The Assange Case: won’t somebody think of the women

11 Feb

Assange

 

Julian Assange first expressed his willingness to be interviewed by Swedish prosecutors, who were investigating allegations of rape and sexual molestation made by two women against the Wikileaks founder, in London in November 2010, as this BBC time line demonstrates.

It is common practice for Swedish prosecutors to interview persons of interest in countries other than Sweden via video link, or by travelling to meet with them.

Assange has continued to express his willingness to be interviewed by Swedish prosecutors for five years. However, the Swedish government has not seen fit to carry out this basic next step in the investigation of the women’s accusations.

In fact, the Swedish government has succeeded in validating Assange’s claims that they harbour a hidden agenda: to get him back to Sweden not to investigate rape allegations, which they can do perfectly well in the Ecuadorean embassy in Knightsbridge,  but to expedite his extradition to the US.

I have no idea what occurred between the women and Assange. Neither does anyone else, but that didn’t stop feminist Naomi Wolfe from globally slut-shaming them at the time of their complaint, claiming that they insulted all rape victims with their “personal hurt feelings.”  Interpol were, Wolfe mocked, the world’s new “dating police” and the women weren’t raped, they were just mad because Assange didn’t call them back.

The women at the centre of the allegations were let down first by their government, who have to this day taken no concrete steps to proceed with their case, and next by a world-famous feminist author who was unable to distinguish between the politically motivated pursuit of Assange, and the fact that he had been accused of sexual crimes.

Things only got worse for the women, who became targets of derision, contempt and hatred from Assange supporters all over the globe. Few of these supporters, it seemed and seems, have the wit to tease out a complicated situation and understand that yes, Assange is indeed being extraordinarily hounded for his activism, and yes, there are sexual allegations against him that need to be investigated, for his sake as well as the sake of the women involved.

Rape victims are indeed being demeaned and insulted by this situation, but not, I would argue, by Assange or the alleged victims. Rather the governments of the UK, Sweden and the US are making a mockery of rape victims by creating a situation in which, yet again, alleged crimes against women are rendered a very poor second to alleged crimes against the state.

Public argument for the last five years has repeatedly returned to the question of whether or not the allegations are true. This is the wrong question. Why do three western governments continue to allow allegations of rape to go unexamined, is the question and the answer is, because women. Women are collateral damage in affairs of the state. It has always been thus, and the Assange case demonstrates it is still thus.

There is now only one allegation against Assange, a statute of limitations having been reached on the others. The Swedish prosecutors have knowingly allowed time to run out. They have deprived the alleged victims and the accused of the human right to natural justice. They continue to deny the alleged victims and Assange the human right to natural justice on the still valid allegation of rape. This act of denial continues to be perpetrated by three western governments claiming a high moral ground in the matter of state security, and Assange’s alleged attacks on that security.

Women? Molestation? Rape? Pfffffft. Tell it to someone who cares.

 

Government by troll

10 Feb

Philip Ruddock

 

And even as I wrote this piece, news broke that Greg Hunt, Minister for the Environment when you’re not having a Minister for the Environment, has just been awarded the inaugural best minister in the world gong in Dubai. I rest my feckin case. 

 

The Turnbull government recently appointed Philip Ruddock as its special envoy for human rights.  Ruddock will quit the government in order to take up his new position, as it will entail considerable amounts of travel during which time he would be absent from the House, and this, he considers, is not fair to his Berowra electorate.

One can imagine the glee with which this arrangement was arrived at. How enraged and outraged the lefties will be was likely the first consideration, as Ruddock’s expertise in furthering human rights, or even lobbying, was most certainly not a central concern.  The man has all the charm of an embalmed corpse, indeed, his waxy pallor during his Howard years caused me to note on more than one occasion that he looked as if he’d just crawled out of his coffin as the sun went down.

Ruddock is known as the architect of the Howard government’s off-shore detention policy, the “Pacific Solution.” This “solution” was condemned by Human Rights Watch as a rights violation, as it contravened international law. The UNHCR supported this view. A long-standing member of Amnesty International, that organisation asked Ruddock to cease wearing its badge, as he had done consistently and conspicuously whilst committing rights violations. Ruddock also introduced Temporary Protection Visas.

In 2003 Ruddock was appointed Attorney-General. He introduced the Marriage Amendment Bill, in which marriage is for the first time defined as being solely between a man and a woman, thus preventing same-sex marriage and civil unions.

Ruddock once famously referred to an asylum seeker child as “it.” He was also responsible, along with John Howard and Peter Reith, of lying to the public on the matter of asylum seekers throwing their children overboard in order to gain access to Australia.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop explained it thus:  Mr Ruddock will actively promote Australia’s candidacy for membership of the Human Rights Council (HRC) for the 2018-20 term. He will represent Australia at international human rights events and advocate our HRC candidacy in selected countries.

Ruddock’s appointment demonstrates yet again that Turnbull varies little from Abbott in his practices: the only difference is the patronising urbanity with which he oils his self-satisfied way through his political life. Turnbull, like Abbott, makes decisions based firstly on the retention of his personal power, followed closely by the retention of his party’s power, followed closely by their collective desire to troll lefties just because they can. Yes. They are that infantile.

Turnbull continues the Abbott tradition of treating government, and governance, as a personal plaything. Abbott trolled the nation when he appointed himself Minister for Women. He did it again when IPA stalwart and vigorous opponent of the Human Rights Commission, Tim Wilson, was parachuted into a job invented for him at that very Commission, with the vague title of Freedom Commissioner and a salary of $325,000 pa.

While the LNP are having great fun trolling, it’s also their intention to take over or outsource institutions they perceive as obstacles to the implementation of their ideology. The government’s decisions have little to do with the welfare of the country, or anybody in it who is not in thrall to that ideology.

I hope the idiots who thought things would be better cos Turnbull are smacking themselves upside the head right now.

The LNP risking a leadership spill in an election year must be as likely as the survival of polar bears, which is to say, negligible. Turnbull is in the strongest position he’s ever likely to enjoy: he could do just about anything and remain Prime Minister. Yet he hasn’t the courage to run with it, and continues to roll over like a submissive dog under the pressure of his party’s extreme right-wing.

The man is scum. He’s worse scum than Abbott. Abbott was always scum, but Turnbull, on the face of it, seemed once to stand for something, though in retrospect I’m not sure what that something was. Turnbull has the smooth voice and sophisticated delivery the cloth-eared and dry-mouthed Abbott so conspicuously lacked, yet behind all his mannerisms, Turnbull is as hollow, and as pretentious, and as cruel.

Welcome to government by troll.

 

 

 

 

 

Let your heart bleed: compassion is not weakness

4 Feb

dalai-lama-on-compassion

 

Yesterday in Australia the High Court upheld the legality of off-shore detention of refugees, a decision that should come as a surprise to no one given legislation passed by both major parties in June 2015 that virtually obliges the Court to arrive at this decision. The June legislation was rushed through by the LNP and the ALP, in the knowledge of the imminent Court challenge which was resolved yesterday.

Some 267 refugees temporarily in Australia, mostly for medical treatment, can now be returned to Nauru, as well as some 33 babies. Whether they will be returned or not is up to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who yesterday in Parliament gave a thundering declaration reinforcing our right to sovereignty, and his determination to maintain the status quo, signalling his intention.

My question is, if the much vaunted Border Force is even mildly competent, why do we need to use the morally bereft indefinite imprisonment of refugees on a stinking guano gulag, to dissuade future asylum seekers from attempting to journey here by boat?

My observation is, if we have to treat refugees in this despicable manner, we have forfeited our sovereignty and there is nothing left to protect. Sovereignty is not merely a matter of a nation’s borders.

Robert Manne has written an excellent blog in The Monthly on what he describes as the “rigid, irrational mind-set” that has led us to this situation.

There is little point in engaging in yet another outburst decrying the lack of morality of a government that believes in order to protect the sovereignty of the nation it must destroy the lives of others, and an opposition that supports this view.

The very concept of morality has been so eroded by successive governments that it has come to mean little more than “getting emotional,” in other words, exhibiting a contemptible demonstration of weakness. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, interviewed on the 7.30 Report last night, said he would be guided by medical advice as to who to return to Nauru and when, and in the next breath said he wouldn’t be taking that advice from anyone who was “emotional.”

This conflation of morality and compassion with the pejorative “emotional” is part of what Manne describes as a rigid, irrational mindset that takes the view that any disagreement is a sign of inferior thinking, dominated by emotion.

Labor’s spokesperson on Immigration, Richard Marles, yesterday conceded that sending children back to Nauru would be “disruptive” but said: we are talking about people whose lives were disrupted long before Australia came on the scene. In other words, when people have been traumatised before we encounter them it hardly matters if we traumatise them further because they’re used to it. What harm can a bit more do?

Mr Marles demonstrates a despicable lack of regard for suffering. His attitude is also part of a rigid and utterly irrational mindset: anyone at all damaged is rendered less human by virtue of that damage, and so our obligations to them are correspondingly minimal.

As some 70 per cent of Australians are apparently supportive of how we treat asylum seekers, there’s not much chance of immediate change. All we can do is keep on keeping on. There are no doubt politicians in both major parties who are appalled at their colleagues’ attitudes and policies but unless they take a stand, nothing can begin to change. In the meantime, let our hearts bleed over everything, especially the ballot boxes, and let us wear compassion as the badge of courage it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part Two: Family violence and the middle class

1 Feb

Escape

 

Yesterday’s post on family violence and the middle class drew some criticism, in one instance culminating in me being described as a troll, and my point of view as “stupid, sigh” by the male who didn’t agree with it, or the fact that I wouldn’t back down from it. I find that patronising sigh interesting, given that we were discussing gender imbalance and middle class abuse. I’ve noticed lately on social media that if I politely persist in addressing areas of disagreement, abuse almost inevitably results: apparently there comes a point in discussion with some middle class men where if a woman doesn’t capitulate her position is stupid, sigh. A clever woman knows when to shut her mouth, perhaps?

I’ve used as my source for the argument against using class as a determinant in the family violence debate this government document titled Domestic, family and sexual violence in Australia: an overview of the issues, compiled in October 2014.

Quote:

In Australia, domestic, family and sexual violence is found across all cultures, ages and socio-economic groups, but the majority of those who experience these forms of violence are women. However, it is not possible to measure the true extent of the problem as most incidents of domestic, family and sexual violence go unreported.

Risk factors:

As discussed earlier, domestic, family and sexual violence occurs across all ages, cultures and socio-economic groups.[27] However, research shows that some women are at greater risk of experiencing these forms of violence than others.[28] For example, exposure to child abuse or violence as a child, alcohol or drug dependency issues, financial or personal stress and lack of social support are all strong correlates of violence against women.[29] Some women are also more vulnerable to violence, or less able to leave violent relationships, based on factors such as age, Indigenous status, location, disability, ethnicity, and English language ability.

None of these risk factors are peculiar to any particular class, yet it’s far from unusual for such risk factors to be presumed to be indicators of class.

The face of Australian family violence for the last twelve months was Rosie Batty, whose son, Luke, was horribly and publicly murdered by his father. Ms Batty is a middle class woman. Indeed, a woman who was unable to perform the middle class expectations of that role would never have been appointed in the first place.  I don’t recall Ms Batty framing family violence as a class issue: far from it, it seems to me she at all times focused on violence against women and children, regardless of class.

I suspect that a focus on class in the family violence debate draws attention away from the far more threatening perspective of  family violence as an issue of gender inequality. Far easier for the middle classes, males in particular, to distance themselves from gender inequality if its most violent manifestation is said to occur in demographics other than their own.

As long as family violence is associated with the shame and othering of what is perceived as *welfare class* behaviour, middle class women and children will continue to remain largely silent on what happens to them in their homes.

I also do not and will not accept the stigmatisation of low-income, poor and Indigenous people in the matter of family violence as a class issue.

As a woman explained to me today, her middle class status changed overnight when she reported some twenty-five years of family violence to police.  The consequences of reporting saw her lose that status, and become a member of the *underclass.* How would I be represented in the statistics, she asks. How indeed.

Women and children who leave violent relationships frequently suffer financially and socially, as well as running a high risk of further injury and even death at the hands of the perpetrator.

Assistance, protection, legal help and sanctuary should be available for every woman and child who is a victim of family violence, regardless of class and any other consideration. When services are being increasingly withdrawn by the LNP government, either directly or through reduced funding to the states, it seems rather ludicrous to be quarrelling about the class to which victims belong.

I don’t buy the argument that establishing the class of victims allows policy makers to best direct funding. As the cited overview states, those who experience family violence are predominantly women, and it is impossible to measure the true extent of the problem as most incidents go unreported. Were adequate services available, women would be enabled to report. We might then see what place class has in family violence.

What is indisputable is that it is women who are most urgently in need of assistance, and that the problem is at its source one of gender inequality and not class, though class certainly has an effect on reporting, and perception.

 

 

Family violence and the middle class

31 Jan

 

Family ViolenceI’ve just read yet another white, middle-class journalist, female this time, assert that there are forces other than misogyny and gender inequality that are accountable for family violence, and that this type of violence is perpetrated in predominantly low-income families. This view is also held by Miranda Devine.

I wrote about this last year when Martin Mackenzie-Murray made the same claims in The Saturday Paper, and Mark Latham also claimed that current opinion on family violence had been hijacked by feminists who wrongly hold that the problem is rooted in patriarchal notions of male entitlement and domination that result in gender inequality. According to both men, domestic violence predominantly occurs in low-income families, including indigenous families.

What all these commentators fail to grasp is that while poverty, unemployment, alcohol, drug use and any number of disparate justifications can be found to *explain* male violence against intimate partners and children, all of these factors are the symptoms, and not the cause. A violent male believes that he is entitled to harm his partner and children. Whether he is poor, unemployed, drunk, sober or stoned, or middle-class, he first believes he is entitled to act out his dissatisfactions on the bodies and minds of his family.

I’m at a loss to understand why some journalists are so anxious to deny that family violence occurs in middle-class families. The assumption they make is that because domestic violence isn’t as evident or as frequently reported by middle-class women, it can’t be happening. This is ridiculously disingenuous, and bordering on the ignorant. Data about domestic violence comes from samples to which researchers have access. Women who report family violence to police are more likely to be from a low-income demographic, and/or living in poverty. Middle-class women have far more options available to them to either hide the abuse, or escape it. They are far less likely to end up in a system to which researchers have access.

There is no reason at all to assume that middle-class men have less of a sense of entitlement than men in the so-called “welfare classes,” to use Ms Devine’s phrase. For example, middle-class men sexually abuse children: educated priests, teachers, judges, entertainers, business men, coaches, there are abusers in every profession, as we know from the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse. Middle class-men rape women. Middle-class men murder women. Are we to assume, for some reason I can’t for the life of me fathom, that middle-class men, while capable of every other kind of violence against women refrain from attacking their families, leaving that particular expression of entitlement and domination to their lower-class bros?

There is no “typical” female victim of domestic violence. There is no “typical” male perpetrator of domestic violence. All that is required is that a man believe he is entitled to abuse his partner and/or children, and this sense of entitlement crosses all classes.

It might be more comfortable to think of family violence as an us and them problem: it’s only the “welfare classes” and indigenous families, not people like us. While the middle-classes readily acknowledge gender inequality expressed in the imbalance of women on boards, in unequal pay, in the lack of female CEOs, in child care services that keep us out of the workforce, in sexual harassment in the workplace and so on, for some reason it is assumed that male entitlement and domination will not manifest in middle-class family life: that expression of patriarchal culture is apparently reserved only for the disadvantaged.

Well, no, it isn’t. And the questions we need to ask are: a) why is there a current push to persuade us otherwise, and b) what effect does the denial of middle-class family violence have on our so far futile efforts to reduce/end all domestic violence?

 

 

Briggs, Pearce and power

29 Jan

Power

I know there are differences between the Jamie Briggs’ scandal and the Australia Day shenanigans of footballer and Roosters’ vice-captain Mitchell Pearce: there was no dog involved in the politician’s folly, for example.

Apart from that, both men have attributed their ill-advised sexual advances on women (and a dog, in Pearce’s case) to an excess of alcohol, and both have admitted prior knowledge of the negative effects of that substance on their behaviour.

The other common denominator in both cases is power. As an elite footballer, Pearce enjoys the kind of power most of us will never experience. As a government minister, Briggs also enjoyed a level of power over others that most of us will never experience. Unfortunately, both men seem to have a corresponding lack of governance over themselves.

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates takes issue with the man who “although he is incapable of governing himself undertakes  to govern others,” and argues that self-governance should be a pre-condition for the governance of others. This recommendation makes complete sense to me: If you can’t control yourself, what business have you exercising control of any kind over another?

In both cases, the men sought to exercise their power through sex. In Pearce’s case, when the woman refused him he actually said he’d fuck her dog, he didn’t care, which rather sounds as if a) he believes he’s got a right to stick his penis in anything with a pulse, and b) for Pearce, there’s not a lot of difference between sex with a woman and sex with a dog.

Neither woman sought sexual contact with either man, and both women experienced the advances as unwanted and upsetting.

I guess alcohol doesn’t help when it comes to reading signals, and I’m reasonably certain the dog didn’t send out an invitation anyway.

This situation, of men drunk and sober advancing on women who have not the slightest desire to be advanced upon, occurs probably every minute of the day somewhere in the world, with a continuum of consequences for both parties involved. It’s my opinion that such advances are always about power, before they are about sexual desire. The very acting upon desire for a woman who has demonstrated none for you is an exercise of power, of entitlement, and the unexamined assumptions that because you fancy her she has to fancy you, or that it doesn’t matter if she doesn’t you’ll have her anyway because you want to and, if you have enough power over her, because you can.

Given Socrate’s prescription that self-governance is a prerequisite for the governance of others, it’s entirely appropriate that men in positions of power such as Briggs and Pearce are stripped of those positions when they are unable to control their sexual impulses. I’ve read many arguments about the hard time Pearce was enduring, and the demands on elite sportsmen. Jamie Briggs’ wife Estee defended his behaviour, claiming Prime Minister Turnbull had over-reacted, and her husband flies a lot, which he doesn’t find easy.

Honestly. Women aren’t stress relievers for powerful men who aren’t coping with their lives. Sex can be, but only with people who want to have it with you. Leave the dogs alone.

PS: Nobody can know how hard it has been to leave Chris Kenny out of this post.

 

 

 

 

 

Water cannon. Free speech. The right not to listen.

22 Jan

 

A metal toggle switch with plate reading Listen and Ignore, symbolizing how we choose to pay attention to certain messages

The robust exchanges of the last few days on the subject of so-called “brokens” and the need to control or silence their allegedly “broken” speech reminded me of Human Rights Freedom Commissioner Tim Wilson’s unfortunate tweet, posted shortly before he was parachuted into a job created specifically for him by Attorney-General George Brandis. Wilson was apparently walking through a public space in Melbourne on his way to somewhere else, when he suffered considerable affront at the sight and sound of an Occupy Melbourne protest:

@timwilsoncomau Walked past Occupy Melbourne protest, all people who think freedom of speech = freedom 2 b heard, time wasters … send in the water cannons 

What Wilson overlooked in this tweet is that nobody was forcing him to hear the protesters, except momentarily: he could walk right by them, remove himself from earshot, get on his train or tram and continue with his journey, free from the sound of others enacting their right to speak.

But Wilson was not interested in taking responsibility for himself: instead he felt an entitlement to protection from momentary affront, and it was to the state that he turned for his preferred method of protection. People exercising their freedom to protest deserved to be injured and silenced by water cannon, because Tim Wilson was aggravated by noisy views he did not share.

Engagement in social media is going to bring most participants slap bang up against views they do not share, oftentimes expressed in a manner to which they are not accustomed, and do not necessarily like. This happens to me regularly. I can either take the Tim Wilson route and demand these voices be silenced by some authority because I have a right not to listen to them,  or I can use my mute button, my unfollow button, or even my block button, and take responsibility for creating my own online environment that doesn’t include people who, for whatever reason, bother me.

