: “For all eternity I forgive you and you forgive me.”

I am lost without you.  I have no idea how to proceed in a world that no longer has you in it.

He asked me, the man  in whose room I sat today, a quiet man who well knows the uses of silence, he asked me, what did he do, your husband?

I told him your doctorate was on Shakespeare’s comedies. I told him you loved Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen, and Lenny Bruce, and Seinfeld, and Larry David, and William Blake, and Tony Soprano, and John Donne, and Bach’s concertos, and Mahler, and the list of what you loved was way too long,  you were interested in everything, and I told him how sometimes I would tell you that your mind was so open, everything just fell out.

I told him  that you fought with me about Foucault, and feminism, and I fought with you about F.R. Leavis and fucking white male privilege and the damn canon. I told him how you were the only man I’d ever known who was confident enough in himself to tell me I was smarter than he was. I told him how you used to look at me and say, “I could die happy right now, just being with you.”

But mostly I just cried, love.

Buccholz

Abbott admits he’s wasting 4.3 million taxpayer dollars.

26 Jan

 

 

Abbott on frugality

 

This, today from a Prime Minister who spends 4.3 million of taxpayer dollars monitoring social media, and employing spin doctors to “offer strategic communications advice” from the information gleaned:

I’ll leave social media to its own devices [said Abbott today]. Social media is kind of like electronic graffiti and I think that in the media, you make a big mistake to pay too much attention to social media,” Mr Abbott said. You wouldn’t report what’s sprayed up on the walls of buildings…

In spite of that 4.3 million taxpayer dollars’ worth of strategic communication advice, in spite of the iron control reportedly exerted over the PM by Chief of Staff Peta Credlin, Abbott continues to make the most astounding, cringe-worthy gaffes that stretch all credulity, and nobody wants him anywhere near them.

So it would seem the spin doctors and Ms Credlin are catastrophically useless at their jobs, because just when you think Abbott can’t get anymore bizarre, he goes and smashes all his previous records of stupid.

If Credlin and the strategic communications advisors were employed by anyone other than the LNP government they’d be sacked. I wonder how any of them will ever find alternative employment, given their unbroken record of spectacular failure with the Prime Minister.

Please do leave social media to its own devices, Mr Abbott, and stop wasting our money on monitoring it to see what it’s saying about you. It’s never anything good, you can be sure of that. How many millions of our dollars do you need to spend to find out what an absolute fool we think you are?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You can’t make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear. No matter how many dollars and spin doctors  you throw at it, you just can’t. A pig’s ear is a pig’s ear and right now, on Australia Day 2015, we have a pig’s ear in charge.

(I suppose I should say sorry to pigs, who are really pretty smart animals.)

(Which Tony Abbott is not. A smart animal, that is.)

Pigs can fly

Family Violence. Where’s THE MINISTER FOR WOMEN?

26 Jan

I can’t help wondering what Prime Minister Tony Abbott, also known as THE MINISTER FOR WOMEN, thought and felt when he announced as Australian of the Year the most outstanding advocate for women and children I’ve heard in a very long time, Rosie Batty.

Ms Batty’s son Luke was brutally murdered by his father, a man with history of serious violence towards his family. Their story is at the worst end of the family violence continuum, as are many others.

That we even have the phrase “family violence” in our lexicon, with the most appalling statistics to justify its existence, ought to be a matter of serious concern for THE MINISTER FOR WOMEN, whose responsibility it surely is to give political backup and practical support to people like Rosie Batty, who shouldn’t have to work as she has without a word of encouragement from the LEADER OF THIS GREAT NATION AND MINISTER FOR WOMEN, TONY ABBOTT.

Somehow, in the brief time since Luke was murdered by his father, Ms Batty has garnered the strength and courage to campaign with vigour and a resounding authenticity, against family violence. No voice could be more convincing than hers on this topic at this point in time.

