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At the mercy of the state

25 Mar

Surveillance-State

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

ABC TV Qanda excludes Indigenous women yet again

4 Mar

 

Adventures in Democracy

 

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

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

Indigenous women are not represented on this panel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This woman won’t be watching.

 

 

 

 

 

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

17 Feb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roland Barthes Death of the Author

 

 

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

6 Feb

Good woman:bad woman

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next we have this from Sheehan:

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

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

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

Monogamy’s police

31 Jan

 

Wandering eyes

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

21 Jan

Herself.com

 

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

Reaction has been swift, analytical, condemnatory, celebratory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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