The right not to listen goes hand in hand with the responsibility to take your own measures to protect yourself against another exercising her freedom of speech, if the content or manner of her expression bothers you, rather than appealing to the state or some other authority to do it for you, or demanding that the bothersome voices somehow be silenced so you aren’t subjected to them.

There are laws already in place that deal with dangerous situations and threatening people, but they don’t deal with boring people, or repetitive people, or people who don’t want to stop arguing their case, or people you think are stupid, and neither should they. I have the right not to listen to people who aggravate me, and I have a responsibility to enact that right myself when I have the means to do so. I’m not entitled to demand that the environment I want be created for me by the silencing of others.

None of us is entitled to protection from momentary affront caused by someone else enacting their right to freedom of speech. None of us has to listen either. But my right not to listen doesn’t trump your right to speak, unless your speech is illegal, or you’re forcing me against my will to listen.

One person’s broken record is another person’s gutsy persistence, and there are countless examples of situations in which injustices of all kinds would have continued unchallenged if it wasn’t for one person’s gutsy persistence, that could well have been perceived by others as “broken record” behaviour. There are also countless examples of people who vainly thrust at windmills, and so what?

If you desire civil discourse you won’t call for the water cannon, either literally or metaphorically, to silence those who in some way fail to attain your standards of debate. You’ll engage with others who have the same goal, rather than complain and angst about what we have to do to get those “brokens” as evolved as we are, or is it better just to condemn them to the margins because they’re incorrigibly dumb and boring and not worth the energy.

If you’re so damn smart, how come you haven’t worked out that you don’t have to listen, it’s a choice, and you’re the master or mistress of your online domain, if you only take responsibility for it?

 

 

Language, and civil discourse

21 Jan

Civil Discourse

 

If you don’t use Twitter, you likely aren’t aware of the kerfuffle of the last few days over the use of the term “brokens.”

Really cool people spell it “broekens” or “broekns,” adding an inexplicable Afrikaans note.

In itself it’s not an exceptionally noteworthy kerfuffle, except that it does starkly demonstrate a current conservative attitude to those considered lacking in calibre, how they ought to be treated, and what should be done about them.

Briefly, exclusion is recommended as a method of dealing with Twitter “brokens.” This remedy will be familiar to everyone who has been following governmental human marginalisation projects since the LNP took office.

In the Twitter case the term brokens is used by one group to refer to another whose manner of engagement they consider to be detrimental to public discourse. It is explained here by commentator Mark Fletcher:

The term ‘Broken’ appears to have a few different accepted meanings. One interesting etymology is that it’s related to the phrase ‘Broken Records’. They are the people who endlessly repeat tiny fragments of argument, persistently and unceasingly. I tend to think of it in terms of Broken People: here are people who are fundamentally incapable of engaging with rational discourse… endlessly repeating tiny fragments of argument, persistently and unceasingly.

Fletcher has a point: there are people who attempt to engage in such a manner, and they’re usually referred to as “trolls.”

However, the term “Broken People” has far more levels of meaning than that of troll, a scary strange non-human who in fairy tales hides under a bridge, determined to prevent you from crossing. It’s disingenuous of Fletcher or anyone else to argue otherwise.

The term was interpreted by many people  as abusive, offensive, elitist and controlling, as well as labelling, and as stigmatising anyone with mental health issues.

Here is how Fletcher recommends we deal with Broken People:

Being able to label and exclude the Brokens is important as part of the creation of a quality public forum. We label and exclude trolls in the same way. Where trolls don’t want to contribute constructively to public discourse, Brokens are fundamentally incapable of doing so. We are not better off as a public by including these participants. What value is there in expending a large amount of effort trying to get the Brokens to a place where they can contribute constructively? It’s a better use of time to let them play on the fringes of debate rather than let them occupy the mainstream. 

What is striking is that Fletcher seems unaware of the wider implications of his remedy for silencing what he terms the “brokens.” This isn’t a term can that be stripped of its levels of meaning: there is no way it will be understood as referring solely to someone who mimics a broken record.

I decided to conduct a small experiment. I contacted Fletcher on Twitter and suggested that his attitude could be interpreted as advocating social eugenics. Did I really want to suggest that calling for a higher quality of public discourse was the same as the Holocaust, he replied.

I was astonished at the speed at which Fletcher’s argument collapsed into Godwin’s Law, as well as his apparent ignorance of the history of eugenics which predates Nazi Germany by some thousands of years. I responded along these lines and he immediately called me a “Broken.” All this took place in just four 140 character tweets, only two of them from me, so it’s hardly possible to accuse me of mimicking a broken record and justifying labelling me thus.

My experiment worked. I’d suspected all along that the term broken had little to do with broken records and everything to to do with contemptuous elitist abuse from those who claim to be primarily interested in establishing civil discourse by excluding those they claim are incapable of that level of engagement.

My message to Fletcher and his cohort is: if you desire civil discourse, first take note of your own use of language. If you aren’t capable of considering the connotations, subtle and otherwise, of the language you employ, you aren’t ready for civil discourse.

 

Dogs. Mountains. And Writing.

17 Jan

Derrida

 

I emerged from my cave around eleven this morning, after spending the hours from dawn wrangling language and discovering to my immense satisfaction that I’m some 25,000 plus words  into the book I’m writing.

The household was in disarray. Three dogs were lined up outside the glass door that opens onto the verandah, gazing sorrowfully into the kitchen. J, in high dudgeon, told me that the youngest, an Australian Shepherd born without a tail, had found a hole in the fence through which she scrambled into the next property, and then proceeded to chase Farmer Pete’s brown cows all over the paddock.

J managed to get her back, gave her a good slap on the snout and thought that was the end of the matter. But all three dogs, the others border collies, had different plans. The next time J looked over the verandah they were obviously stalking something. She took off down the hill to see what the hell they were up to. They’d stalked and caught a large lizard, and were torturing it to death. She hauled them off and whacked the lot of them, then found she’d have to destroy the poor lizard, who was too badly injured to be left to live. So she found a rock, and did the deed, and buried it under a cairn of stones so the damn dogs can’t do anything else to it.

By this point in the telling, J was in tears. I looked at the dogs through the glass door. This is why you can’t have nice things, I mouthed at them. They wagged their tails at me, except the youngest who hasn’t got one, and she waggled her whole bottom. It was as if I’d mouthed, you are the most beautiful dogs in the entire universe, which is something I might well have said before this morning.

I’m writing this on the verandah, pausing now and then to look at the Snowy Mountains and Lake Jindabyne in the foreground. Three dogs are sleeping around me and I think every one of them is farting. I have no idea what’s going on in the world outside this minuscule part of it, and I don’t much care. I’ve just done a food and drink run into Jindabyne, as that seemed the most useful thing I could contribute at this point.  J is now running a fever, which is a change from me running a fever. There are HUGE flies up here, and yesterday when I was walking by the Thredbo river I stopped for a bush wee and they bit me on the arse. J said they’re March flies. I said what the hell are March flies doing out in January and she said that question was stupid.

I have just re-read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, in which she describes the demented state of mind she experienced after the sudden death of her husband during her daughter’s life-threatening illness. I’m only now beginning to see that the state I experienced after my husband’s death was, actually, demented. Nobody tells you this about grief. Nobody says, you may become demented, you might find yourself doing all kinds of extraordinary things you’ve never done before and you won’t even realise you’re doing them and that’s because grief can make you demented. Well, everybody ought to read Joan Didion’s account of it and prepare themselves. Society does not deal well with the demented bereaved. After the ashes are scattered or the coffin laid in the ground you’re supposed to move on because nobody knows what to do with you. Well, fuck that for a joke.

Now I’ve just eaten a lunch of ripe organic Brie, snow peas, tiny sweet tomatoes and green olives, followed by the most luscious cherries I’ve tasted in years for dessert. J is sleeping. There are thunder clouds building up over the mountains. There are 25,000 more words clamouring to be written. I’m on a deadline. Talk soon.

 

Vaya con Dios, The Man Who Fell to Earth

12 Jan

Probably won’t be writing much for the next little while, as I’m leaving for the annual road trip to the Snowy Mountains today, listening to David Bowie all the way.

Haven’t felt so sad about a performer’s death since James Gandolfini carked in 2013.  They leave a hole in the world when they go, these shiningly talented people.

Anyways, be well Sheep people, will catch up again soon and here is Mabel Jane in my arms in a milk coma, because life goes on and who knows who the next shiningly talented person will be?

Mabel Jane January 2016

 

 

 

Why the Knox piece fails in every way.

10 Jan

Parody

 

It’s difficult to read respected Fairfax sports journalist Malcolm Knox’s “parody” piece criticising Chris Gayle’s sexist on-air comments to journalist Mel McLaughlin, as anything other than racist.

Dominated by Knox’s use of patois, a dialect infused with racist cultural and political history, its tone leans, for mine, rather more towards a taunt than a parody, and were I to hazard a guess at Knox’s state of mind during the composing of the piece I’d say, red- hot angry.

A keen follower of sport and Knox gave me some background on the relations between Gayle and other West Indian cricketers, and the largely white male media who are knowledgable insiders. It was suggested that there’s a general fed-upness at the perceived latitude enjoyed by Gayle and his colleagues in the matter of their public behaviours: words such as antics, and they can get away with anything because they’re charismatic, were used. Being completely ignorant of just about everything to do with cricket I can offer no opinion, but Knox’s piece does read as if he’s reacting to the straw that broke the camel’s back, rather than the singular McLaughlin incident.

If Knox wanted to make the point that sexist behaviour resembles racist behaviour in the capacity of both to dehumanise their targets, he surely could have achieved this in one sentence of patois. How do you feel, Chris Gayle, he might have asked, when someone speaks to you thus. Angry? Humiliated? Demeaned? Well, that’s exactly how women feel when you speak to them as you did to Mel. Or something along those lines.

A good parody will achieve its goal with the minimum and very subtle use of how do you like it when. Persist in the lesson for an entire article and you sound like an enraged bully.

For mine, I do not need white knights coming to my rescue by attacking misogynists on the basis of their race. The most awful experiences I’ve had with sexism have involved white males, and quite what race has to do with misogyny I don’t know. Privileged white males seem equally capable of behaving badly towards women as do males of any other skin colour.  Misogyny is about power, entitlement, ignorance and infantility, not the colour of a man’s skin.

The Knox article fails to meet any of its objectives. It doesn’t work at all as parody. It doesn’t address the issue of male sexism in sport. It doesn’t address the specific incident that inspired it. It reads like a great big dummy spit that benefits nobody, and in fact deflects attention from the issues onto itself. Like those advertisements that are so distracting the viewer can never remember the product the ads were pushing.

The piece also racialises misogyny, and suggests that black men ought to know how sexism feels because racism, so logically white women ought to know how racism feels because sexism. White men, on the other hand, don’t suffer either so don’t have to know anything except how to position themselves  as superior to both.

 

By a man for men: repeat after me, blokes

6 Jan

Harassment

 

Guest post by Dr Stewart Hase

There is a belief in the minds of too many men that it is somehow appropriate for males to force themselves sexually on women. It is borne from a sense of entitlement that men feel they have of women: that somehow she does not have the right to resist and that her vagina is his right.

We have had a disgusting reminder of this aspect of the minds of men in the recent episode (for those not living in Australia or asleep) where a minister of the government recently sexually harassed a staff member while they were both on a business trip to Hong Kong. There have been at least two brilliant exposes of this event from Kate Galloway and Jennifer Wilson on this blog, for those interested in reading the women’s view.

However, I am a bloke and I want to give my blokey point of view on this. One of the most shameful of the various dimensions to this saga is that at least one of the above mentioned female correspondents received a large number of abusive and extremely violent responses because she criticized the behavior of this minister, Jamie Briggs. The sense of entitlement over the bodies of women in the minds of some men is so strong that they think it essential to defend those who have been caught. You don’t need to be a shrink to realize that what they are doing is guiltily defending their own predilections in a phenomenon that psychologists call projection.

Not only has this abuse occurred on an industrial scale but yesterday one of the most senior members of the current government, Peter Dutton (I refuse to call him ‘The Honourable’) sent a text of support to Jamie Briggs telling him that a certain newspaper reporter, who had publicly chastised him, was a ‘..mad f*&^@ng witch’. So, there’s a wonderful role model for our citizens about how to treat women who ‘bell the cat’ from someone who should be calling for the head of Jamie Briggs and distancing himself as a matter of moral and ethical course.

Curiously enough, Dutton was part of a committee that sacked Briggs from the ministry when the event was publicized. So, in public Dutton is appalled by the sexual harassment of Briggs but in private he is supporting his gender buddy. Duplicity knows no bounds it seems and the message is clear that sexual harassment is just fine. The reason Dutton’s message was revealed was because he sent it to the newspaper reporter by mistake (his incompetence knows no bounds either). He then apologized publicly. Of course, if he had not made this mistake then he would have got away with revealing what he really thinks.

And, of course, there has been the usual round of victim blaming and excuses. He was drunk was the first and she shouldn’t have been there was a second. So, it is fine to sexually harass someone if you are drunk. ‘Your honour, the alcohol made me do it’. And worse, that she was somehow responsible for his behavior. It’s the old, ‘she asked for it’ routine. This is the Western equivalent of women wearing a a burka and chador so that they won’t cause men to become aroused. ‘She made my penis get out of control, your honour’. There was also the usual barrage of misinformation that one sees in these sorts of cases that attempted to obfuscate and blur the true story and focus on the victim not the perpetrator. The truth is lost in the fog of misdirection.

Let’s remember that this staff person is an employee of a government minister who is in an extremely powerful position. Briggs knew this and would have known too that his victim would have been more likely to succumb to his advances because of his power. Clearly he suffers from the delusions reinforced by too many movies and TV series about the ‘rights of men’. His victim knew it too and has been extremely brave to have reported the incident, which, incidentally, she attempted to deal with, in the first instance, without publicity by talking to a senior staff immediately.

The mechanisms behind this almost exclusively male belief about their rights to the bodies (and minds presumably) of women are not hard to find. The fact that he is a naughty boy for behaving badly and she is a slut for letting him are powerful messages reinforced by families, in the first instance, and by society in general. I travel a lot and I am astounded at how pervasive misogyny is among ‘normal’ men in every country and town that I have visited.

I’m a bloke. I understand impulses and sexual desire. As a psychologist I am aware of the biological drivers for these impulses and desires. I also understand being drunk. Been there and done that in spades. So, trust me my fellow-men, when I say that there are many men out there who can control their impulses, who can challenge this belief about entitlement, and their potential power. And that latter issue is the raw meaning behind all this. The need for power.

So, what’s so different about those who know where the boundaries are, who know what is right and what is wrong? It’s not all about education because perpetrators come from both the educated and uneducated. It’s not about race.

It has to do with self-awareness, respect for fellow travelers on this planet, about self-confidence and a healthy belief in self, and knowing how to use power well rather than for self-interest. It is about being civilized and raising ourselves up from the primal swamp where impulse and narcissistic behavior was a matter of survival.

Blokes, we are better than that. It’s time for all of us, including our leaders, to stand up and be counted. It is time to really take a stand against this scourge. We need to behave well and recognize when we have not done our best and be accountable. We need to support and listen to women who tell us about how they want to be treated rather than abuse and attempt to disempower them. Guys, we don’t need to be bullies to have fulfilling relationships. In fact the former will prevent the latter.

Repeat after me blokes. ‘ One: I need unambiguous permission to make sexual advances to a woman and if she makes it clear that advances are not welcome then I need to back off. And this means I need to raise my emotional intelligence beyond the age of three years of age and really listen to what women are telling me so that I can read them appropriately. Two: I should never make sexual advances towards women (or men for that matter) who are my staff. Three: I should not be getting drunk with my staff if I am their manager. Four: No means no. Five: I need to make it clear in words they understand to any male I know that their behavior is or was inappropriate if they have been guilty of sexual harassment (or bullying).’

 Dr Stewart Hase is a registered psychologist and has a doctorate in organisational behaviour as well as a BA, Diploma of Psychology, and a Master of Arts (Hons) in psychology. Stewart blogs at stewarthase.blogspot.com where this post was first published

Let me pierce you with my eyes…

4 Jan

Witches

 

I swear, you could not make this stuff up.  

Late yesterday it was revealed that Immigration Minister Peter (Cabbage) Dutton sent a text describing journalist Samantha Maiden as “that mad fucking witch” to, wait for it, the “mad fucking witch” herself, in error. (True)

Apparently he was in a crowded bar after a hard day, the hour was late and he was far from home. A passing femme fatale brushed up against him with her ample breast, and his finger slipped as he was scrolling through his contacts list. (I made that bit up.)

This next bit is true, based on the information we’ve been given. Dutton’s text was meant for Jamie Briggs, who lost his ministerial portfolio only hours earlier after allegedly sexually harassing a subordinate in a crowded bar after a long day when he was far from home and she pierced him with her eyes.

Maiden had just published a column critical of Briggs’ behaviour and apparently Dutton’s text was in response to that criticism, and intended to give Briggs support in his time of trouble. After all, what man needs to listen to the opinions of a mad fucking witch?

Dutton was a member of the governance sub-committee who unanimously decided Briggs had to go, so his vehement disagreement with Maiden’s opinion appears, at first blush, odd. But we are used to odd from the Immigration Minister, aren’t we.

By now Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who seems to have retreated to his multi-million dollar bunker with harbour views to have a good think, might be wishing he’d stayed in merchant banking, as one cabinet minister after another redefines the outer limits of sleaze, sexism, and stupid.

These things frequently, like Tony Abbott’s slogans (and the witches in Macbeth, lololololol) come in threes, so who will be next? I’m keeping my fingers crossed it’s Scott Morrison.

It must be a source of great frustration for Turnbull that his ministers are unable to keep their contempt for women in check, given his recent blatherings on the need for men to show respect towards us as the first step in ending epidemic proportions of violence against us. Ordered by their leader to control their primitive urges, Briggs and Dutton have finally broken bad with the sense of entitlement and contemptuous verbal abuse we are now seeing is the default position of LNP males towards women.

Sooner or later it’s going to sink in that while they might get away with all manner of perfidy, the time when they can abuse women and get away with it is rapidly coming to an end. Or they’ll die out, like the dinosaurs they are, in the unstoppable onslaught of the Mad Fucking Witches’ meteoric wrath.

I cannot wait to see how The Australian journalist Chris Kenny writes up this latest episode. Kenny is a great believer in taking legal action against those who cause him offence. Some of you may remember the controversial suggestion made by The Chaser some years ago that Kenny was a dog fucker, the raising of which possibility landed them in court and caused the ABC to humbly apologise for any tasteless insinuations of bestiality. Logically, Kenny ought to be urging Maiden and the woman in the Hong Kong bar with piercing eyes to call their lawyers, though Kenny and logic are really not words that should appear in the same sentence.

Today we are all Mad Fucking Witches as, apparently, any woman with a mind and an opinion who doesn’t want to be barefoot and pregnant or a member of the LNP, must be. So this Mad Fucking Witch is making a voodoo dolly and buying pins while considering original places where the sun don’t shine in which she might park her broomstick while she does the ironing.

Here’s the thing. It’s very straightforward. Don’t touch us without permission. Don’t verbally abuse us, especially if you don’t know how to send a text. This is what respect means, you dumb fucking warlocks, and if you can’t get your cabbage heads around that come here, and let me pierce you with my eyes. I’m a witch. My gaze is fatal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, Jamie, shit happens

2 Jan

shit-happens-wi-border.001

 

Following the post yesterday on the Jamie Briggs sacking:

The Australian today has published details of the complainant in the Jamie Briggs’ alleged sexual harassment scandal that allow the woman to be identified, while simultaneously trumpeting that it is withholding her name in order to protect her privacy.