While the “king hitting” of  a handful of young men brings out Abbott’s anger and righteous indignation, as does the threat of terrorism and the horrible, unspeakable, spine chilling crime of asylum seekers breaching the sovereignty of our borders; as the thrilling notion of going to war, some war, somewhere, anywhere, for whatever reason causes the bedraggled budgie in the Prime Minister’s rapidly fraying smugglers to sluggishly stir, the slaughter and suffering of women and children in our own backyard goes unaddressed  by THE MINISTER FOR WOMEN, in fact he NEVER EVEN MENTIONS IT! 

I can’t imagine any other minister NEVER EVEN MENTIONING the topic of his portfolio. Can you?

Rosie Batty. Woman of calibre. Salute.

Rosie and Luke

Rosie and Luke

Australia: a country of vengeful malcontents

24 Jan

 

wall-of-hate

In this piece titled “Manus Island: what will it take to shock us?” Julian Burnside, barrister and refugee advocate, gives a powerful synopsis of the cruelty the Australian public is prepared to tolerate its governments inflicting on asylum seekers, in the crazed collective desire to “stop the boats” and protect the country’s “sovereign borders.”

The answer to Mr Burnside’s question is, of course, that the only thing that will shock anyone at this point is a government that is prepared to cease and desist from using asylum seekers as human fodder in election campaigns. We have reached the stage in this matter where the only possibility for provoking shock is decent behaviour.

The contempt in which the Australian public holds asylum seekers who arrive here by boat is sickening. As has been noted on other occasions, we treat people who are far more threatening to us individually and collectively much better than we treat unarmed people seeking sanctuary who travel here by boat. The unexamined hatred, prejudice, loathing and contempt directed towards asylum seekers, chillingly orchestrated by political leaders of both major parties, is mind numbing, and it has numbed the minds of the Australian public in general to the degree that many believe we aren’t harsh enough. 60% of Australians, according to a poll conducted in September 2014, (see link) believe we are not treating waterborne asylum seekers badly enough.

From a psychological perspective, this leads me to believe that we are a nation of desperately unhappy, dissatisfied people who for many reasons, some of them undeniably sound, live with a sense of profound grievance that has to negatively express itself towards somebody and something. I draw this conclusion because people who are living lives in which they find satisfaction and enjoyment at least some of the time, are not inclined to desire the persecution of others, let alone bay for blood like rabid wolves because a few thousand stateless persons have turned up looking for sanctuary.

Regrettably, it would seem that these miserably vengeful Australians are in the majority, and one has to ask, why is this so? What has gone so awry in this lucky country that so many of us need to take out our apparently endemic discontent on the helpless and the vulnerable? Because it is not only asylum seekers towards whom this loathing is directed, although they are the extreme example of its concrete manifestation at this moment in time. In reality, any individual and group that can be defined as less than what the miserable majority  consider the “norm” are targeted for persecution in some way, and our politicians lead the ranting, bloodthirsty, vengeful pack.

“Fair go” is a principle inherent in the Australian “character?” My arse it is. My arse it ever has been. If it was, we would not have politicians who seek election and re-election on the backs of the most vulnerable in the first place, because it wouldn’t win them votes.

What will it take for us to be shocked? Common sense and decency in our political leaders. That’s what it will take to shock us. Don’t hold your breath. Neither of those things is coming to a marketplace near you anytime soon.

This blog on The Monthly on conditions on Manus as reported by workers there is well worth a read. Thanks to Robyn here for the link.

 

 

Two must read links.

23 Jan

These two links are a MUST READ

The first is what happened when a brave and determined woman attempted to take action on behalf of asylum seekers detained on Manus Island. LaLegale tells the story here.

Should you wish to take similar action, you can lodge a High Court Application in the registry in your state.

The second is a Guardian investigative report on how journalists who attempt to uncover and report information about asylum seekers arriving by boat since the Abbott government’s sovereign borders policy was implemented are being referred to the AFP for investigation.

resist_the_state_poster-r5d34520b15ed41fa9dac40553b6ab110_wvz_8byvr_324

 

Tony Abbott, horses mid stream and musical chairs

23 Jan

Changing horses mid stream

 

I’m most interested to see what the LNP do with Prime Minister Tony Abbott come the next federal election. He’s been conspicuously absent in recent state election campaigns, presumably because nobody thinks he can do them any kind of good with his presence. So what on earth will his party do with its leader when we troop off to vote for our country’s next government?