This is one of the many reasons women hesitate to report sexual harassment and assault, especially when the alleged perpetrator is a public figure.

The Australian also reports that some MPs are greatly unsettled by the decision to sack Briggs because of alleged sexual harassment, as it sets the ministerial bar “impossibly high.” Respecting women, much?

Just don’t touch us without permission, how’s that for starters? Can you manage that? Because if you can’t be in charge of yourself, you shouldn’t be in charge of the country.

It’s worth repeating that Briggs was the subject of two LNP inquiries into the behaviour that provoked the complaint lodged against him. In the first instance, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet engaged an independent official to investigate the matter. It was subsequently referred to the cabinet’s governance sub-committee, members of whom included Warren Truss, George Brandis, Julie Bishop, Peter Dutton, Scott Morrison, Michaelia Cash and Arthur Sinodinos. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described the allegations as “a serious matter.”  The decision of the subcommittee was that Briggs had to go.

If even that bunch of charlatans couldn’t find a way to get Briggs out of it, it must have been serious.

It’s simple to avoid the situation Briggs created for himself, but apparently it isn’t easy. There are at least two obvious considerations. The first might be: if you are in a relationship that is committed to monogamy, don’t make sexual advances to other people. The second might be, if you are in a position of power, do not make sexual advances to a subordinate. The third might be: if you disregard the first two recommendations fasten your seatbelt, because you may well have just blown your life, the lives of your spouse, your children and the individual you harassed, to bits.

The problem with men such as Briggs is that they apparently don’t believe these very human rules apply to them. Perhaps the most useful thing Briggs has achieved in his career thus far is to demonstrate, albeit it entirely unwillingly, that these rules do apply, even to LNP ministers, and that his peers have enforced them against him.

For Briggs’ “conga line of apologists” , as Paula Matthewson puts it, including The Australian, to attempt to discredit the complainant despite the outcome of his peer review, is, while despicable, sadly unsurprising given the prevalent attitude towards women who complain about the unacceptable behaviour of men.

The sub-committee who decided Briggs must go likely had more than one agenda, nevertheless, it is one small step towards justice for women who take a stand against harassment in the workplace. I can only hope this is not undone by the rabid attentions of a media hellbent on protecting out-dated male privilege and presumption of entitlement, regardless of the vile behaviours this engenders.

Perhaps we can offer to Jamie the consoling words his pal Tony Abbott offered to those he rendered unemployed during his brief term as a failed Prime Minister: see this as a liberation, mate, an opportunity to learn something entirely new.

In the meantime, Jamie’s struck another blow at the supposedly monolithic sanctity of heterosexual marriage, demonstrating yet again that its biggest threat isn’t from anyone in the LGBTI community who wants equal access to the institution, but from those already ensconced who just can’t seem to honour their commitments.

For an excellent analysis of the Briggs affair and how to recognise and set sexual boundaries in the workplace, see here, by Kate Galloway

For interesting insight into how the Press Gallery handles these issues, go to Andrew Elder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We need to talk about what Jamie did.

1 Jan

 

Brigg's Family Xmas card

Brigg’s Family Xmas card

Jamie Briggs resigned this week from his ministerial portfolio in the Turnbull government because of “inappropriate” behaviour towards a female public servant late one night in a Hong Kong bar, when he found himself apparently disinhibited by alcohol and the lateness of the hour.

Briggs was rapidly supported on Twitter by at least two of his colleagues, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and Queensland MP Ewen Jones, both of whom describe Briggs as a good, decent man and a better bloke having a bad day. The Australian journalist Chris Kenny also came to Brigg’s defence on Twitter in a desperate attempt to frame the incident as being all about alcohol and staying up late in bars, with no reference to the alleged sexual harassment.

The public servant, it should be noted, did not complain that Briggs was drunk or up late, but that he had sexually harassed her, according to one report telling her she had such “piercing eyes,” before falling upon her neck. Mrs Estee Briggs, (who, like her husband, also worked for John Howard) is standing by her man, and has declared Prime Minister Turnbull’s sacking of her husband from the ministry an “exaggerated over-reaction” unwarranted by the triviality of the incident.

Some of us women set the bar low for ourselves, but perhaps we shouldn’t expect that the rest of the community will hold similar standards. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard women defend partners who act “inappropriately” towards them and other women, and what astonishes me every time is their expectation, indeed demand, that the rest of us hold the same minimal expectations.  Stand by your man by all means, but don’t tell others we’re “over-reacting” when we refuse to embrace your low standards.

It’s interesting that if a woman is drunk, and sexually harassed or assaulted, society’s default position is still that she shouldn’t have been drinking. On the other hand, the Briggs incident reaffirms for us that there are people in positions of considerable influence and power who still believe that if a man sexually harasses woman when he’s drunk it isn’t his fault: he’s really a decent bloke who’s had a hard day, and he can blame it on the drink. The woman, on the other hand, is a moll and a slut for getting out there and getting pissed and assaulted, and nobody even asks if she’s had a hard day.

I mean, really. When are we going to get past this? Ever?

I don’t know what Briggs’ defenders mean by “decent.” For mine, if you’re married and cheating on your spouse, you aren’t “decent.” You’re duplicitous, deceitful and probably more concerned with your own needs than those of your wife, family and lover. Infidelity demands a strong sense of entitlement, bordering on narcissism. It’s all about what the cheater thinks he/she needs, not the people he/she will damage. I mean, if you aren’t getting what you need in your partnership, have the courage to do something about it that doesn’t require duplicity and betrayal, or accept your lot. Deceiving the people who trust you is no way to address your needs.

As a man bent on betrayal once told me: I know I am behaving abominably to my wife and family, but you are so good for me. 

Says it all, really.

The point of this is that if a man (or woman) can justify the betrayal of those he/she cares most about, why would he/she think twice about betraying anybody else? We may know little else about the cheating spouse, but we do know with absolute certainty that he/she is a liar.

Ministerial standards are high, as they should be if governments are determined to give individual ministers the kind of power over others granted to Immigration Minister Dutton, for example. Why on earth should such power be in the hands of a man who has proved himself a liar, capable of intentionally deceiving his own wife? He’s demonstrated what he is willing to do to achieve his own ends: are we to be so naive as to think he’d only do this to his wife, and not the country?

The incident may not have been “illegal,” as Briggs hastens to assure us, though quite what he means by that I don’t know. It certainly highlights yet again that women are still seen by some societal groups as irrelevant in comparison to the needs and ambitions of men. Briggs was daft for getting drunk and staying up late, but hey, he’s human and works hard. Let’s not mention the predatory sexual behaviour: it was only a woman.

I don’t know the extent of Briggs’ harassment of the woman involved, what I do know is that until men like Briggs stop believing they are entitled to our attention and our bodies we have to call them on every incident, no matter how “trivial” it might seem to someone else. We are not comfort women for when such men are having a difficult time. We aren’t cuddly things for such men to grab and grope. Such men as Briggs are not inherently entitled to our bodies, our emotions, our attention and our time.

The “trivial” nature or otherwise of the sexual harassment is irrelevant here: what matters is the belief men such as Briggs hold that they are entitled to us whenever they feel the need of us. Nothing will substantially change for women until such men are disabused of this sense of entitlement, and until women who support these men demand higher standards from them instead of enabling them. We’re not “over-reacting” in thinking your husband should be fired, Mrs Briggs. It’s bad enough that men such as Jamie Briggs harass and assault us in the first place, we don’t have to lower our standards to yours as well.

Please note: I very rarely delete comments and even more rarely block people. However, I’ve just deleted an abusive comment from a poster called “Simon,” and will continue to delete and block abuse. This is a courtesy notification, so if abuse is on your mind you don’t waste your time.

 

Books. And empty shoes.

28 Dec

Buccholz. Book

 

I am culling books… 

When I come upon a collection of essays by J.M. Coetzee titled Stranger Shores, that I haven’t looked at in quite some time and so had forgotten that it was given to me by my late husband, Arnie, on my birthday, March 15 2005. It contains a piece on Rainer Maria Rilke that sent me gratefully back to the poet, in the way that good essays always invite you somewhere beyond themselves.

The sight of Arnie’s handwriting initially startles, then its power to evoke the man takes over and I’m again lost in that peculiar presence of absence I’ve become familiar with since his death eighteen months ago, in which his absence has an energy vivid as any presence, and more vivid than some presences can ever be.

I’m reminded here of a conversation between myself and a woman in which she confided, in distress and anger, that her husband of some decades didn’t know her. I thought I’d seldom heard anything so sad about a partnership, and how lonely it must be to live a life in which one is not known, a life in which interest and curiosity in a partner is supplanted by assumptions and projections, and the familiarity that breeds contempt.

Not that it’s possible to conclusively know anyone: it’s the desire to engage in the project of discovery that speaks to me of enduring love. I’ve written more about the difference between familiarity and knowing here.

On the first page of Stranger Shores, Arnie has written of his love and affection in Hebrew. At least I’m assuming it’s love and affection as I know little of that language, and there’s what I’m taking to be a translation below the Hebrew that speaks in English of “my beloved wife.”

On the other hand, knowing him, the Hebrew could say anything.

The next thing I think of as I gaze at his spidery handwriting, held in place in my chair by the strength of the presence of his absence, is the haunting image of the empty shoes in Paris.

Empty shoes in Paris. 2015

The empty shoes represent an event that could not be held because of fear of terrorist attacks. They represent the dead and injured victims of those attacks. They symbolise the death of species, and the dying of our planet. They represent loss, and absence of all kinds. They symbolise the grounding of humans on this earth, a major point of contact with the planet, and they are empty.

And they remind me of how the sight of my husband’s empty shoes brought me to my knees, when I finally understood that I would never again see him in them.

I don’t know why shoes apparently carry so much more poignancy than say shirts, or jackets, or trousers. Yet, I remember also when my sons were small and at school how I would pick up their scattered clothing and smell it, to evoke their presence in their absence, a kind of preparation for the time when they would leave for their own lives and loves, and that intense period of mothering, about which I was frequently ambivalent, would be over.

There are other books “For my beloved wife.” One Writer’s Beginnings by Eudora Welty. Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. Which book I remember him lugging to the hospital on Christmas Day where I lay recovering from drastic cancer surgery, too weakened to even hold the heavy tome, so he showed it to me instead, and read bits that fed my morphine-induced hallucinations and after he left I saw Jesus by the window in shining light, telling me everything would be fine, no worries.

I’m beginning to understand that the people I love never leave me, if I can only learn to allow them to stay. There’s a psychological theory that when we know we can’t be with someone anymore, for whatever reason, we cut off from them and deny their significance, as a way of managing in the long-term the complicated and initially crushing pain of loss.

It’s a sweet sorrow to be sure, to feel the presence of absence, whether that’s the absence of the dead, or the equally irretrievable loss of the little boy who is now a man, and quite rightly does not have need of you in the same ways any longer. They live, those vanished ones, in the memory and the imagination, they live in the body and the heart and the mind. They live in me, though I can’t touch them anymore, and their shoes stand so very empty.

The work of the eyes is done. Go now and do the heart-work on the images imprisoned within you. Rainer Maria Rilke

Courage and politics.

27 Dec

Quint Buccholz Five

 

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
― Anaïs Nin

If there’s one thing I’d like to have the power to give to the people I love, especially the little ones, it’s courage.

The courage to challenge cultural conditioning and social convention. The courage to allow oneself to see that “normality” is a construct and to ask, by whom is this concept constructed, for whose benefit, and how?

The courage to refuse the lazy tribal sense of belonging in order to embrace a more challenging sense of common humanity that does not require exclusionary practices in order to define a sense of who we are. I am not that therefore I am this, is a negative way in which to carve out an identity, yet the spoken or unspoken comparison that loads difference with moral value, or lack of it, serves as a benchmark for establishing who we are, singly and collectively.

I can’t see much of a future for humans without the kind of courage that is curious about difference, rather than fearful and hostile towards it. The former is expansion, the latter an arid shrinking, of the kind we’ve seen increasingly in Australia since our politics, both Labor and Liberal, have become more and more conservative.

Our courage, at least as it is expressed in our politics, has diminished alarmingly. Whether it’s asylum seekers in indefinite and tortuous detention because we will not resettle them; whether it’s our inability to recognise and adequately act upon our responsibilities towards the earth that is our only home; whether it’s increasing surveillance of ordinary citizens along with the deprivation of freedoms and human rights, the insidious creep of tyranny, wearing the mask of concern and wish to protect, is shrinking our lives, and we seem to lack the collective courage necessary first to acknowledge what’s happening to us, and second, to do something concrete about it.

I’m not the first to observe that without courage it’s hardly possible to be truthful, generous, realistic and imaginative, and without courage, it’s impossible to live a life of necessary self-examination, curiosity and fulfilment.

Lack of courage is what will destroy our species. It’s only a matter of time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Family.

15 Dec
Mabel Jane with her Great Step Grandfather

Mabel Jane with her Step Great Grandfather

 

The next little while is set to be somewhat frenetic in our household, as in many others, as we prepare for an early Christmas with my family’s little ones, and then a Christmas at the other end of life’s cycle with Mrs Chook’s ninety-year-old Mum and family.

Mrs Chook didn’t have kids and I don’t have a Mum, so we share.

There won’t be much on Sheep, except maybe some bleating about four-year-old Archie’s snoring, sleep talking and aggravated assault of his Giddy after he’s padded his way down the stairs from his bedroom to mine in the middle of the night  and in a stage whisper said “Giddy, can I get in your bed I promise I won’t pee.”

Well, he doesn’t pee, but he does thrash about and hit me in the eye.

A woman called Vicki once said to me, family is everything. I know she was talking about traditional heterosexual families. But for mine, that is a very narrow concept of family, and the fact that it’s heterosexual and traditional is no guarantee of it being any good.

It doesn’t matter how family is constituted: if there’s a group of people who love each other and share their lives, that’s a family. It’s about time this privileging of traditional heterosexual families came to an end.

My extended and blended family recently came together for the naming of our youngest babies, Mabel Jane, called after her late great-grandmother, and her cousin, Audrey Mae.

Mabel Jane & Audrey Mae on their naming day

Audrey Mae & Mabel Jane on their naming day

Mabel Jane brings the total number of grandchildren in this family to twenty. There are second marriages and ex partners and new partners and we all turn up for every wedding and naming and we all get on, regardless of our sometimes chequered histories, and we even get on when we’re pissed, so that’s some indication of how our family is everything to us.

 

Ted at his sister's naming day

Ted at his sister’s naming day

 

What astonishes me is the elasticity of the human heart, as it expands itself to make room for yet one more individual, adult or child, who through birth or commitment enters this family and becomes a member. We may not always like each other all of the time, and some of us wouldn’t want to spend our lives with some of us, but I doubt there’s any one of us who’d turn their back if someone  else was in trouble.

This is not to say some families aren’t shit. My family of origin was unspeakable, so there’s a dark side to the “family is everything” mantra: family can be everything in the worst possible way, haunting you for the rest of your life, and under those circumstances, Christmas is no fun.

If it’s awful I hope with all my heart that it passes quickly for you.

And no matter what combination constitutes your family, however big or small it may be, love one another the best you can, and put the all sharp implements in the high cupboards.

Archie at the party

Archie at the party

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The heart of Cardinal Pell

12 Dec

Pell. Image by James Croucher

 

Cardinal George Pell certainly has a heart condition, one that has been apparent to even the most casual observer for some considerable time.

It could be thought of as heartlessness or a lack of heart in his attitude to survivors of sexual abuse by priests of Pell’s church. Pell has consistently placed victims and survivors second, third and fourth to the requirements and reputation of the religious institution that has fed, watered and lavishly nurtured him.

Yesterday, Pell’s lawyers advised the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sex Abuse that Pell would be unable to appear before the Commission to be questioned as arranged, due to a heart condition that makes long-haul flight too great a risk to his health. Inquiry chair Justice Peter McClellan refused to accept Pell’s evidence via video link, instead postponing his appearance until March 2016 when it is hoped the heart of Cardinal Pell will have recovered sufficiently to allow him to travel from Rome to Ballarat.

It’s a measure of Pell’s character that this news has been greeted with scorn, derision, disbelief and contempt. If he is indeed seriously ill, nobody much cares, and few are prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Pell is between a rock and a hard place. If he doesn’t appear before the Commission to answer hard questions, his guilt will be assumed and he forfeits an opportunity to exonerate himself. If he does appear, his alleged guilt may well be exposed as real. Either way, public opinion has so turned against the Cardinal that he has become a despised figure, of whom even some catholics are deeply ashamed.

All of this is as nothing, compared to the destruction and pain wrought upon children by priests of Pell’s church, some of whom he publicly supported. Beside this, the Cardinal’s mental, emotional, spiritual and physical discomfort is as nothing.

It seems to me that a person’s character is defined by their willingness to front up and be accountable for their actions and inactions; never an easy experience, but what are we if we can’t or won’t do that?

Oh, and Pell was also confessor and mentor to failed Prime Minister and failed priest Tony Abbott (Just saying). (Not that it means anything). (Unless you want it to). (I’m done now).

 

Reist, porn and sexualisation.

11 Dec

Porn-Its-Cheaper-than-dating

 

For a long time now, I’ve wondered how Melinda Tankard Reist is able to conduct her extensive and lengthy campaign against the “sexualisation” of girls, without addressing the sexual abuse of children.

I can think of no more powerfully destructive act of “sexualisation” than childhood sexual abuse, and yet Ms Reist goes nowhere near it, choosing instead to shame various outlets into withdrawing whatever product she currently believes is causing the “sexualisation” of children.

As the Royal Commission into CSA continues to demonstrate, the sexual abuse (and inevitable real sexualisation) of children was occurring long before there was an Internet, long before there was anything like the licentious climate Reist claims exists today, and long before the creation and availability of any of the clothing, toys, music clips and magazines that she currently holds responsible for “sexualisation.” What child victims wear had and has no bearing on a paedophile’s decision to molest her or him.

I continue to maintain that if an adult sees a child dressed in a “sexual” manner and assumes an invitation, there is something seriously awry with that adult’s perceptions. A dressed-up child is still a child, not a sexualised being, “sexualised” implying that the child’s purpose has become to provide sex by virtue of her appearance. Only a dangerously perverted thinker would make such an assumption.

Popular sexual culture is like the hydra: as soon as Ms Reist chops off one head another one grows. Which will, of course, guarantee her a career and an income. Popular sexual culture might be a symptom, but is never a cause, and sexuality is always a reliable source of fuel for moral indignation and the impulse to ideological control.

However, what has brought Tankard Reist to mind is her appearance on an ABC 2 program on pornography the other evening. In anticipation of the program, activist and academic Caroline Norma published a piece on ABC Ethics and Religion, castigating the ABC for giving a platform to the dirty business of pornography. You see the common motif: porn is dirty, and morally wrong like “sexualising” clothes and raunchy music videos, and shame on aunty for giving it airtime because we know how well repression, censorship and prohibition work for us.

One of the things that disturbs me about Reist’s opposition to porn is her definition of that genre. She and her followers are wont to wax eloquent about “true intimacy,” and “real loving relationships” etc, which to me suggests Reist considers she has somehow acquired the right to define what is “true” and “real” in sexual relations and is compelled to foist her definitions on the rest of us.

“True’ and “real” seem, in this context, to require marriage, or at the very least long-term commitment, with the qualifier that it only applies to heterosexuals.

Another aspect that disturbs me is Reist’s penchant for lumping together all kinds of porn, from snuff movies to amateur and everything in between, as being equally destructive and harmful to health, well-being, and intimate relationships. It’s like saying all food is harmful because Macca’s burgers don’t get the Heart Foundation tick of approval.

There must be no porn of any kind, and we must not have sex with anyone unless we are willing to commit our lives to them.

Personally, I would not enjoy being fucked to camera by some dude whose only asset worthy of note was a long schlong. The reasons why women engage in the manufacture of porn are many and varied, and how much choice or freedom is involved is as variable. I can’t for the life of me see how any of these variables can be addressed and redressed by forcing Coles to withdraw a Zoo magazine.

I have no doubt, however, that Ms Reist and her followers get a lovely warm glow when they do force the withdrawal or banning of one thing or another. While they are glowing, sex trafficking continues unabated. Child sexual abuse continues unabated. Sexual assault continues unabated. They are, as my first husband would say, pissing against the wind.

There are very real and very frightening and certainly criminal acts of sexual expression in which there is no consent, that no society ought to tolerate. If we are raising boys who believe they have the right to demand from girls sexual acts girls do not wish to perform, then we are raising misogynistic male supremacists, and Zoo magazine is an expression of that culture, not the cause. You can burn all the lads mags you want: it won’t stop those particular lads wanting to forcibly sexually subjugate girls.

“Sexualisation” and “pornification” take place within a context: the context of the inequalities of patriarchy, the demands of capitalism, and religious notions of what is and isn’t sexually moral. It’s only by tackling these impositions on humanity that we’ll ever make inroads into exploitative and non consensual sexual practices.

But hey, if it’s band aids you want, Reist’s website provides you with a long list of what not to buy for Christmas, and where not to buy it. But there are other ways to get a nice warm glow…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Matilda furore dangerously misses the point

10 Dec

Victim blaming

 

The point of the Jack Kilbride article published in New Matilda earlier this week, is that women are responsible for adjusting our behaviours so that we do not incite male aggression and violence against us.

The website has since published three reactions to Kilbride’s piece, one supporting him, one attacking him, and one likening Clementine Ford’s experience to that of Adam Goodes.

Obviously nobody has read this Guardian piece, titled Victim-blaming rampant in Australians’ attitudes towards violence against women – study.

Read it. Read it and don’t even bother talking to me if you haven’t read it, because when you’ve read it you will see everything that is wrong with Kilbride’s piece, and any opinion that supports his position.

Overwhelmingly, according to the study, in Australia women and girls are blamed for male aggression and violence towards us. Our tone, our appearance, our failure to pay attention to a male, our attitude, our provocation: we must have done something or not done something to make him do it.

It is sickening to read the attitudes of apparently “ordinary normal” people to women who dare to report and protest violence against us. If you’ve experienced these attitudes you’ll know it’s like being violated all over again. The accusatory questions addressed to victims of violence: why did you/didn’t you? You should have/you shouldn’t have. All making the victim the focus of reprimand and disapproval, placing the onus on her, and not the perpetrator.

What these victim-blaming attitudes do is enable violence against women in all its forms. In shifting the responsibility from perpetrators to victims, the former are relieved of the necessity and the responsibility of owning their violence, instead taking comfort in the erroneous assumption that they were provoked in some way or other into acting aggressively towards us.

Until these attitudes change, there will be no lessening of violence against women. The depth to which these attitudes inform our society is painfully apparent in Kilbride’s piece. I have no doubt he is a nice, well-meaning bloke who wants a better world. Victim blamers aren’t necessarily overtly hostile. Indeed, women who complain about their frustration with victims complaining are engaging in yet another form of victim blaming.

The question that most urgently needs to be asked and answered is, why do we find it so necessary to blame a victim?

 

On what Clementine did

8 Dec

Online Abuse

 

I’ve read two opinion pieces today on how Clementine Ford handled the online aggression and threats against her by  naming and shaming the individual responsible, and publishing a compilation of the obscenities fired her way over a period of several months.

There’s this one by Helen Razer in the Daily Review, and this one by Jack Kilbride in New Matilda.

Razer argues that the significance of public commentary is lately at risk of being measured by the amount of hate the author is subjected to, rather than the work the author produces.

Kilbride argues that if women only handled it better the nasty trolls would stop trolling, which is roughly the linguistic equivalent of telling us not to dress provocatively because if we do we’re asking for it, and I can’t be bothered with the man just now.

Razer’s perspective on publicly revealing personal trauma is an interesting one. Her piece is titled, Why violent threats don’t make you an important commentator, so obviously she’s working from the premise that there’s an audience daft enough to measure the significance of one’s work by the amounts of threats one receives, and their degree of severity. This makes me absolutely negligible, as I receive practically no threats, and barely any abuse, except I did for a while cop a fair bit of upsetting reprimand, public and private, from Razer.

Razer writes:

The idea is not important. The trauma victim becomes important. The claim that “Clementine Ford is important for women” should be made about the growing body of this writer’s work and not about the threats she has received. The violent attention of barely literate misogynists has become the register of a good thinker. 

Good thinkers have always been the targets of abuse, and injury, and not infrequently death, since long before there were internet trolls. Online attacks are merely the most recent manifestation of hatred for good thinking: with the Internet haters have discovered an opportunity they’ve never had before to globally spew their bile, and so of course there are more visible victims.

Being the target of abuse doesn’t make anyone an important commentator or a good thinker: Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine cop their fair share of threats and abuse and nobody capable of thinking straight could call either of them good, or important, or even really thinkers, to be honest.

Razer links to this interview with Yasmin Nair, titled The Ideal Neoliberal Subject is the Subject of Trauma, in which Nair makes the claim that everyone must identify as a trauma victim to be considered a legitimate subject:

It just seems like trauma has become a requirement. I’ve been writing recently about how I am sick of being on panels where everybody starts to confess to their rape, or to their sexual trauma, and I just want to walk out on them! I just want to say “if you cannot think about critiquing policies and the state without having to assert how and why you have been a victim, then let’s end this conversation. Does everybody have to be a victim in order to gain sympathy, first of all? And what does it mean to have to constantly reconstitute yourself as a subject of trauma? What happens to people who don’t do it? Are they to be seen as traitors?

There’s this weird kind of culture of confession which is also something I write about: this constant imperative to confess, and this imperative to reveal oneself as the wounded subject, that I find very disturbing…There’s a kind of demand for authenticity in all of this that I find particularly vexing. And I know for a fact that many people who have a critique of trauma and of violence and of the state may well have been sexually abused, but just don’t talk about it. And does that make them less authentic?

Is the narrative of personal trauma obfuscating the bigger discussion of context, policies, and the state? Or are the two narratives  more compatible than Nair (and Razer) argue?  And after thousands of years of silence on the subject of our trauma, who, after a mere couple of decades of public discussion, has the right to suggest that the traumatised are silencing another, more important conversation? Hasn’t this always been said to women?

Does revealing personal trauma make one more authentic? Or does keeping silent about personal trauma add to one’s authenticity? Does revealing personal trauma detract from the value of one’s work? Or add to it because experience complements abstract knowledge?

I am more interested in the fact of those questions than I am in any answers. In speaking and writing about my own traumatic experiences, I’ve never once thought to ask myself, will I seem more authentic if I say this, or if I don’t say it? This could well be a grievous oversight on my part, however, I’m not in the habit of wondering whether or not I seem authentic, and it seems to me a tortuous thing to have to ask oneself before writing and speaking, the kind of core self-doubt that can do little other than reduce me to quivering silence.

Why should a woman have to ask herself before she writes, will writing this make me more or less authentic?

In her piece on Ford, Razer links to this earlier post, written in 2014, in which she writes at length about her own experiences of being stalked, threatened, and extremely frightened, and the long-term effects these experiences have had on her life. It hurt me, I think irreparably, she writes. I don’t think any the less of Razer’s body of work because she reveals this about herself.

Indeed, she has apparently written a book on the subject, and I don’t think any less of her intellect because she’s written a book on her personal trauma. I am, however, more than a little irritated by the apparent double standard at work here. Razer has confessed her suffering and revealed herself as a wounded subject, yet seems to be arguing that others should not.

Thinkers are at times simultaneously wounded subjects. It seems to me an admirable goal to enable us wounded subjects to contextualise our experiences of wounding in terms of the systems and regimes that govern our lives. If we do not speak about our trauma in the first place, we have no hope of contextualising it for ourselves and others.

If you are exasperated by the sheer number of victims using their voices, perhaps it is wiser not to blame them for your exasperation, but rather go to the source, and hold the source accountable. As I noted earlier, women have been silenced for thousands of years, and it is only in the last three decades we have begun to speak. It would seem a little early for exasperation.

As far as I’m aware, there is no guide-book for how a woman should react to trauma. Each of us does it in our own way and nobody has the authority to police that. Ford does it her way, as does Razer, as do I.

Each one of us who confesses herself as a wounded subject does it in a way that can have significance for somebody else, because there is no one way, and there is no right way, and there is no time limit.

The idea is important. The trauma victim is important. It isn’t either or.

This is authenticity.

 

 

 

Naming and shaming

3 Dec

Naming and shaming

 

I don’t always agree with feminist writer and activist Clementine Ford. I disliked her “Fuck Abbott” t-shirts and wouldn’t be caught dead in one. I disliked even more her “I hate men” hashtag on Twitter.

But Clem Ford has taken on men who are abusive and threatening to women online, and one Michael Nolan has lost his job because the company he works for won’t have its employees publicly abusing women.

Of course Ford has received bucket loads of abuse for complaining about Nolan to his employer because, as she notes, the worst thing you can possibly do is make a man accountable for his actions.

In other words, a male who is so inclined may visit all kinds of abuse upon a woman, but this is secondary to the offence she commits by insisting that he be held accountable for his actions.

Well, fuck that for a joke.

When a man abuses a woman he loses his right to privacy. If he has a family, he also destroys their right to privacy.

Give me one good reason why any woman abused by a man is obliged to remain silent about that abuse in order to protect him, his reputation, his job or his family. He should have thought about all those aspects of his life before he perpetrated the abuse. Maybe if he does think about all those aspects of his life, he will think twice about perpetrating the abuse. And if he doesn’t respect his own life and others in it, why on earth should a woman he’s abused be expected to do it for him?

Actions have consequences. Suck it up, dudes. The shame’s going where it belongs.

If women stay silent about the abuses visited upon us because we’ll be perceived as vengeful bitches if we speak out and the perpetrator loses his reputation, his job, his family, then women are saying to men, abuse me, I won’t say anything because your job, reputation, family are more important than me. It’s ok, abuse me, and I’ll sacrifice my well-being for yours.

Well, fuck that for a joke as well.

I don’t know what else we can do about violence against women, no matter what form it takes. Name the bastards. If that’s what it’s going to take to make them think about what they’re doing, name the bastards, because the consequences of that naming and shaming are down to them, not the women they abuse.

The days of male entitlement are, albeit at a glacial rate, coming to a close. Men who abuse and exploit women are accountable for their actions, and the choices and decisions they make and the risks they take in the making.

It’s not our shame that we name them. It’s their shame that they have to be named.

And for the women in their lives who are collateral damage: take a step back and a good look at the kind of man you’re spending your life with and ask yourself, do I really have to set the bar this low?

We don’t have to stay silent so abusive and exploitative men can stay comfortable.

Fuck that for a joke.

 

 

 

 

Cherchez la femme! Credlin, and Abbott’s downfall

2 Dec

 

Credlin and Abbott

 

Journalist Peter Hartcher has written an analysis of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s downfall, titled Shirtfronted, and published in five episodes in the Fairfax press this week.

Episode two is all about Peta. Credlin, that is, Abbott’s controversial former chief of staff, who is, practically universally it appears, credited with contributing in a rather spectacular manner to his downfall.

Hartcher describes the relationship between Abbott and Credlin as “co-dependent,”citing the former PM’s “agitation” when separated from Credlin in the most ordinary of ways, such as having to travel in separate cars, or not having her arrive as expected out of a lift. These type of anxieties are more usually associated with that stage of infancy when the baby is becoming aware that its mother is a separate entity and not an extension of its own being, and every separation and absence is regarded by the infant as a catastrophic abandonment of the self that provokes intolerable anxiety.

So I guess Hartcher’s use of the clinical term “co-dependent” is appropriate in the circumstances. It certainly sounds like a psychologically mangled union, and one wonders how Abbott’s wife, Margie, tolerates her husband’s intense and very public emotional involvement with another woman. As another of the symptoms of co-dependency is tolerating and thus enabling a partner’s destructive and self-destructive behaviours, maybe the diagnosis extends to the marriage as well.

Be that as it may, I am conflicted about the criticisms directed towards Credlin by the LNP, journalists and commentators, not because I’ve read anything about Ms Credlin that causes me to feel sympathy for her, or empathy, but because it is impossible to tell in a situation such as this how much of that criticism is to do with her actions, and how much is fuelled by sexism and anti-woman attitudes and resentments. There’s a cohort of males (supported by co-dependent females) who tend to blame women simply because we exist, with our breasts and our vaginas and our sexuality, not to mention our opinions.

This cohort tends to be conservative, religious, controlling, and threatened by anyone who is not them, and many are to be found in political circles as well as in the fourth estate. So while Peta Credlin has by all accounts behaved offensively on many occasions to many people, one has to remember who is narrating events.

Abbott’s extraordinary protectiveness towards Credlin seems to indicate he put her well-being before his own, and that of  his party. She did/does indeed have excessive control over his emotions and his psychology, causing him to blind himself to the consequences of his bizarre loyalty to her.

His need of her, powerful enough to cause him to put at risk the job he’d craved for years, certainly sounds self-destructive, and it must have been particularly galling for his ministers to understand that in any fight, he’d be on Peta’s side, not theirs. You’re just a staffer, Credlin is reminded by Eric Abetz after a rather tumultuous episode, at which Abbott was present. She’ll apologise in her own way, the PM told Abetz, who apparently never noticed if she did.

Then there’s the tearful tantrum Credlin threw over The Australian’s journalist Nikki Savva’s criticism of her, when both she and Abbott  attempted to have Savva sacked as retribution. “I don’t have to put up with this shit!” Credlin reportedly howled.

Personally, I think Abbott would have gone with or without Credlin’s influence, however, their relationship can’t have helped his cause, internally or in the public sphere. What the Credlin factor actually demonstrates is Abbott’s weakness of character: the leader of a country isn’t in the job to prioritise his personal emotional and psychological cravings over the welfare of his party and his country. Abbott did just that, making him even more dangerously untrustworthy all round than he was already.

Abbott’s main concern was always Abbott, and will remain so. Even his protection of Credlin was essentially about himself: he needed her, and had to keep her by his side in order for him to function.

Hopefully, none of this will concern us again to any great extent. He was a most unsuitable leader, who made his personal needs and bizarre ideology central to policy-making, not the needs of the country and its people.

Any PM who can’t stand on his own two feet, as Abbott clearly could not, is bad for the country he leads, and about as far from being adult as anyone can be.

The personal is still and always will be political. Yet we almost always underestimate its influence, to our cost.

After White Ribbon Day: put your money where your oath is.

28 Nov
Elsie. Australia's first women's refuge.

Elsie. Australia’s first women’s refuge.

 

November 25th is the International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women, known as White Ribbon Day after the organisation that works to prevent male violence against women, an organisation led by men with the aim of supporting women, and calling violent men on their behaviours as well as assisting them with change. Men are required to take an oath that they will protest violence against women, and the wearing of a white ribbon signifies that they’ve taken that oath.

FACT: Destroy the Joint’s Counting Dead Women Project keeps a record of the names, lives and circumstances of all women in Australia who have died in incidents of violence against women in 2015. The total so far: seventy-eight.

FACT: Every three hours, somewhere in Australia, a woman is hospitalised because of injuries inflicted on her by her intimate partner. These partners are overwhelmingly male.

FACT: Every week, three women injured by an intimate partner in Australia suffer a debilitating brain injury.

FACT: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a $101.1 million Women’s Safety Package designed to prevent and eliminate violence against women. This went some small way to replacing the $300 million in cuts inflicted on the frontline domestic violence service sector by the previously Abbott-led government.

This sector provides refuges, support and trauma counselling for women and children fleeing violence, and community legal centres where woman can obtain assistance with intervention orders, and the legal processes involved in obtaining protection from violent partners. Then Minister for Women Tony Abbott’s cuts seriously crippled the ability of these already overstretched services to cope with the increasing numbers of women and children attempting to escape violent domestic situations.

Less than 5% of Turnbull’s $100 million “restoration” of that Abbott- withdrawn funding will go towards the provision of those frontline crisis services

In spite of the White Ribbon Day hoo haa (which included, bafflingly, a fighter jet fly past over Canberra because nothing says let’s end violence like fighter jets) the Turnbull government has done practically nothing to restore frontline crisis services that will help save women’s lives, and help prevent injuries to women and children by actually giving them somewhere to go when a violent man violently erupts in their homes, and they have no choice but to flee.

While education, the raising of awareness, the provision of special phones, alarms and all the other measures the $101.1 million will fund are absolutely necessary, there is nothing, absolutely nothing as urgently vital as actually giving women and children somewhere to go in that terrible moment when they have to get out of their home. Yet this life-threatening urgency appears to be beyond the imaginative comprehension of politicians, both federal and state.

FACT: In NSW there used to be seventy-eight women’s refuges. Since the reforms of the LNP Baird government, some of which were necessitated by the federal funding cuts to states, there are now only fourteen specialist women’s refuges, the rest having been converted to “generalist” refuges under the umbrella of “homelessness.” This means women and children fleeing domestic violence can find themselves sharing a refuge with homeless men. It means that previously women-only refuges now must agree to accept homeless men in order to keep their funding.

FACT: Since the Baird reforms only half of the refuges in NSW have 24/7 contact and accessibility facilities, so make sure you get bashed between nine and five. If you go to the police in a crisis outside of these hours, there is nowhere for the police to take you.This does not help the police, apart from anything else.

After tweeting relentlessly on White Ribbon Day about the destructive “reform” of categorising those fleeing domestic violence as “homeless” (they aren’t: they have a home, they just can’t stay in it because of a violent co-habitant) I was contacted by Brad Hazzard, NSW Minister for Family and Community Services and Social Housing, who referred me to his media release on the topic.

This release tells me nothing I don’t already know about the Baird “reforms.” These “reforms” have led to many highly experienced refuge workers finding themselves ousted by faith-based organisation such as the Salvation Army, who, when the tendering process for DV funding was changed to the provision of “homelessness” services, were experienced in that field as specialist DV and trauma workers are not, and so neatly fitted the tendering criteria.

In case you don’t know and I didn’t, there are criteria for tendering so apparently it’s necessary to tender for the right to tender.

A study commissioned by the World Bank and published in the American Political Science Review — conducted over four decades and in 70 countries — details the context of violence against women. Its core finding: the mobilization of local grassroots feminist movements is more important for positive change than the wealth of nations, left-wing political parties, or the number of women politicians. 

Local grassroots feminist movements first introduced women’s refugees in this country. Local grassroots feminist movements developed a model for the assistance and protection of women and children escaping violent men with whom they shared their homes. Decades of training, experience and specialist knowledge informed the provision of frontline specialist crisis services by feminists and others who followed the feminist model. The model has its faults, as do all models. But it unfailingly prioritised the needs and rights of women and children fleeing violence.

There was never enough funding. There were never enough refuges. There were never enough adequately funded community legal centres.

After White Ribbon Day 2015, the situation for women and children fleeing domestic violence is more parlous and tenuous than it has been for decades. At the same time, there are more and more women attempting to flee violent situations, only to find fewer and fewer services able to assist them.

To Prime Minister Turnbull, to NSW Premier Mike Baird, to the White Ribbon organisation and all it supporters: look at the facts, and put your money where your oath is. Because as long as you wear that white ribbon AND refuse us the crisis services we so desperately need to save us from injury and death, you have no credibility at all.

What will it take for politicians to grasp the urgency of the situation? Turnbull and many others have articulated what it will take: a cultural change.

That cultural change begins with acknowledging that all women and all children share equal rights to a safe environment, and when that is not our own home due to male violence against us in that home, it is a government’s absolute responsibility to provide an option, until such time as we  are enabled to provide our own.