Abbott subjected himself to some self-harm yesterday as he argued his case for the dangers involved in changing leaders during a government’s first term. Citing the epic game of musical chairs played by the ALP government during the Julia Gillard – Kevin Rudd leadership saga, Abbott expressed the opinion that it’s certain death to switch horses mid-stream. His party has the sense to know this, he believes, and so his leadership is secure. The country can go to the dogs and the less well-off can struggle and starve, but hey, I’m secure in my job, folks.

I know I’ve mixed metaphors, but I sort of like the image of chairs, music, dogs, streams and horses in the middle of them. It makes as much sense as anything else in our politics.

It’s hard to imagine that changing leaders could do the LNP government any more harm than staying with the one they’ve got. I suspect many people would be hugely relieved and congratulate them on their common sense if they took that step.

The dangers of succumbing to the idée fixe that because it was so damaging for the ALP to change leaders it will be equally damaging for the LNP, are many. They include an ignorance of the significance of context: the two situations are quite different in the broad perspective, the  perspective that is most apparent to voters. Rudd was an extremely popular leader who was to all appearances ousted unjustly and in a manner that outraged much of the electorate. Practically everyone has some grievance against Abbott, and many just hate him because he is.

There may be similarities in the in-house view, the view apparent to political tragics rather than more broadly, of party discontent with a leader who is perceived as out of touch and chaotic, and perhaps even a tad despotic, if leaks of discontent are anything to go by. There’s an enlightening piece on these matters by Paula Matthewson here.

What we see at the moment is a leader who appears increasingly weakened by strife, both endogenous and exogenous. Tony Abbott never seems less than strained. As we used to say when we lived on Bougainville Island, we have two seasons, wet and wetter and so it is with Abbott, he is strained and more strained, but I don’t believe I’ve seen the man comfortable with himself since his days in opposition when he raged across the table at the Labor government.

For mine, they should let him keep his job. The ALP needs all the help it can get, and Tony Abbott has to be one of the opposition’s best helpers.

If Abbott gave a stuff about anyone other than himself, he’d step down, citing ill -health or some other face-saving gibberish, and give his party a better chance at a second term. Otherwise, come the next election campaign they’re going to have to lock him in a cellar till it’s over, because the man mostly nauseates everyone, as far as I can tell.

 

 

Revisiting the Streisand Effect

22 Jan

Silencing

 

During the Melinda Tankard Reist defamation threats against this blog (see category Defamation Threats if you’re interested) Legal Eagle wrote this excellent piece on what is known as The Streisand Effect, which she defines thus: The Streisand effect covers those situations where the threat of legal action has brought publicity to the information sought to be suppressed.

It’s arguable that much legal action intended to silence and suppress has the potential to blossom into the Streisand Effect, depending on the defendant’s attitude towards legal threats, and how much risk she or he is willing to take to protect their freedom of speech. Exactly this situation is currently unfolding once again on No Place for Sheep, where a complaint of harassment has been lodged against me, citing as an example the posts I’ve written on Infidelity and Adultery. I have, I’m informed, “Written intimate things all across the Internet” and this is harassment.

Well, I have written intimate things all over the Internet, erotic writing is a long-established genre and if it offends your sensibilities, don’t read it, has always been my position.

I use no names or any identifiers in any of these posts, neither are the people involved in the stories compelled in any way to read them, so it’s an interesting allegation. What is most interesting, however, is that in defending myself I’ve been obliged to supply my statement of events accompanied by umpteen extremely personal and intimate emails and messages sent to me, that obviously have to identify everyone involved, and will soon be on the public record. At the very least, they’re doing the rounds of various legal agencies, so already a whole swag of people know names they would never otherwise have known or probably even cared about.

On the blog, I tell the stories and it isn’t necessary to identify the actors in order to tell the stories. I actually can’t imagine me ever identifying the actors other than myself, because that would be done only out of malice. Identifying the actors in no way enriches the stories, and enrichment of the story would be the only reason to take that course.