If the law can be changed overnight  when a handful of men are king hit on a public street, yet women’s crisis services are not available and adequately funded, despite the appalling statistics that tell us of the intolerable violence visited upon us, this tells me everything about this culture and how it does not equally value me, and it does not equally value everyone else of my sex. It tells me that there is not the political will to change the culture, and therefore it is unlikely to be changed.

Change the culture: Put your money where your oath is. Then you can wear your white ribbon, knowing that every night and every tomorrow, somewhere in Australia a woman will escape injury and death, and a child will escape injury and death because they have somewhere to go, and all the assistance they need to begin a new life in which they can be safe. Then you will send the signal to all men that violence against women will not be tolerated.

If you can’t do that you will not even begin to achieve cultural change, and your shiny white ribbon will be forever stained with our spilled blood.

It’s not complicated.

 

 

 

 

The Beautiful Lie. Tolstoy, Anna and Foucault.

24 Nov

Tolstoy Quote

 

Warning: Long read, don’t moan at me, contains Foucault.

In a sense, I am a moralist, insofar as I believe that one of the tasks, one of the meanings of human existence—the source of human freedom—is never to accept anything as definitive, untouchable, obvious, or immobile. No aspect of reality should be allowed to become a definitive and inhuman law for us. We have to rise up against all forms of power—but not just power in the narrow sense of the word, referring to the power of a government or of one social group over another: these are only a few particular instances of power. Power is anything that tends to render immobile and untouchable those things that are offered to us as real, as true, as good
― Michel Foucault

The Beautiful Lie, ABC TV’s Sunday night serial for the past few weeks, is a reimagining  of Leo Tolstoy’s novel, Anna Karenina, set in the present day and with the Russian aristocracy transmogrified into Australian sporting elites, wealthy inner-city suburban parents, spendthrift and drunken relatives, and of course, landowners.

It’s an imperfect but nonetheless impressive production: a complex story of infidelity, betrayal, heartlessness and social shunning of yes, you guessed it, Anna the adulteress.

Tolstoy, like all the very best writers, is in the Foucauldian sense a moralist, and doesn’t accept anything as untouchable, definitive or immobile, or beyond his authorial remit. Anna Karenina is a forensic examination of the hegemonic myths of the reality, truth and goodness of family, and of love outside the social confines that are reified as normal, love which is inevitably perceived as transgressive and in the case of Anna, infinitely punishable, primarily by exclusion from her tribe.

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, is how Tolstoy opens his narrative, giving some indication of the trajectory of his lengthy imaginings.

Anna’s brother, Kingsley in the ABC production, is also an adulterer yet the consequences of his crimes of the heart are as nothing, compared to those visited upon Anna after she falls recklessly in love with Skeet, who is engaged to Kitty, the younger sister of Kingsley’s wife, Dolly.

Anna initially resists Skeet’s advances, but then leaves her controlling husband and young son to live with him, and bear their daughter. She is heartbroken by the loss of her son, who, with his father’s encouragement, refuses to see her. She becomes increasingly concerned that Skeet is philandering, yet every time she confronts him he denies this. In the last episode we and Anna see that he is indeed betraying her, in his mother’s house and with his mother’s knowledge.

The reimagining remains faithful to Tolstoy’s story and what is striking is the realisation that over time, cultures, and continents societal attitudes to marriage and adultery remain, in the middle class at least, largely unchanged and unexamined. The contemporary characters in this unfolding drama unthinkingly assume married love and lifelong coupling as of inherently moral value, against which Anna’s actions are cast as bankrupt, threatening their concept of themselves and the perceived inherent goodness of their life choices.

Anna’s tribe is, to use Foucault’s analysis, rendered powerless and immobile, their values untouchable as they unquestioningly accept the orthodoxy’s definition of what is real, true and good. Anna is torn between her own conditioning, and the disruptive nature of her desires, a power struggle that together with the unendurable ostracism of her tribe, is ultimately unresolvable for her.

In Foucauldian terms, Anna undergoes what he identifies as a “limit experience,” an unanticipated opportunity to challenge the power of the imposed boundaries of her life. The limit experience is the experience of extremes, which can release powerful creative forces and produce intense joy. The limit experience is the opportunity to liberate oneself, by transgressing  limits so set in stone as to appear “natural.”  The limit experience can take an infinite number of forms and in Anna’s case, it takes the form of sexual desire and the overpowering impulses of passionate love that crash through her values like a wrecking ball, causing all the chaos one would expect in a violent boundary rupture.

This is precisely what I love and have always loved about Anna. Unlike anyone else in her tribe, she has the yearning and the courage to blow her deadly safe life to bits. Inspired by desire, she refuses to accept the restrictive governance of peer constraints, and this impulse is as much of a shock to her as it is to anyone else. Nevertheless, shocked and awed, she remains true to the tumultuous experiencing of disruption, understanding that her life before Skeet was unfulfilled, and that there is no possibility of her resuming it.

What goes horribly wrong for her is that the man she chooses as her partner in the limit experience is not anywhere near her match, but more of that later.

The viewer isn’t called upon to question the authenticity of the protagonists’ behaviours and their consequences: they are as emotionally and psychologically representative of the present day as they were in Tolstoy’s. The woman who transgresses dies, either figuratively or literally, while the male transgressors lose very little, and are only temporarily shunned, if at all. There was no need to costume this drama: its themes and the manner in which their morality is upheld, transcend the passage of time.

Though Anna deeply loves Skeet, he doesn’t appear to have the character or capacity to meet her on the same level, something I think she understands quite early in their relationship but can’t bring herself to acknowledge. This is where her loneliness and sense of isolation begin: the man for whom she’s given up everything doesn’t know her, cannot meet her, and never will. Her isolation is exacerbated by the rejection of everyone around her, all of whom feel she’s stolen Kitty’s fiancée, abandoned a perfectly good husband and fretting child, and pretty much deserves whatever she gets.

When Anna turns up uninvited at Kitty’s wedding to landowner Peter, she’s wearing a scarlet dress. Everyone else is, at Kitty’s request, clothed in white. Everyone other than Anna is represented as pure and belonging, even the men who’ve betrayed their wives, including her brother. It is Anna who bears the brunt of the tribe’s fear and disapproval. It is Anna who is cast out, in order that the tribe might bond, their animosity towards her and fear that she will embarrass herself and them, becoming the bonding agent. She is the scarlet woman, the bright red blood that stains the virginal white. She is, quite literally, the rupture. They get rid of her as quickly as they can.

At first blush, it seems that Tolstoy is warning against illicit passion, his intention being to demonstrate that no good can come of it, and it will end, inevitably, in tears. The love may be real but the circumstances forbid its expression and to attempt to thwart those circumstances will cause only terrible grief and destruction. No more than in Tolstoy’s time do we currently appreciate the necessity of destruction as a pre-requisite for creation: the courage to disrupt, to permit limit experiences is framed in our times, as in Tolstoy’s, as madness and badness, and deserving of infinite punishment, never as much as when that courage is displayed by a woman, and expressed in a woman’s sexual and passionate desires.

But for mine, the core problem is that the lovers are mismatched: Skeet/Vronsky has nothing that comes close to the emotional depths Anna is capable of, and this is the heart of the tragedy. Anna’s desire for the limit experience is her desire for proof of life, however, her choice of lover is tragically misjudged. She has indeed lost everything, and for what?

When Anna kneels down on the train tracks, her expression as she awaits the oncoming locomotive is almost beatific. It is a weakness in the production, for mine, that Anna is portrayed as mentally unstable and under the influence of drugs as she begins her descent into suicide and the drug-fuelled instability is, it is implied, the cause of her almost orgasmic anticipation of death.

This representation feeds into the narrative that one must necessarily be of unsound mind if one wishes to die, implying that the only sane impulse we are permitted is the fight to stay alive. But should we ever accept any notion as definitive, untouchable, obvious, or immobile, including the notion of how and when we should die?

That the desire to die indicates a pathological unsoundness of mind is as much of an apparently immutable “truth” as is the glorification of life-long coupling as a high moral ideal. It makes perfect sense to me that for Anna release comes in death, suicide, as Foucault would have it, being the ultimate limit experience. It is the ultimate act of agency, the ultimate rejection of external power-over, the breaking of the last possible boundary that holds us in place in this existence we call life.

Anna’s expression, as the train’s lights loom, is one almost of bliss: the end of her suffering is in sight and it is a thing entirely in her control. Everything else is lost to her, against her will and her wishes, but her life’s end is the one thing over which no one else has domination. They have abandoned and ostracised her: but Anna will ultimately be the one who abandons them in the most permanent of ways, and one from which there is no possibility of return and reconciliation.

In death Anna reclaims her autonomy, and for her, this is the only means available. The tribe will never fully re-admit her. She is not of them. She is the scapegoat against whom they measure their commendable morality. She has torn great rents in the fabric in which is wrapped the sanctity of family, and has failed to  redeem herself by repairing it with another, lasting coupling.

Anna remains, for everyone who encounters her, a tormented symbol of the clash of incompatible powers: the deadening powers of the institutions that govern our social arrangements, versus the life-giving powers of desire. Civilisation and its discontents. The sacrifice of desire that is deemed necessary to ensure ongoing orthodox social order. How telling that the symbol of this enduring battle should be a woman, and how telling that the resolution for the upholders of the definitive and inhuman laws  is that the woman must die.

I don’t understand him, complained a baffled Noam Chomsky after an encounter with Michel Foucault. It’s as if he belongs to another species.

Her peers did not understand Anna, either, wishing that she could be of a species other than theirs, and she has been misunderstood for generations since. Heck, I doubt her creator even understood her, but that he loved her there is little doubt. His exquisite and agonising observations of her every momentary mood convey his passion and obsession. As that other author of  the cautionary tale of an infamous adulteress who takes her own life, Gustave Flaubert, remarked of his creation: Madame Bovary c’est moi, so Anna is Tolstoy. The two women are very different, and for mine, Emma Bovary has none of the courage and fascination of Anna, yet the architectonics of both novels chart the traditional course of inevitable female ruination as a consequence of acting on illicit desire.

Were I to reimagine Anna Karenina, I would have her as a warrior. I would have her confront her tribe, and the useless Skeet, with her courage and her insight and her contempt for their comfortable acceptance of the comfortable orthodoxy. I would have her say no, the lie is not mine, it is yours, and there is little beautiful about it. I would have her choose life, and if necessary, dwell alone with her children until such time as she met a lover who would know her, and meet her, and be worthy of her.

Such an ending was likely impossible for Tolstoy to imagine, or at any rate, write, and his objective was not to create a warrior woman, but rather the victim of a cult of love, who would be held responsible for her own victimhood. Had Tolstoy known Foucault, he might well have written a different story, a story that challenged received notions as to the ways things are, always have been and always must be.

Yet in some sense, this is exactly what Tolstoy has achieved, by accident rather than design, and for this, I for one am grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Waleed is both right and wrong

23 Nov

This passionate plea from television personality and academic Waleed Ali, made in response to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, begins with the statement: ISIL is weak.

This is true. ISIL, like any other organisation, institution and individual that resorts to violence, intimidation and slaughter, is weak. There is no strength in terror. There is only moral, intellectual, psychological and emotional weakness. To use violence is to admit defeat on all levels, though rarely will any organisation, institution or individual recognise and acknowledge that psychological truth.

The problem is, however, that weakness does not equate to harmlessness. The morally, intellectually, psychologically and emotionally weak have been responsible for the worst atrocities this world has witnessed and endured, and they have come from the east and the west, from most religions you can name, and from the secular.

It’s counter-intuitive to correlate weakness with terrorists. Terrorists terrorise, causing unfathomable anguish and disruption, disabling cities, bringing down aircraft, destroying families, creating bloodied havoc, leaving in their wake a sense of powerlessness, helplessness, rage and grief that have little possibility of resolution: why would we imagine these people as weak?

Waleed Ali is correct to call them weak in the moral, intellectual, psychological and emotional sense. But they are dangerous, and they remain dangerous, because weak does not equal harmless.

Today the city of Brussels is in lockdown in fear of a terrorist attack. ISIL are weak, but they can lock down cities. Imagine the fear and apprehension felt by residents of that city today, yesterday and tomorrow, as they wait for the next attack. And if it doesn’t come, they won’t easily stop fearing. ISIL are weak, but they are also controlling a city, manipulating its citizens through terror, and the threat of terror.

The weak are the most dangerous people on earth, because their weakness is so often expressed as brutality. To describe ISIL as weak is both true and misleading, the latter because the term “weak” is synonymous with harmless, pathetic, contemptible,vulnerable, but never with dangerous, murderous and brutal.

We can think of ISIL as weak, as Ali urges, but only in the understanding of what weakness means in this context. They are weak and they are dangerous. This danger can’t be underestimated because they are weak.

 

 

 

 

The immigration ministers and the Grand Mufti. And torture.

21 Nov

global-terrorism-3-728

 

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, along with former Immigration Ministers Scott Morrison and Philip Ruddock, took to the media last week to voice their disapproval of comments made by Australia’s Grand Mufti, Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, on the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.

There’s little doubt that some of the Grand Mufti’s remarks appear to rationalise, even justify, the terrorist attacks, by pointing to increasing Islamophobia in the West, and its symptomatic widespread willingness to regard all Muslims as harbouring secret and not so secret desires to destroy ‘western values.”

Dutton et al demand from the Mufti not rationalisation, but an unconditional condemnation of terrorist attacks, which is not an unreasonable demand. There’s a fine moral and intellectual line: while it’s important to grasp context, that’s an entirely different matter from using that context as justification for acts of terror.

That the west has been the cause of untold death and destruction in its violent pursuit of its own interests in the Middle East is also suggested by the Grand Mufti as background to current terrorism, a narrative I find difficult to disagree with, while simultaneously refusing it as justification for terrorist attacks.

Such is the state of things at the moment, it’s almost impossible to discuss context and history without being accused of being a sympathiser of whichever faction carries the role of baddie, and that applies to just about every situation, not only terrorism. Nuance is not currently our friend. Hardly anybody has time for it and social media is generally not its advocate.

State-sanctioned terrorist attacks perpetrated by the west are named more acceptably as “just war,” a term bandied about at the time of the Blair, Bush and Howard invasion of Iraq, that act of Christian crusading terrorism (the axis of evil, you’re with us or against us)  that left the country in ruins and some 700,000 of its citizens dead. This piece by John Pilger traces western state-sanctioned terrorism from the time of Pol Pot to ISIS, and it reveals us for the blood-drenched, murderous lot we are, despite the treasured “western values” used to justify so much of the horror we inflict on those who are not us.

The three immigration ministers who’ve complained about the Grand Mufti, Ruddock, Morrison and Dutton, are responsible for the horrific indefinite incarceration of waterborne asylum seekers, even tiny young ones, in hellish conditions in off-shore camps on Manus Island and Nauru. These incarcerated beings committed no crime. It makes little difference, especially for women, that the Nauru detainees are now permitted to roam that island: they are likely safer in detention.

Conditions in off-shore concentration camps have been  described by the UN as violating the convention against torture. Think about that. Torture. We are torturing people. Yes. Us.

To which then PM Tony Abbott responded that Australians are sick of being lectured to by the UN. Well, what torturer ever liked having their crime named?

It is, to my mind, an act of terrorism to indefinitely imprison in vile conditions and without hope, a group of people who have committed no crime and with whom we are not at war. It is an act of terror to imprison and torture those who you know are innocent. These prisoners are subjected to torture in order to deter others from legitimately arriving in this country by boat, and requesting asylum. This is terrorism.

Their imprisonment is an act of violence. It is intended to intimidate a society of people who are unable to remain in their homeland for fear of persecution or death. Its goal is to achieve political, ideological and religious objectives. This is terrorism.

As I write this, there are reports that another boat has arrived near Christmas Island, and is apparently being towed out to sea again by our navy. To what destination? To what fate? Are there children on board? Pregnant women?

So it is with the barking laughter of contemptuous disbelief that I watch these three men take the high moral ground with the Grand Mufti.

It is not ISIS terrorists who will destroy our “western values.” We’re doing that all by ourselves. Yes, I would like to hear the Grand Mufti unconditionally condemn the Paris attacks. And yes, I would like to hear Ruddock, Morrison and Dutton admit to the torture they continue to support and perpetrate, terrorism that is inextricably linked to attacks such as those in Paris.

The three immigration ministers are as fond as is the Grand Mufti of citing justifications for their vile actions. Regrettably, I think we are far more likely to hear unconditional condemnation of terror from the Grand Mufti than we ever will from Ruddock, Morrison and Dutton, those valiant upholders of western values,  and steadfast protectors of the western purity of our borders.

 

 

Turnbull v Abbott: PM in an age of terror

17 Nov

Abbott v Turnbull

 

Insofar as personality is a signifier of leadership ability (and like it or not, it is probably the most important characteristic as far as the voting public is concerned) Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was visited by the good fairy in his cradle while ex PM Tony Abbott was imbued with a Dickensian gloom by the bad one, who apparently took a set against him and threw in more than a dash of dark pugility as well.

Turnbull is a happy man who will likely smother us into an uneasy, baffled silence with his unrelenting affability and charm. Abbott is one of the more miserable public figures I can recall, who seems to feel it’s his duty to hector, lecture and create division amongst us, till we are choked by a miasma of exhausted despair.

However, Turnbull’s intelligence, good nature and charm works well for him internationally: sophisticated, urbane, accomplished, personable and wealthy, people take to him (if they don’t have to put up with him all the time, as do we) and likely open to him in ways it is impossible to open to Abbott, who never quite seems to get past the influences of the seminary, and his belief that he’s been chosen to bring us Truth.

If there is one thing we don’t need as we gird ourselves to deal with terrorist attacks at home and abroad, it’s a leader who believes he is the bearer of existential truths, and who sees the world in black and white with no inclination at all to investigate the grey zone.

Abbott has all the characteristics of the religious zealot, and since the Paris attacks has found various platforms from which to peddle his hatred of other religious zealots because their zealotry threatens his. This will get us nowhere, or rather, it will see us in a whole lot of serious domestic turmoil as tribe turns against tribe, ignorant prejudices fuelled by Abbott and his nemesis Pauline Hanson, whom he landed in jail because she threatened his claim to the title of Australia’s Leading Incitor of Fear.

Turnbull, on the other hand, will appear as a voice of reason, though he lost it somewhat when he first heard about the Paris attacks, stating that though the killers claimed to have acted in the name of God, they were actually perpetrating the work of the devil. Such rhetoric is entirely unnecessary. There’s nothing in the least supernatural about terrorism: it’s perpetrated by humans upon humans. The ability to terrorise is one of our more undesirable characteristics.

The PM’s relentless charm and good will is likely just what we need at this time to keep us steady: he is unlikely to threaten anyone with a damn good shirt fronting, and while he’ll be criticised mercilessly as a pussy by those who would see us engage in world war three, at least he won’t be whipping up ill will and fear. For this relief, much thanks.

I am of the opinion that it is the intention of Daesh to turn us against one another, and have those of us they don’t slaughter permanently weakened by fear, mistrust and hatred. Abbott’s trajectory, and that of those who support him, will lead us to precisely the same place: severely weakened by fear, mistrust and hatred, bitterly divided against one another. Daesh could not find more suitable allies than Abbott, Hanson, the usual shock jocks, religious fundamentalists and those who in some way, material and egotistical, profit from war.

Turnbull’s biggest challenge will be to control those within his own party who thrive on fear and repression. They are supported by many media voices, and their platforms are assured.

There is little that can be done to control Daesh at the moment. The only certainty is that for communities to turn against one another will be to give Daesh what they desire. I am not in the least enamoured of Turnbull or his style, but I can’t help thinking he is a marginally better leader in these times, in terms of the terrorist threat, than his ousted predecessor.

As far as domestic issues are concerned, the image at the top of the post says everything. Polish it up all you want, it’s still what it is.

 

Solidarity

16 Nov
People light candles during a vigil at the site of the two explosions that occurred on Thursday in the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital Beirut, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Hasan Shaaban - RTS6U96

People light candles during a vigil at the site of the two explosions that occurred on Thursday in the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital Beirut, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Hasan Shaaban – RTS6U96

 

I’ve read all I can read for now from genuine experts, armchair experts, bigots, racists, xenophobes, politicians, atheists, religious persons, and trouble mongers, on the Paris terrorist attacks.

I don’t have the knowledge, the expertise, the wisdom to add to the thousands of words already written.

This woman, journalist Ruby Hamad, born to a Lebanese father and a Syrian mother, says, for mine, the most important things that need to be said. In her article titled Paris attacks: Is solidarity for white terror victims only ? Ms Hamad, without hatred, rancour or the desire for vengeance, says what needs to be said about who is and who is not considered fully human, what it feels like to not make the grade, and who gets to decide.

Please read her piece.

The Newsroom, politicians, reality and Annabel Crabb

10 Nov

the-newsroom

 

For reasons I won’t bore you with, I’ve spent some time lately holed up binge-watching television series, the latest being a revisiting of the 2012-2014 HBO production, The Newsroom.

Written by Aaron Sorkin, it has many of the characteristics of The West Wing: engagement with complex issues in an at times tortuous, but honourable manner, and ongoing examination of the difficulties and costs involved in taking a particular moral perspective within the context of savage politics, and savage media, both of whose end game is to grab and hold onto power.

Both series can be irritatingly self-righteous and way too heart-warming but hey, Sorkin has a dream.

In his many monologic tirades against the dumbing down of news, and in particular the feeding of baser human instincts through the elevation of celebrity gossip to the status of journalism, anchor Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) grieves the loss of intellectual and moral engagement between media and consumers that the culture of celebrity has inevitably ousted, to everyone’s detriment.

As an extreme example, McAvoy is obliged by his employers to replace a segment of information of national economic significance with the story of former congressman Anthony Weiner sexting various women images of his penis, as told on camera by one of the recipients of his favours.

And this brings me to the point of this post: ABC TV’s Kitchen Cabinet, hosted by political journalist Annabel Crabb.

Crabb has copped sustained criticism lately for her pleasant little program in which she dines with various politicians. Much of that criticism and an analysis of Crabb’s response can be read here, at the Politcally Homeless blog.

Basically, the show is perceived by some critics as a dumbed-down, albeit classily-styled interaction with politicians, and as offering nothing of significance (contrary to Crabb’s claims) other than providing “humanising” propaganda for individuals on the public broadcaster.

Which, if you think about it, makes it a show of great political significance in the most negative and undesirable way.

Crabb’s justifications for her program are interesting, and for mine, disingenuous, or perhaps I can be more generous and describe them as naive, though naivety doesn’t strike me as a Crabb characteristic.  For example, she claims that:

I don’t think you can possibly separate what people are like from what they do… Observing someone in their own environment offers – in my view – some useful information about how they might behave outside it.

Well. For a start, the dinner times with politicians are absolutely contrived, and definitely not an example of how they behave in their own environment. In much the same way as we can argue that there is no such thing as reality tv because the presence of a camera crew immediately imposes a context that, unless you are completely narcissistic, creates a reality that bears no resemblance to the reality in which one actually lives, we can also argue that Crabb’s interviewees are in as much of their own environment as are monkeys in a zoo.

The participants are under surveillance and like most human beings, pitch their behaviours and their projection of what they are like to their expectations of the outcome of that surveillance. Like most human beings and unlike monkeys, what they’ll reveal of themselves under scrutiny is what they perceive as their best. This is only one aspect of what they are like, and it is a highly sanitised aspect.

Ms Crabb has long experience in media, and must be more aware than most of how people adapt to the presence of cameras. So for her to make the claim that Kitchen Cabinet is politically necessary because it shows us what politicians are like and thus helps us better understand their policies, is, quite frankly, a steaming pile of monkey poo, and insulting to our intelligence.

As for what they are like…I think I could binge-watch Kitchen Cabinet for a decade, and still be no wiser about what any of its subjects are like. Indeed, I learn far more about what they are like from the policies they espouse, than I could ever learn from the personas they present at dinner with Annabel.

To be honest, I have zero interest in what they are like. I’m far more interested in what they do and if I don’t like what they do I’ll vote against them, no matter what they might be like. 

I don’t want to be entirely negative so let me say here that I love the frocks. I’m immensely fond of frocks and Annabel’s are divine. In fact, it’s been a struggle for me, deciding to turn off the show, because I really wanted to look at those frocks.

But for mine, Kitchen Cabinet is an excellent example of what Aaron Sorkin has his characters rail against in The Newsroom. It is presented to its audience as having educative political significance, when in fact it has none.  It will, its presenter assures us, inform us as to the characters and motives of our politicians, thus adding to our understanding of the decisions they make. No it won’t. With very few exceptions we already know what they’re likely to decide: it’s on that basis that we do or do not vote for them.

This is dumbed-down politics, masquerading as important and relevant because it’s on the ABC and presented by one of that organisation’s senior political journalists. Which is, actually, shameful, it really is.

Kitchen Cabinet is as dumbed down in its way as the Daily Telegraph. It’s celebrity journalism, though Sorkin won’t have that called journalism at all. It does not enlighten, it obfuscates. It distracts us from the harm many of these men and women have inflicted upon us, our country and others. It dulls us in ways we ought not to accept being dulled.

The show could have worked as entertainment, if it hadn’t been found necessary to infuse it with faux usefulness and faux meaning. It might have also worked better if Crabb wasn’t seen snuggling up to politicians, and letting them get away with not answering important questions.

Maybe not a journalist at all. Maybe a chef. That guy who says SBS won’t have him because he’s too white. He’d be good.

We’re funding our own demise as an engaged and critical polity. Kitchen Cabinet is bread and circuses. Do yourself a favour. Revisit The Newsroom, re-imagine the ideals and potential of  journalism, then tell me I’m wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hollingworth’s cowardice on display again

10 Nov

Hollingworth

 

Last week, barrister Caroline Kirton QC approached the solicitor for BSG, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and witness at the child sex abuse royal commission, to change his testimony to remove all references to her client, former Governor-General Peter Hollingworth.

Kirton’s request that BSG alter his statement would “amount to having removed every reference to the name Hollingworth from my statement and she requested that I do that and submit that as my amended statement” BSG told the royal commission.

Peter Hollingworth was Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane, Australian of the Year and a Governor-General appointed by former LNP Prime Minister John Howard. Hollingworth resigned as Governor-General after accusations that he failed to act on child sexual abuse crimes in his diocese, and claims that he had sexually assaulted a woman in the 1960’s.

Phillip Aspinall, Hollingworth’s successor as archbishop, ordered an inquiry, which concluded that in 1993, Hollingworth had allowed a known paedophile to continue working as a priest.

It’s a tribute to the courage and fortitude of survivor and witness BSG that he wasn’t intimidated by Kirton’s approach, instead revealing to the royal commission her attempts to persuade him to change his statement to protect her client from further public scrutiny.

Kirton clearly underestimated BSG, or she wouldn’t have made the approach in the first place. Rather than hosing things down for Hollingworth, this act of cowardice only serves to strengthen the perception of the former archbishop as weak, and interested in protecting himself and his church, before the children in its charge.

Hollingworth was in a position to protect victims of sexual assault from predators on his watch. He failed to do that. Yet he now feels entitled to request protection from the shame further public scrutiny of his failure will cause him and his family, and he feels he is entitled to request this protection from a survivor of his failures.

If only Hollingworth and many others like him in positions of power in various churches and other institutions that offered paedophiles a safe haven, had even a fraction of the courage and strength of BSG and other witnesses and survivors, thousands of children could have been spared the ordeal of sexual assault and the devastating consequences of those assaults on their lives. Many who have died might still be alive. This is the responsibility Hollingworth bears, of having the power to protect children, and failing to exercise it.

If the ordeal of shame, humiliation and disgraced resignation have been difficult for Hollingworth to bear, to the degree that he needs to attempt to silence a survivor’s testimony to protect him from any further exposure, he might spare a thought for the suffering of the young who were abused by the paedophile he allowed to continue on his path of violence and destruction, when he could have acted quite differently, and spared them.

 

 

Ms Gillard’s sickening hypocrisy laid bare

8 Nov

Gillard Three

 

It was with disbelief, and finally contempt, that I watched excerpts of the Al Jazeera interview with former Prime Minister Julia Gillard on the topic of her government’s treatment of waterborne asylum seekers, particularly women and children.

Gillard, now a global advocate for the education of girls and women, employed what has disturbingly become a normalised justification for Australian governments’ increasingly callous torment of women and girls in off-shore detention: we do it to stop people drowning at sea.

I have yet to get my head around the psychopathology of those who believe the torment of one group is justified in order to discourage another group from undertaking a particular action. I think such justifications are teetering precariously on just about every ethical and moral ground I can think of, beginning with the Kantian argument that it is reprehensible to use people as a means to an end, and that people are an end in themselves. To treat them in any other way is to dehumanise them, and ultimately, ourselves.

However, Gillard, Rudd, Abbott and now Turnbull apparently have no difficulty with treating waterborne asylum seekers as a means to an end, and justifying their hideous treatment of them as a necessary deterrent in order to save the lives of others.

It has been said more than a million times: arriving in this country by boat, seeking asylum, is not a crime. Indeed, as we are signatories to the UN Refugee Convention, we actively invite people to arrive here by whatever means they manage to employ.

If we want to save people from drowning at sea, and if we care about the humanity of those we already have in detention, we would cease to use the detained as scapegoats, and as examples of what will happen if you legitimately arrive here by boat. We would instead withdraw from the Refugee Convention. People come to Australia because we invite them, through our participation in the Convention, and our agreement with its principles.

Of course, we aren’t about to take that step. So instead we will continue to ill-treat asylum seekers in off-shore detention. We will continue to justify this crime against humanity by claiming it’s done to save lives.

And Ms Gillard will continue to strut the world stage advocating for the education of women and children but not, regrettably, those she imprisoned in mandatory indefinite dentition in tropical hell holes where they are abused, raped and made mad.

Women for Gillard? Non, merci.

 

 

On hating men

7 Nov

Hating men

 

Yesterday, feminist author and journalist Clementine Ford started the Twitter hashtag How can I hate men.

It was, of course, a question both rhetorical and bitterly sarcastic, driven by an anger and loathing we can all feel over attacks such as this:

Clementine Ford ‏@clementine_ford 12h12 hours ago
#HowCanIHateMen they never go out in packs and abduct 14 year old girls from parks to rape them.

Most tweets dealt with lesser evils such as mansplaining, objectification, misogyny expressed in many and varied ways, and efforts to control women’s bodies.

While I agreed with much of the material contained in the 140 character communications, I baulked at using the hashtag. The truth is, I don’t hate men.

There’s only one man I’ve hated in my adult life and I still hate him. I’m taking hate to mean, in this instance, that I wouldn’t piss on him if he was on fire in the gutter and if I heard he’d died, I think, good, about time, and move on.

I can make sense of this hate, as a reaction to extreme personal damage done to me that remains unacknowledged, and that almost cost me my life. But I can’t extrapolate any of that to men in general, and I don’t see why I should.

In the same way, I can’t agree with Senator David Leyonhjelm’s comment that all cops are bastards. There’s no doubt some cops are bastards but the two male officers I’ve had dealings with over the last few months have been outstanding people who’ve done me a great deal of good, so I’m not about to condemn the entire police force as practitioners of bastardry.

I don’t know what is achieved by generalised hatred, be it aimed at a gender, a particular profession, religion, ethnic group or any human grouping, some members of which have caused offence and committed crimes, great and small. For mine, hate is as profoundly personal as love, and often as binding, and I don’t love men in general either.

That old insult, fuck you and everybody who looks like you is telling, and what it tells is how hurt can provoke a general hatred of anyone who might remind you of the one who did you harm. At its most extreme it’s a driver for serial killers, but there’s a continuum.

I guess the question is, do I really want to spend my life hating everyone with a penis because someone with a penis did me awful damage? Someone with a penis did good things for me, someone else with a penis was the love of my life so how can I, without employing a vast amount of cognitive dissonance, hate men, and why would I do that to myself?

I’m as angry as the next feminist at the violence and injustice inflicted on women, largely by men. Each and every one of those men ought to be made accountable, by other men as well as women.

But I’m damned if I can, in good faith, use that hash tag, and I can’t help but wonder how it would be received if the word “men” was replaced by, say, Muslims, gays, atheists, or, god forbid, women?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sexual assault: ask the right questions or you’re part of the problem

6 Nov

victim-blaming

 

There was a brief spat on Twitter this morning with a couple of men who thought the question to ask about the fourteen-year-old girl raped in a Geelong Park at 4 a.m. was, what we her parents thinking, letting her out at that time in the morning?

The attitude persists that girls and women must restrict our lives to protect ourselves from sexual assault, rather than the obvious solution, which is that men must not rape us.

The one good thing to emerge so far from this awful event are the words of Detective Senior Sergeant Jason Walsh, from Victoria Police’s Sexual Crime Squad, who expressed regret and amazement that people feel free to question a sexual assault victim’s actions, when what ought to be under scrutiny are the actions of perpetrators.

I find it amazing, he said, without getting into politics, that we question girls and we question their behaviour when we don’t even ask, ‘what’s four blokes out doing, allegedly sexually assaulting a young girl?’
“You know, that’s my take on that sort of question, and I’ve been in this sexual assault field for many years, and I find it amazing that people straight away question females for their actions, and they’re not questioning the males. I mean, what are four males doing allegedly sexually assaulting a young girl? That’s a question I’d ask.”

The self-serving myth that women “ask for it” one way or another is still pervasive, an estimated 70% of sexual assaults are not reported, of those that are reported only a minuscule number actually make it to court and even less result in convictions. The court process can be so horrendous for the victim that it’s frequently described as “being raped again,” and I recently read this paper written by Kylie Weston-Scheuber, Supervising Lawyer, Sexual Offences Unit, Office of the DPP (ACT) in which she states that should she find herself a victim of sexual assault, there are days she has doubts about whether she’d subject herself to the trauma of court proceedings.

Ms Weston-Scheuber also comments on the popular notion that women make this stuff up, by pointing out that the court process is so gruelling, in itself it ought to be evidence that the woman has suffered sexual assault because nobody would subject themselves to the trauma without extremely good reason:

…the trauma and indignity of giving evidence in a sexual assault trial is the strongest disincentive imaginable to continuing with a fabricated sexual assault allegation. However, the law precludes the prosecution from even raising the spectre of this feature of a witness’s evidence, which might be thought to be strongly corroborative.

Of course, the reality that many complaints don’t go to court doesn’t mean a victim wasn’t sexually assaulted, and it doesn’t mean the alleged perpetrator is innocent. While the victim doesn’t have her chance at justice, however traumatising that chance can be, neither does the alleged perpetrator have the chance to clear his name. He remains, for the rest of his life, an alleged perpetrator of sexual assault. Insufficient evidence, or the victim withdrawing out of fear of ongoing traumatisation, does not equate to exoneration of guilt.

There is something terribly awry with a system that causes sexual assault victims to be further traumatised in their fight for justice. However, it is within such a system that questioning the victim’s responsibility for the suffering inflicted on her by the perpetrator is still regarded by some as legitimate. So if you do ask why she was in the park, drunk, wearing a short dress or whatever victim-blaming inquiry you come up with, perhaps you need to ask yourself, why am I blaming her?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like a natural woman

2 Nov

Murphy Brown

 

Anybody who watched television between 1988 and 1998 may remember the series Murphy Brown, starring Candice Bergen as a forty-something recovering alcoholic news hound who shattered glass ceilings in spite of all obstacles, and became something of a feminist icon for a short while.

However. Bergen’s character was acclaimed for her portrayal of the many possibilities for women other than marriage and motherhood and maybe even paid work, but not so as it would interfere with a woman’s primary obligations towards marriage and motherhood. So when Murphy found herself pregnant and the show’s musical director chose Carole King’s “You make me feel like a natural woman” to accompany the soft-focus birthing scene, many second wave feminists were outraged.

I’ve linked to the lyrics if you want to see why. I could write a thesis on those lyrics but for now I’ll simply say they’re an outstanding example of patriarchal elephant excrement.

In that single scene the show appeared to undo all the good things by implying that what made Murphy Brown a real woman, a natural woman, was giving birth and embarking on motherhood. Everything preceding those events was less than natural,  the scene suggested, and prior to motherhood Brown was an incomplete and unreal, albeit successful woman.

This message ran counter to everything second wave feminism fought for, and landed us right back in the biology is destiny narrative but wait, there’s more, it then set us on the having it all highway, as Brown struggled to juggle demanding career and demanding infant as a single mother. But at least she was now a natural woman.

Memories of Murphy Brown have resurfaced after a couple of days in the fraught world of uneasy and at times violent interactions between biological women and trans women, and the men who support trans women by threatening biological women, as my three previous posts explain. It isn’t unusual to hear from both sides rhetoric about natural/biological women, feeling like one, being one or not, wanting to be one, living like one if you weren’t born that way, resentment if you were born that way and someone who wasn’t  claims they’re no different from you.

I suppose what I’d like to ask biological women and trans women is what do you mean when you say you feel like a real/natural woman? Because in my experience there’s no such thing. Contrary to patriarchal propaganda, women aren’t homogenous, so do you feel like a woman who got beaten up last night by her male partner? Do you feel like a woman who is CEO of an international corporation? Do you feel like a woman police officer struggling to survive in a male dominated and at times misogynistic environment? Do you feel like a married woman with a couple of kids who gave up her dreams of becoming a doctor to type her husband’s PhD? Do you feel like a homeless woman? Do you feel like a female sex worker? Do you feel like a lesbian academic? Do you feel like a refugee woman on Nauru? Do you feel like Hilary Clinton? A woman in the back streets of New Delhi? A woman living with female genital mutilation? A crown prosecutor? A hippie vegan on a north coast commune? A state or federal politician? An artist? A musician? A catwalk model?

Please tell me, when you say you feel like a woman, and if you say you’ve always felt like a woman, what kind of woman is it you’ve always felt like, and what do you actually mean? Because it seems to me that perhaps the most insulting, demeaning and degrading thing anyone can say is, I feel like I’m really a woman.

What is this thing that makes a woman “real?” And most importantly, who gets to define it?  And what is this assumption that women have something in common other than biology that makes us really women?

This is one of the things I’d like to ask Germaine Greer, as well as some trans activists. Both parties, it seems to me, are operating from the entirely false premise that there is such a thing as a real woman and for mine, in assuming that premise, both parties are contributing to the oppressive stereotypes feminists have been challenging for decades.

Come at me, sisters. Make me feel like a natural woman.

 

No, sir, you go fuck yourself

1 Nov

Rude space cloud

 

Unusually, I found myself in a Twitter brawl this morning that ended with the male involved telling me I was a moron, that I am everything that is wrong with feminism, a trans hater and an Abbott clone, and he wound it up by telling me to get fucked. He then engaged in this thing you can do on Twitter whereby you can continue to publicly abuse someone, but block them so they can’t respond.

A man telling me to get fucked feels like a sexual threat, and I was somewhat unsettled by his animosity: mostly I tell people to go fuck themselves, which doesn’t require the hostile bodily interference of another. Or fuck off, which actually has nothing to do with sex at all.

Also, given the current state of feminism I usually refrain from identifying myself with that ideology, so if I’m everything that’s wrong with it that can only be a good thing for me, so taa.

Then he told me I was no different from Clementine Ford and that really pissed me off when I got around to thinking about it.

The fight was about bloody Germaine Greer. I was in conversation with a trans woman called Aoifa, who hosts this excellent blog, and a trans woman called Miranda, who hosts this excellent blog. Aoifa had been expressing her disgust with her community for its lack of protest about death threats made against Greer, and Miranda was part of our convo. Suddenly, out of nowhere, this man appeared and told me I was no better than Tony Abbott, and that expecting trans women to protest other trans women threatening Greer with death was no different from Abbott saying Muslims should speak out about minority radicalisation. He is sick, he says, of the way rad fems treat trans women so he thought it would make everything better if he abused me.