In attempting to shut me up they’ve outed themselves, and didn’t this ever occur to anyone?

It’s also interesting from the point of view of the writer, and who owns story, and what we may and may not write about and how.

It’s also interesting from the perspective of what is defined as harassment. If it is indeed writing about events in one’s own life without naming any other participants, that’s going to silence a veritable multitude of voices.

As I did with Tankard Reist, I’ve made multiple offers to negotiate this situation with the complainants, to no avail. It has been and continues to be an emotionally charged situation for all involved, but one that could be resolved with some good will on everybody’s part, and a couple of admittedly difficult, but private conversations. What has been done cannot be undone, and the best must be made of the consequences of actions.

It seems the complainants want their very own Streisand moment. But you really do have to question the integrity of people who claim they are being harassed by being exposed, and attempt to redress this alleged offence by naming and outing themselves as a default position.

There is no way I could possibly bring them as much public attention as they will bring to themselves by this action, so one can only conclude it’s what they must want in some dark, and to my mind, twisted way.

 

herself.com, the image and the battle to contain desire

21 Jan

Herself.com

 

Female nudity continues to exercise the minds of media feminists, with the latest source of controversy being actor Caitlin Stasey’s new website herself.com The site features nude portraits of women of diverse shape, colour and size, along with interviews with the subjects. Caitlin’s aim is to reclaim the female body from the objectification of the male gaze, and the demands of the film and beauty industries for a particular female look that is unrealistic, and excludes the majority of us.

Reaction has been swift, analytical, condemnatory, celebratory.

What is most interesting in these responses is the ongoing battle to define, own, and control human desire through the analysis, condemnation and celebration of images of the female body.

There are feminists who experience female nudity as unnecessary and distracting, it’s our brains we should be flaunting, not our breasts, they maintain. There are feminists who defiantly expose their bodies with a big “fuck you” to the patriarchy. There are feminists who rightly point out that the problem is perhaps not the exposure of the female form, but the industries that exploit and commodify us. There is ample food for thought in all these perspectives, however, nobody seems to be tackling the tricky question of desire.

There is arguably no stronger force than desire, be it for sex, intimacy, power, money, control, freedom, equality.  There is no human activity that is not driven by desire. As feminists have argued since the seventies our desires are constructed, that is, we are taught what we should desire and how we should desire it. While the energy we know as desire is inherent in us, how we experience and express it, or indeed deny it, is learned from birth, and the learning is gendered.

So much of the public turmoil centred on images of the female body is driven by an unexamined  need to contain desire that simply will not be contained. Whether this need to control takes the form of a puritanism that is based on notions of immodesty and the ‘wrongness’ of nudity, or whether it takes the form of pole dancers paying their way through their PhD (look! I have brains as well as tits and a shapely arse!) the basic struggle is to own and control desire, and its expression.

Whether herself.com will do anything to reclaim our bodies from the desiring and objectifying gaze of males who want us, females who want us, and industries who want us, I can’t predict. It is fairly obvious that the one-dimensional photographic image of a desirable body is hardly going to encourage anyone to focus attention on any other aspect of that human being, and why should it? “I can’t stop looking at her tits,” moaned one woman when asked if she was interested in the narrative accompanying the image.

Perhaps the struggle to make an image of a human body anything more than an image is a waste of time. The whole project of making women “real” through images of us seems contradictory. An image might not make me a sexual object, but it will inevitably objectify me, because that is what images do, and it is all images can do. Perhaps what is needed is a more realistic understanding of the limitations of the image, rather than the likely pointless attempt to make the image “real.”

Apart from those quibbles, I quite like Caitlin’s herself.com I like the challenge it presents to repressed bourgeois prudes. If I met any of those women, I’d be very interested to talk to them about their participation in the project. I like the “fuck you” attitude to patriarchal objectification, though I concede there will still be patriarchal objectifiers who get on the website and ogle and wank. They will always be among us, no matter what we do.

Desire takes a billion forms. The battle to own and control desire will likely be unending, because it is the battle to control human beings. In the meantime, herself.com and like-minded women continue to give the finger to those who would own and control desire, and for taking this small step, they are to be commended.

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