He didn’t say anything to the trans women. Only me.

To express hope that communities will speak out when their members issue death threats, his argument apparently goes, is to imply that everyone in the community is in fact responsible for the actions of a minority.

I strongly disagree with this notion. Coming from the position that evil thrives when good people say nothing, I know that were I in the Catholic community I would never shut up about child sexual abuse by priests, not because I am in any way responsible for their ghastly actions, but because my silence on the subject would enable, and implicitly condone those actions.

Likewise, I am a member of a language group that constantly threatens war and genocide for its own gain and I vigorously criticise Western leaders who wage wars, without me taking personal responsibility for their warmongering.  Speaking out against injustice does not equate to me accepting responsibility for that injustice. However, keeping silent, in my opinion, might very well  contribute to my responsibility for injustice.

From this perspective, I can see nothing wrong with wondering why transgender people and their supporters have on the whole been silent about the death threats against Greer that have come from their ranks. If I would ask these questions of my community and every other community, why should I not ask them of the transgender community?

Because, the argument goes, the trans gender community is a persecuted minority and shouldn’t be expected to speak up against death threats. There’s no doubt an excessive amount of violence and hatred is directed towards trans women. There is also no doubt that an excessive amount of violence is directed towards biological women, with two of us dying each week at the hands of intimate partners or family members, and hundreds of us hospitalised every day as a consequence of domestic violence.

Women are a persecuted majority in a patriarchy, and while the reasons for persecuting trans women and biological women are no doubt different, and require separate analysis, the fact of violence against us and the repercussion of that violence are not conducive to hierarchical evaluation, in itself a patriarchal practice  Rather, we have in common a terrifying vulnerability to the violence of violent males.

Hoping for protest against the efforts to silence dissent through fear and death threats does not equate to transphobia. And debate ought not to equate to world war three. You people who tell others you want them to die, you’re going to kill them for expressing opinions that don’t make you feel good? There’s something terribly wrong with you, and I don’t care what community you belong to.

I’ve spoken at length about my own experiences of male physical violence, child sexual abuse, and sexual assault. I will with my whole heart support any woman, trans and biological, in her experiences, whether she talks about them or not. But I will fucking well not be abused and insulted by some fucking male dropkick who has decided he knows what feminism is and what being a woman, biological and trans, is like in this hierarchical patriarchy of which he is a most unedifying example. So, go fuck yourself sir, with an implement of your choice, because I would not wish rape even on you.

 

 

 

Abbott, Kenny, Greer, TERFS, and the blogger as bride

1 Nov

Failed Prime Minister Tony Abbott took the opportunity last week to second-guess Jesus Christ, demonstrating to his audience of Thatcherites and a gobsmacked Australian nation why he’s also a failed priest, and a failed journalist to boot.

The reaction of the Australian media to Abbott’s reconstruction of Christian principles was varied. Christians among them were appalled. Those who support the decent treatment of refugees were appalled. Politicians were appalled but mostly didn’t say so. The nation was temporarily in a pall.

Margie, Mrs Abbott, was by her husband’s side as he gave his sermon to the London flock and I marvelled, as I have on other occasions about other wives, how there are women who stand by their man no matter how much of a grub he is.

I use that word with some apprehension, recalling how recently The Australian’s Chris Kenny threatened Labor MP Graham Perret with something unimaginable for calling him, well, a grub over his disgraceful antics on Nauru. Poor Kenny seems doomed to suffer abuse that is in some way connected to the animal world, though I suppose a grub is an insect rather than an animal, like, say a dog.

“A joke that I am a dog-fucker does not have to be true to be defamatory,” Kenny argued to the High Court, and nobody can deny he has a point.

However, standing by your man has, I’ve observed, a tipping point. Once that’s reached it looks like collusion, delusion, and extreme co-dependence, rather than wifely support. Hilary Clinton is the only woman I’ve seen carry it off and she did it by becoming secretary of state and presidential candidate, a course not open to many women, some of whom who cling to an idiot and at times criminal male as if to an esky lid after the boat’s capsized. Let it go, let it go, I am one with the wind and the sky…

(For those of you who don’t have small people in your life, that’s a reference to a song from an immensely popular and immensely stupid Disney movie called Frozen. I have a friend who sings a bastardised version to do with farting. It’s much, much better.)

Then there was the kerfuffle over another Australian, feminist, author and rainforest regenerator Germaine Greer, who appalled the transgender community and supporters by stating that she doesn’t believe a man who is surgically reassigned female is really a woman. Greer was set upon as a transphobe, on the grounds that her remarks over time have proved extremely hurtful to transgender women. Well, toughen up, princesses, is all I can say, because if you’re going to live in this world as a woman, hurtful remarks such as Greer’s are the least of the problems you’ll encounter.

I was also called out as a transphobe and a TERF, which acronym stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. Don’t worry, soothed Mrs Chook as I sobbed on her shoulder at the hurt. You’ve been called so much worse.

It did occur to me that this most recent attempt to silence women appears to originate from within a group that came to adulthood as men. Make of that what you will.

What seems to have been forgotten, and usually is forgotten when heads get hot and hearts get bruised, is that the transgender community is not homogenous and like all communities, contains some thoroughly decent people and some nasty tossers at the ready with the death threats if anyone disagrees with them.

But for me, the highlight of the week was meeting up with one of my sisters and retrieving my first wedding album. I know there’s only supposed to be one wedding album in a woman’s life, but I’ve got two and the first one has been missing for years, until my sister found it amongst our deceased mother’s stash of family memorabilia.

(Another of my sisters who lives overseas is partnered with a transgender woman, by the way. The partnership began as heterosexual, so I know something of that which I speak, in this instance at least.)

Anyways, here is the blogger as bride. I don’t know how anybody got me into all that white stuff. Have a laugh.

Blooger as Bride

 

 

Blogger as Bride Two

Paedophilia and hyper-sexualisation: girls will be attacked because of what they’re wearing, right?

30 Oct

Bikini Barbie

 

A few days ago I read this piece in New Matilda by philosopher Dr Mark Manolopoulos on the coexistence of an accepted hyper-sexualistion of children, and strongly condemned paedophilia. The fact that the former is condoned while the latter is condemned suggests a societal hypocrisy that is shameful, is the crux of his argument.

Although Dr Manolopoulos stresses that he makes no correlation between the two, the fact that he situates their coexistence in the realm of the hypocritical and shameful strongly suggests that he assumes a connection of some kind. Without a connection there is no hypocrisy, and there isn’t any shame either.

The first question is one we’ve been debating on Sheep for a few years now: are children hyper-sexualised?

There is only one, extremely narrow representation of female sexuality that is imposed on young girls. The grotesque image heading this text is an example of an ideal of physical sexuality that promises gratification to any male who is attracted in spite of, or because of, its lack of subtlety.

It’s a mainstream wet dream. Consequently, many women strive to emulate the impossible plasticity of the Barbie doll, and some women inflict the same struggle on their daughters in a ghastly mother-daughter bonding that to this observer, does not speak of hyper-sexualisation as much as it does of a desperate desire to be desired, and for the daughters to vicariously gratify the adult woman’s need.

A man or a woman who looks at a child in “sexy” adult clothing and make up and thinks, gawd, she’s so sexy, has something terribly awry with their perceptions and desires. The child is still a child, albeit a dressed-up child, and the adult who cannot tell the difference between dress-ups and the real is sexualising the child rather than seeing the child, and needs urgent assistance.

Can anyone in their right mind really look at a dressed-up child and see her as a sex object?

How many mothers who dress their daughters “sexily” are actually pimping them out to paedophiles? Practically none, I’d guess.

There is no proven correlation between the manner in which young girls are dressed, and their vulnerability to paedophiles. If there was, Dr Manolopoulos might have an argument, but there isn’t, and he doesn’t. Quite apart from the fact that many victims of child sexual assault are boys, who aren’t dressed in anything other than ordinary clothes.

The implication of the doctor’s thesis is the same old same old: girls and women will be attacked because of what we’re wearing. Paedophiles aren’t responsible for their crimes: little girls looking “sexy” provoked them, they couldn’t resist, and their mothers are to blame.

His remedy is, yes you guessed it, ban things.

Personally, I wouldn’t choose to dress my daughter, if I had one, in a manner that is Barbie sexual, but then I don’t dress myself like that either, except once I was in a burlesque show and that was fun.

Blaming paedophilia, or any sexual assault at all on the so-called “hyper- sexualisation” of the victim is yet again shifting the responsibility from the perpetrator, where it belongs, to the victim, where it doesn’t. This is the most shameful hypocrisy society urgently needs to address, but how much easier to demand the banning of clothing and music videos.

We don’t get raped because we wiggle our hips, no matter what our age. We get raped because rapists rape us. How about society tells rapists not to do that, and leaves us to dress ourselves and our daughters however we wish, without having to fear for our safety?

I don’t like this so ban it for me.

27 Oct

nospeech_fullsize

 

I don’t know how it came to this, but my post defending Germaine Greer’s proposed lecture at Cardiff University has caused me to be described as transphobic.

Given the current circumstances of my life I am strangely unmoved by this accusation, however what does cause me some annoyance is that it seems to have become increasingly difficult to say, I do not agree with this person’s views on a subject but I do support his or her right to express them, and I welcome the ensuing debate.

As I understand it, Greer wasn’t intending to speak about transgender people. However, because she has spoken negatively on this topic there is a view that she is not, apparently, permitted to speak on any topic at all.

The list of topics on which Greer has spoken negatively and with abrasion is very very long. It is this characteristic and dare I name it, talent, that provoked a revolution amongst women decades ago, and were it not for Greer, among other equally provocative feminists, we wouldn’t be getting our own mortgages and living as fluidly as we are, even though we have still a very long way to go.

With thanks to Jo Tamar, I’m linking to this explanatory post on the complexities of changing gender. I was vastly irritated by the tone, but if you can get past that it’s worth a look.

And this post, Who’s afraid of Germaine Greer, is also worthy of a read.

Accusations of transphobia, like all name-calling, serve to distract from the essence of my argument, which is that banning speech rarely results in a positive outcome, whilst engaging in debate can be creative and productive. It ought to go without saying that I don’t include hate and inflammatory speech, but I know it won’t go without saying so I’m saying it.

Students at Cardiff University wanted the authorities to ban Greer’s lecture. The University refused to do this, to its credit. Students could have, and should have, taken responsibility for expressing their disagreement and displeasure with Greer in any number of ways: boycotting, back-turning, protesting, writing, and speaking, however, demanding that authorities do their oppositional work for them was both idle and cowardly. I don’t like this so ban it for me. Well, ok, but don’t complain when you find yourself in a fascist state.

 

 

 

In defence of Germaine

25 Oct

Greer

 

Germaine Greer.  Now banned from speaking on a university campus because her views on transgender women are perceived as hostile, and transphobic.

What Greer says is that she doesn’t believe a man who is surgically and hormonally transformed into a female, is as much of a woman as are those of us born with female genitalia.

If you think, as do I, that gender is a social construct, Greer’s argument is “problematic.” If you’re born with a vagina, a certain set of protocols come into play. Likewise if you’re born with a penis. The concept of “woman” is a social construct, and gender is a performance.

Be that as it may, where Greer is right is that the experience of being constructed as a woman is entirely different from the experience of being constructed as a man. In that sense, a male who undertakes sexual reassignment in adulthood has not been raised as a female construct, and so is lacking in that experience.

Where Greer is wrong is in claiming there is such a thing as being really a woman, or really a man: it is impossible to separate the sex from the gender bias in our current social arrangements, and conclude that we are really anything.

For some reason I can’t fathom, Glamour magazine decided to award Caitlin Jenner (formerly Bruce) its woman of the year accolade, a move that has further provoked Greer and caused her to escalate her irritation of transgender people. This may yet lead to the cancellation of more speaking engagements.

And for mine, this is the most scandalous thing of all. Not that a man might believe sexual reassignment makes him a woman. Not that a woman may disagree with his perspective. But that people believe it is acceptable to ban Greer from speaking because she has a particular point of view on this.

If your position cannot tolerate dissent, it is a very weak position. Greer is not advocating violence against transgender people. Greer is not marginalising transgender people. She is expressing her opinion, and there’s a huge difference between expressing an opinion, and advocating violence.

I think her opinion is based on a false premise, nonetheless she has every right to hold it, and anybody has the right, and even the responsibility, to challenge her. When debate is shut down we’re all the worse off, and the notion that we have no right to speak if we don’t agree with a particular perspective is completely abhorrent.

 

Elite feminism. Enough, already.

24 Oct

feminism_small-003

 

Ever since I read this piece by Clementine Ford on this venture by Roxane Gay, I’ve been struggling with the reaction both posts have provoked in me.

Gay is calling for submissions for a collection of essays she’s pulling together written by women who have experienced sexual harassment, assault and abuse. The aim of the collection is to expose the way women are often told it’s not that bad after we’ve experienced one or all of the above, using the survivors’ own words. As Gay puts it:

Not That Bad is an opportunity for those whose voices were stolen from them, to reclaim and tell their stories. This anthology will explore what it is like to navigate rape culture as shaped by the identities we inhabit.

Contributing to this anthology is a chance to own your own narrative with all of the complexity of reality without shame or condescension. Because too many of us have lived this truth, there is no one way to tell this story.

Being told, it’s not that bad after sexual violation of any kind is a way for the culture to minimise the experience, and it’s also, I believe, a way in which others attempt to comfort us, albeit misguided. As a comforter, it’s not that bad is worse than useless, really.

However, my first thought on reading both posts was, this is a very exclusive offer to a relatively small demographic, and will exclude many survivors who aren’t academics or academically inclined.

Here’s a list of suggested topics:

Potential Topics (a brief list, not a prescription)

Testimonies of what “not that bad” looks like
Critical examinations of rape culture
What it’s like to negotiate rape culture as a man
How women diminish the sexual violence and aggression they experience and the effects of doing so
What “not that bad” looks like in popular culture—film, television, and music
Resisting rape culture
Combating sexual harassment, street harassment and cat-calling
How sexual harassment and violence erode women’s privacy

I’m an academic, and used a great deal of my experience of childhood sexual abuse as the basis for an interrogation  of violence and power in my PhD. So I’m not complaining about being excluded from the project by its frames of reference and the language in which they are couched. I’m also very aware of the potential helpfulness of a theoretical framework through which a survivor can view her experience, if she is so inclined.

So why is my reaction to this proposal exasperation and anger?

The women whose essays will be chosen for this anthology are not likely to be women without a voice. Indeed, a woman will need to have found a voice, and an educated one, in order to qualify for inclusion. There is nothing innately wrong with this: women with educated voices suffer sexual violations of all kinds, and there is no argument for silencing us.

Yet I want a qualifier on this anthology. It isn’t simply an opportunity for women whose voices were stolen to reclaim them. It’s an opportunity for a very select group of women, who have voices that fulfil the editor’s criteria, to publicly own their narratives. It ought to be owned as such.

My irritation is with a feminism that speaks of “women” when what is actually meant is a certain category of women, to the inevitable exclusion of others. This feminism, far from challenging the culture actually props it up, in its embrace of social hierarchies rather than its contestation.  So we measure the advancement of women by the number of us who sit on boards, achieve the status of CEO, and succeed in a patriarchal system.

Feminism, for me, is about contesting that system. A feminism that addresses itself to a particular category of women and does not own that, is a feminism that is patriarchal in its performance. It’s based on an assumption that other categories of women aren’t as significant, or that all women are the same.

There’s nothing wrong with Gay’s project in itself. The problem is with its claim to offer “women” a voice and an opportunity for ownership of our narratives. It doesn’t. It offers women who can intellectualise our violations, and write about them, the opportunity to be heard.

When I was sexually assaulted last year I saw a counsellor, and one of the things I said to her repeatedly was that I didn’t understand my reaction to this event, as I had dealt with so much as a consequence of childhood sexual abuse, to the extent that I’d based a PhD on the topic. I expected myself to know what was going on in me, and deal with it far better than I am.

Ah, she said. It’s one thing to understand events intellectually. But your body remembers. Dealing with it intellectually isn’t all there is to do to own the experience. Traumatic memories, ancient and modern, are not seen off by the intellect. It’s but one aspect of the situation.

So, while I could write a piece that would probably qualify for Gay’s anthology on navigating rape culture as shaped by the identity I inhabit (except that I’ve written this and likely disqualified myself) something in me, as a recently raped woman, baulks at this language and this framing.

I think feminists who practise elite feminism ought to expect resistance, because they are likely not respecting the existence of all women. It is, really, quite unacceptable to use the term “women” in such an unqualified manner when what you truthfully mean is: only women who meet the criteria need apply.

 

 

 

 

Hockey, Lawler, Jackson: the self aggrandisement of the the mediocre

22 Oct

Folie a deux

 

On Monday’s episode of Four Corners, we witnessed the destructive power of excessive self-belief as expressed in the folie à deux performed for us by Kathy Jackson and Michael Lawler.

I don’t think it’s  all that unusual for some couples to bond on the basis of the beliefs of one or another of them. I’ve known several whose raison d’être is one party’s (usually in heterosexual relationships the man’s) perceived talents, ambitions, goals and characteristics, all of which are fiercely supported by their partner, to the exclusion of clarity of mind and thought. Shared delusions form the basis of many a partnership.

The Lawler/Jackson combo is an exception to the usual, given that in their case, the man has almost entirely capitulated to the female’s fantasy of herself as noble, self-sacrificial and as a consequence, persecuted. Indeed, Lawler admitted that others may view him as “cunt struck,” a term with which I was entirely unfamiliar before Monday evening, but one which I am as taken with as I was when I first heard the term “rat fucker” from the moist and fleshy lips of former PM and excessive self-believer, Kevin Rudd.

I personally don’t give a rat’s rooted arse what happens to either Lawler or Jackson, and if any man or woman fawned over me as did Lawler over Jackson, I’d tell them to fuck off and get out of my face, but there you are, I’m ungrateful and like my boundaries.

What is most disturbing about the Four Corners intimate expose of the couple is that two such banal and emotionally immature individuals can bring so much chaos and grief to so many others. I mean, if you’re going to be done over by someone, at least let that someone have a bit of class. To be done over by people entirely lacking in any kind of calibre adds insult to injury, for mine.

Which brings me nicely to Joe Hockey’s valedictory speech. Talk about self-belief, or rather self-aggrandisement. The man is convinced, like his former boss Tony Abbott, that he leaves behind him a significant and worthwhile legacy. Colour me smashed Italian marble table.

All in all, I weep for the mediocrity of those who would be our leaders. We deserve better. Or perhaps we don’t. Perhaps we are all in a bubble of self-delusion, thinking ourselves greater than we can ever be. Perhaps our leaders accurately reflect the self-importance and entitlement of a nation that increasingly considers itself above the trials and tribulations of the rest of the world, for no reason other than it just is.

 

 

Bodies that matter. Bodies that don’t.

21 Oct

Chris Kenny

 

It’s profoundly concerning that Abyan, the Somali refugee currently living on Nauru and victim of a rape that left her pregnant, was forbidden to see her lawyer and denied adequate counselling for her trauma and her plight.

But now we hear that Rupert Murdoch’s minion Chris Kenny of The Australian was not only the first journalist in eighteen months to be granted a visa to enter Nauru in the last few days, he was also escorted by local police to Abyan’s accommodation, where he confronted her about her situation.

Human Rights Commissioner Professor Gillian Triggs has been denied a visa to visit Nauru, so Kenny is indeed privileged.

Kenny’s first account of his interview with Abyan, which you can access by clicking the link on Kenny’s tweet in The Guardian report above, seems to contradict Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s claims that Abyan refused an abortion and was therefore returned to the island, and instead substantiates her own claims that she did not refuse an abortion, she asked for some time, and appropriate help. Neither the time nor the appropriate help was forthcoming, and she was deported after being refused contact with her lawyer.

The likelihood of us ever knowing the truth of the situation is slim, however, no matter how you look at it, Abyan has been treated in a most despicable manner by both governments, and their agents.

Dutton has belatedly diarised appointments allegedly made for Abyan, with and without interpreters. However, there is no way at all of verifying Dutton’s claims that these appointments were in fact made, and that Abyan was offered the medical attention he claims.

I have no idea why Abyan was then subjected to further traumatisation by having to endure Chris Kenny’s pursuit of her after she was returned to Nauru.  But everywhere I look in this situation I see an extremely vulnerable young woman, stripped of all power and agency, subjected to the interrogation and control of powerful men intent on furthering their own interests. The demonstration of male power & dominance over women that the Abyan story illustrates makes my blood run cold.

In his latest report from Nauru, Kenny stresses that Abyan has not reported her rape to the Nauruan police. The implication is clear: if she didn’t report it, perhaps it didn’t happen.

There are a staggering number of sexual assaults in this developed country that go unreported. The majority of rapes that are reported don’t make it into court. Reporting sexual assault to police is a harrowing experience, even when the police concerned are highly trained and care about you, and share your language group. I had a sexual assault counsellor with me when I did it a few months ago, as well as evidence, and a great deal of loving support. With all that, it was an horrific experience from which I still haven’t recovered. Reporting sexual assault if you are a young, pregnant Somali refugee woman condemned to life on Nauru for the indefinite future, must be an almost impossibly daunting prospect.

And then there is Abyan’s history, including rape and genital mutilation in her home country.

And let’s not forget that Dutton only agreed to offer Abyan an abortion in the first place because public agitation forced him to.

There is a recent pattern of unrelenting traumatisation of Abyan by men who have descended on her, for one reason or another, like vultures on a wounded animal. Most of them are white and middle class. Their actions are validated by an entirely brutal government policy that condemned Abyan to Nauru in the first place, a policy initiated by Julia Gillard and Nicolo Roxon. I wonder what these two women now think of where their policy has led us, or if they consider it at all.

An aside: a link to an interview with Nancy Fraser, Professor of Philosophy and Politics at the New School on why the “leaning in” brand of feminism actually means leaning on other women. Quote:

For me, feminism is not simply a matter of getting a smattering of individual women into positions of power and privilege within existing social hierarchies. It is rather about overcoming those hierarchies.

Yes. Indeed.

In an uneasy corollary with Abyan’s situation Nauru is a subordinate state (read feminised) dominated by and dependent on Australia. Australia sends women and children it does not want to Nauru, where they are raped and abused. Australia, however, claims this is none of our business as Nauru is a sovereign state and we cannot intervene in its legal system, or what passes for a legal system in that lawless nation.

White, privileged, and apparently having suffered nothing more traumatic than being the butt (sorry) of a Chaser’s joke concerning sex with a dog, Chris Kenny feels he is entitled to pursue and interrogate the traumatised Somali refugee because, well, he is white, male, privileged, and works for Rupert Murdoch. He has no expertise in the matter of trauma and sexual trauma. If he had the slightest idea, and any compassion, he would not have subjected Abyan to his inquiries, and he certainly wouldn’t have arrived at her home with a police escort.

The bodies that matter are firstly, white. Then they are male. Then they are the bodies of women of calibre. They are bodies that belong to our tribe. I think, almost every day, what would the man who sexually assaulted me do if his daughter had been treated as he treated me? He observed more than once that I was “not of his tribe,” a comment I found ridiculous at the time, but with hindsight I see that his perception of me as other allowed him to behave towards me as if I was less vulnerable, less hurtable than women who were “of his tribe.”

Multiply this a million times when the victim is a Somali refugee abandoned by Australia to fend for herself in Nauru, and it isn’t hard to understand why there were difficulties reporting the rape.

The headline “Rape Refugee” says it all. Written on the body. Written on the body that does not matter, by the body that does.

 

 

 

Turnbull’s actions should carry a trigger warning for all women who have survived sexual violence

17 Oct

Audre Lorde Two

 

At a time when we are struggling in this country with the death of two women every week from male-perpetrated domestic violence, and the physical, emotional and psychological injury of thousands more women. At a time when we are struggling with the lifelong scarring of children who witness this violence.

At a time when we are struggling in this country with the sexual abuse of children by men who have authority over them, both historical and current, children whose lives are ruined by predatory males in positions of power.

At a time in this country when we are only beginning to truthfully acknowledge the criminal damage done to women and children by men who abuse and torture and murder us.

At this time, our new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his robotic axeman Immigration Minister Peter Dutton (who used to work as a copper investigating sex crimes, yes, think about that) choose as their scapegoat and human sacrifice to the racist subhumans who comprise the demographic that keeps them in power, a raped and pregnant S0mali refugee.

There will hardly be a woman amongst us today who has survived sexual assault, domestic violence, and childhood sexual abuse whose trauma will not be triggered by the treatment of Abyan by Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton.

We will flashback to the times when we cried out into a vast silence for someone to help us, and for most of us, nobody listened.

We will flashback to the terror, the helplessness, the powerless we experienced when a man more powerful than us exercised his privilege and presumed entitlement over our bodies, minds and spirits.

We will remember our impotence. The sense that nothing about ourselves belongs to us, but has been colonised by a male invader because he can, because he wants to and because he has no appreciation of or care for our humanity.

In their treatment of Abyan, Turnbull and Dutton have triggered the memories and the rage of thousands upon thousands of Australian women who have historical and current experiences of the brutality, contempt and sense of entitlement perpetrating men both feel and act out in their violence towards us.

Turnbull and Dutton have given their tacit support to sexual assault and violence against women by their actions in this matter. They may believe they are acting only against one Somali refugee. But they aren’t. They are acting against every woman who has suffered and survived, and they are acting against every woman and girl who can imagine what it is to be violated by a man, and is yet to be so violated.

When they sacrificed Abyan on the altar of their political ambition, they sacrificed all of us.

Oh, brave new world, that has such vile men in it.

 

 

Turnbull and Dutton wage war on women

16 Oct

Turnbull Dutton

 

When Tony Abbott was Prime Minister it was difficult to imagine myself feeling more contempt and loathing for any politician than the contempt and loathing I felt towards him.

The emotions one experiences for public figures are paradoxical: they can be fiercely visceral and at the same time entirely abstract, as the relationship is not a personal one and the individual is unknown, except superficially. Nonetheless, they can keep you awake at night if the anger provoked is strong enough.

Tonight my contempt and loathing meter has exploded with the news that Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull have conspired to secretly remove a raped and pregnant refugee, brought here just a few days ago for an abortion, back to the scene of her rape and the purview of her rapist, whose child she is now almost certainly doomed to carry to term.

The woman had, on the advice of psychologists and doctors conveyed to her through her lawyers as the government did not permit her to see either professional, requested counselling for both the sexual assault and the termination of the pregnancy it caused, before she underwent the procedure.

No counselling was permitted by the government. The date set for the procedure passed as she repeatedly begged for precursory assistance. The government then disingenuously decided she had refused the abortion, and whisked her back to Nauru on a chartered plane without allowing her lawyers to speak with her.

If you have been sexually assaulted, if your body has been, against your will, violated by another, it is going to be traumatic to undergo any subsequent procedure that involves the penetration of your body, even if it is with your permission. Only people of immense stupidity or immense, unspeakable cruelty could fail to appreciate this reality.

What Turnbull and Dutton have done is truly horrific. It ought to make every woman tremble in fear and rage. This is what powerful men can do and will do to women, in the pursuit of their own interests. This is how they still despise us, devalue us, abuse us and use us. This is a war on women, expressed today and in this manner against a Somali refugee, expressed tomorrow against whichever woman who in some way they fear presents a  threat to their hold on power.

I happened to be at Question Time yesterday when Turnbull gave a splendid performance of urbanity, sophistication, confidence, superiority, authority, intelligence and charm, self-deprecatingly admitting his financial privilege which he attributes to fate, and nurtures in the Caymans. Hockey and Abbott sat side by side on the back benches, grim as the two evil fairies at the christening. The contrast between Turnbull and Abbott could not have been greater.

And yet… Abbott was the iron fist in the iron glove. Turnbull is the iron fist in the velvet glove. Turnbull denigrates woman as much as does Abbott. He’s simply a lot more sophisticated in his ability to conceal the denigration. He’s simply a great deal better at paying lip service to women he believes will further his cause than Abbott ever was. Turnbull has as much of a double standard towards women as did his predecessor. There are still women of calibre, and then there’s the Somali refugee.

I can only hope the feminists in this country will stop fighting about who is allowed to call herself a feminist and who isn’t, and the eternally fraught questions of body hair and breast implants as symbols of hard-won choice, and instead turn their energies towards fighting Turnbull. With Abbott we at least knew where we stood. Turnbull will trash us with charm and blinding eloquence, and we won’t even notice until it’s too late.

 

Turnbull: women must be respected but only if they are of our tribe.

10 Oct

Respect

 

If you can take away the freedom of one man [sic] you strike at the liberty of all.

I don’t think the truth of that statement has struck me quite as forcefully as it has since I learnt of the young Somali refugee who was raped and left pregnant on Nauru some fourteen weeks ago.

Since her ordeal began, the woman has repeatedly appealed to the Australian government to allow her to travel to this country for termination of the pregnancy. Abortion is illegal in Nauru. A termination can only be performed in Papua New Guinea prior to twelve weeks. There is no option for this young woman, other than being brought to Australia.

While Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull patronisingly assures us that his government is in tune with the Somali refugee’s needs, and while Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has assured us that any asylum seeker in off-shore detention will be brought to Australia for medical treatment if deemed necessary, the reality is that a pregnancy waits for no man, and fourteen weeks is more than enough time for a woman to be flown to this country and receive the treatment she is owed, and so desperately needs.

It’s starkly apparent that Nauru is a most unsafe environment for women and children, in detention and out of it. Both the Labor and LNP governments bear the entire responsibility for attacks on women and children they’ve imprisoned in a country that has virtually no rule of law, and whose aid has been revoked by the New Zealand government precisely because of its lack of an adequate justice system.

Malcolm Turnbull’s politically opportunistic proclamation that women in Australia deserve respect and must be respected is entirely undermined by his government’s attitude towards women in off-shore detention. If you do not respect women other than those who are of your tribe, then you do not respect women at all. Your respect for women is conditional, and the condition is that they are women you consider worthy, (or of calibre) according to your own criteria.

The government’s ongoing willingness to subject women in off-shore detention to abuses, sexual assaults, intimidation, fear, and hopelessness tells me that its respect for me is subject to its approval of me as a member of the accepted tribe. Were I to fall outside those criteria, I would no longer be considered worthy of respect and protection.

This isn’t good enough. If you take away respect from one woman, you take away respect from all of us. Respect for women should have no boundaries, political, geographic, ethnic or national.

In this instance, what Turnbull’s government perpetuates, as has every government since Paul Keating built the first detention centres, is the patriarchy’s favoured myth of the madonna and the whore: there are women you respect, and there are women you rape. Men decide which of us is which. In the case of asylum seekers who arrived here by boat, their very situation has placed them in the latter category as they are perceived by the hegemony as other. Other means not quite as human, because not of our tribe.

What Turnbull is doing to refugee women in off-shore detention is a variation of what men who sexually assault us always do: dehumanising those they consider of less value than themselves, and the women they choose to protect.

No, Mr Turnbull, you do not respect me and you do not respect Australian women, and as long as you permit the ill-treatment of women in your off-shore concentration camps, your proclamations of respect will ring as hollow as a clanging cymbal.

Bring the Somali refugee to Australia for the medical treatment you owe her. She is suffering as you never have and never will suffer. Show her some respect.

 

 

Save the babies down under. #shoutyourabortion

1 Oct

Right to choose

 

The Turnbull government has cancelled the visa of US anti-abortion activist Mr Troy Newman, spokesperson for the Operation Rescue group, on the grounds that he is not of good character.

There are some who’d argue Immigration Minister Peter Dutton isn’t of particularly good character either, but that’s beside the point, apparently.

There are many who’d argue that nobody associated with the current policy of permitting refugee women on Nauru and Manus Island to be raped in order to deter possible future boat arrivals has anything approaching a good character, but that is also beside the point, apparently.

In fact, one woman has reportedly been impregnated by her rapist and is seeking to come to Australia for an abortion. Will the good Mr Dutton permit her that relief, or will she be doomed by his whim, to carry and give birth to the rapist’s child?

Everywhere you look there’s a moral dilemma.

Troy Newman was visiting our country to give a speech titled “Save the babies down under” at an event organised by Right to Life Australia.

Troy’s lack of good character is apparently evidenced by his written exhortation in a book he co-authored, Their Blood Cries Out, which contains the passage: In addition to our personal guilt in abortion, the United States government has abrogated its responsibility to properly deal with the blood-guilty. This responsibility rightly involves executing convicted murderers, including abortionists, for their crimes in order to expunge bloodguilt from the land and people.

This passage has been interpreted as Newman advocating the murder of practitioners involved in abortion procedures, however, much as I loathe the sentiments he expresses, for mine, he is calling on the state, rather than individuals, to administer what he determines to be justice. There is a considerable difference, as there always is between individual acts of slaughter, and those that are sanctioned by the state.

The most powerful effect this will have is to give the Right to Life movement a martyr’s platform, and indeed, it already has as cries of denial of freedom of speech and persecution rise from their ranks. They may have a point. If what is considered negative speech is forbidden, there is no freedom of speech, alas and alack.

Also, I am not quite sure how someone calling on the state to extend capital punishment to include abortion providers is a danger to the Australian way of life. We don’t have capital punishment in the first place.

I wonder if Troy’s visa would have been cancelled under an Abbott government, given the ex-PM’s opinion that abortion is a stain on our society, and merely serves a mother’s convenience? We should, Abbott remonstrates, be haunted by the hundreds of thousands of Australians lost to abortion, which is a bit rich coming from a man whose conservative policies were neither woman nor live-child friendly.

The former PM even managed to be nationalistic about abortion. Perhaps every flag that flanked him represented thousands of Australian babies murdered at their mother’s convenience?

But fathoming the minds of the unhinged is a futile exercise: one can only hope to avoid them.

At the other end of the continuum we find the #shoutyourabortion hash tag which exhorts women to speak out about our abortions, and end the blaming and shaming that we fear will see us ostracised and maligned for choosing not to continue with a pregnancy.

As far as I can ascertain, the experience of abortion is hugely varied. For some it’s distressing and undertaken with reluctance. For some it’s an enormous relief. For some it’s not emotionally charged at all and I can’t see why any of that is the business of Troy Newman, Margaret Tighe of Right to Life, or any so-called pro-life politician of whom there are many, across the political spectrum.

I am hoping that by the time the youngest member of our family, a little girl now three weeks old, is of an age to be concerned by such matters, abortion will be no more of a social issue than any other medical procedure. That is not to say women will cease to experience personal emotions around the experience, but that they will be just that: personal emotions, un-politicised, free from the judgements of those who have absolutely nothing to do with the woman’s personal situation and will likely be the very last to help her and the foetus they’d like to forced her to carry to term.

In the meantime we must somehow survive the hypocrisy.

 

 

 

Give us shelter: why new DV funding isn’t anywhere near enough

27 Sep

RefugeLogo

 

The Turnbull government’s announcement last week of $100 million worth of funding to address domestic violence is better than than silence, and goes to some small way towards acknowledging the enormous problem this country has with male violence against women.

But what it does not do, and for this appalling omission the government should be unrelentingly and loudly pilloried, is fund the urgent immediate need for frontline services such as refuges and community legal centres, both of which are a woman’s first stop when she’s forced to flee a dangerous domestic situation.

What this says to me is that safe, secure, un-threatened people such as politicians have absolutely no idea what it is like to be in a situation of  such extreme danger that you have to flee, or risk injury or death to yourself and your children by staying.

And flee to where, exactly?

Not only do these fortunate politicians have no idea what this situation feels like, they apparently don’t care. Neither do have they the imagination to picture such a scene, and how they might feel in it.

Legal services are outraged at Minister for Women Michaelia Cash’s apparent spin on funding cuts that will directly affect women suffering domestic violence, and will see the centres in dire financial straits by 2017.

If politicians had the capacity to imagine themselves in such a situation, they would perhaps begin to understand that providing refuges for women and children must be the first priority in any plan to end family violence, in conjunction with some of the other options funding currently covers.

As I write this and as you read it, there will be women, alone or with their children, trying to get out of a house which is not a safe environment for them because it’s inhabited by a violent male intent on doing them harm. They need somewhere to go. Right now.

This ought not to be a difficult situation for a government to remedy. Providing funding for women’s refuges and legal centres is not going to break the budget. Yet, after decades of feminist activism we are going backwards: closing refuges, threatening the funding of community legal centres, handing over the refuges that remain to religious organisations who have little or no experience with the repercussions of domestic violence, and whose workers are primarily trained to deal with homelessness, not specifically with traumatised women and children fleeing abuse.

Solutions to domestic violence can’t be a one size fits all. Some women will be able to stay in their homes. Others will absolutely not. The period when a woman attempts to leave an abusive situation is well-recognised as the most dangerous for her, and for children involved. It is when she is most likely to be murdered, or severely injured, as the perpetrator’s rage escalates at the prospect of abandonment, and loss of control over his partner. Nothing will help in such situations if first-off, the woman has nowhere to go.

This is not complicated. Why will politicians not act to save women’s lives in the most pressing, the most obvious way, by adequately funding and staffing refuges and legal centres for the increasing numbers of women and children who have to get out, and have no place to which they can flee?

Credlin: victim of sexism and feminist martyr?

23 Sep

Audre Lorde Feminism

 

It is extremely difficult for me to think of Peta Credlin, the former Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, as being a victim of anything at all.

She hasn’t lost her job as CoS because of sexism. She’s lost it because Tony Abbott is no longer Prime Minister.

She copped a lot of criticism from some journalists and MPs for her management style. There’s no doubt some of that criticism has been sexist, however, none of that sexist criticism caused her to lose her job.

This is not to excuse sexist criticism because it is not excusable. That others resorted to sexist attacks is a reflection on them, not Credlin. Yet it is entirely possible that her manner of conducting herself was offensive, not because she’s a woman, but because her manner was an offensive way for one human being to behave towards others.

Credlin is neither a feminist icon nor a feminist martyr. If, as she claims, she is responsible for the LNP’s transition from opposition to government it was nothing to do with her gender, feminism, or women in any capacity at all, as was evidenced by the lack of female representation in Abbott’s cabinet.

Credlin worked closely with a man whose opinions on women are well-documented and they aren’t inspiring, with the exception of very few females of “calibre,” and his relatives.

I am unable to see how Credlin’s alleged feminism informed her boss’s policies in any way at all. Feminism by stealth entirely failed as a project in the Abbott government.

If we are going to judge Credlin, and we will for some time to come I think, we need to focus on her behaviour and not her gender.   It has to be possible to criticise women in powerful positions without having those criticisms dismissed as sexist. Kevin Rudd was accused of similar failings: micro management and excessive control, for example, without reference to his gender.

Credlin wielded immense power in a centre of hyper-masculinity. In spite of that power, she was apparently entirely unable to influence Abbott’s attitude to women. Whether she tried or not we have yet to discover. This doesn’t mean she deserves sexist barbs. She doesn’t. It does mean she isn’t a feminist icon, and she isn’t a feminist martyr.

Credlin used the master’s tools. Not one brick of the master’s house fell to feminist ideals. Yet feminist women will protest sexist attacks on Credlin, as we should, and we will also retain the right to critique Credlin’s behaviours as we do the behaviours of all powerful figures, even as we protest the gender-based insults.

 

 

 

 

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