Behind every man…

16 Sep


Abbott & Credlin


According to Paul Sheehan, the Abbott coup wasn’t entirely about the ex-PM.  It was about his Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin.

The allegedly widely-loathed and uber-controlling Ms Credlin was rusted onto the PM, or he on her, and word is, Abbott couldn’t put his socks on without her approval. The only way to rid the party of this meddlesome female was to give her boss the flick.

Sheehan’s effort to construct this Shakespearean interpretation of events probably says a whole lot more about his attitudes to women than it does about the actual situation, however, that the PM and his CoS were a dark and destructive dyad is likely incontestable.

I must say Abbott cut a lonely figure when he said his barbed goodbyes. Where were the women in his life at his darkest hour? No flaunting of a wife and daughters clothed in white garments. And only two flags.

Enter Malcolm Turnbull, also supported by a formidable woman, wife Lucinda. At first blush, this couple couldn’t be more different from Abbott and Credlin, which is not to say that their philosophy will be anymore palatable, only that it will be more palatably presented which, if you think about it, could well be even worse for us.

Somebody better do something about LOTO Bill Shorten, and they better do it soon. He has all the conviction of a dying cod. I don’t know what’s wrong with the man, but his delivery stinks, its content is excruciating, and he has the energy levels of someone at the high-end of a depression test score. Turnbull will wipe the floor with him.

Indeed, the entire cohort of ALP MPs appeared to be in baffled retreat in Question Time yesterday, stunned by the speed of events and at finding themselves unexpectedly confronted by a government front bench revelling in its liberation from the stifling oppression of three-word slogans, and the narrow-minded narrative of goodies and baddies preached by a failed priest who never quite managed to move beyond the unctuous tones and medieval attitudes acquired in the seminary yonks ago. Shorten might well have taken this man down in the next election. But Turnbull is a whole other kettle of fish.

Bemused overseas observers claim that for Australians, changing our Prime Ministers has become a national sport. But it actually isn’t us, the people. The parties elect their leaders and the parties give them the boot. That we’ve had five PMs in as many years speaks to the inability of our major parties to conduct their affairs in a reasonable manner. The criteria they’re using to choose their leaders are well borked. Until they dig deep into their collective psyches and address what’s driving them into serial unforced errors, many of us will turn our backs and give our votes to independents and minor parties, which will result in hung parliaments and tetchy senates.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with hung parliaments and tetchy senates. They act as safeguards against increasingly fascist governments. However, revolving door leadership is draining, time-wasting and a bit pathetic, to be honest, so it would be nice if the majors took a good look at themselves and remembered their raison d’être is to serve the public, not to conduct personal feuds at our expense.

Abbott gave us all such brilliant material. I don’t know what we’ll carp about in the immediate future. Adios, Tones. Don’t let the door hit your unsaleable arse on your way out.

Leunig. The End




Minister for Women, you are CRAP at your job.

12 Sep

Domestic Violence is terrorism

In what other portfolio would a minister who remains consistently silent about his responsibilities to the huge demographic covered by that portfolio, even in the face of a staggering number of the cohort dying, be permitted to retain his job? Yet Tony Abbott continues to claim for himself the title “Minister for Women.”

Has there ever been a greater political insult to Australian women than this? He’s having a laugh. He always was.

In spite of an enormous recent increase in media and public attention directed towards intimate and family violence, the Abbott federal and the Baird state LNP governments have cut funding to specialist women’s services since Abbott won government in 2013.

These cuts have resulted in women’s refuges in NSW urban and regional areas being re-situated under the umbrella of homelessness services, thus denying the specific difficulties faced by women who are not primarily homeless, rather who are fleeing their homes because those homes are inhabited by a violent partner.

Many refuges are now run by faith-based organisations. Experience in addressing intimate and family violence is not a prerequisite for winning a contract, indeed the criteria for determining the awarding of contracts don’t even mention domestic violence concerns.

This Women’s Agenda headline would seem premature: Our Watch Awards celebrate the power of journalism in ending male violence against women. Neither journalism nor anything else has ended male violence against women, and while media attention to the appalling statistics and the stories behind them is absolutely necessary, the power of journalism alone to end violence against women and children is yet to be demonstrated. There has to be action with the talk, and I mean direct action against perpetrators, such as immediate custodial sentences when an AVO is breached, for a start.

As long as we have privileged and ignorant male politicians redesigning frontline domestic violence services in ways that can only make the plight of women and children fleeing violence worse, we will not end that violence, indeed we will only make it easier for perpetrators, as women’s options are eroded. Already, the legal aid situation is so dire a perpetrator can access free advice and representation, but the woman he assaulted may not be so lucky.

The toll of one man’s violence against his partner is inestimable. It has long-term effects on children, immediate family members, extended family members, neighbours, workmates, and when perpetrated in public, as have murders and attacks in the last week in Queensland, has traumatising effects on every witness, and every member of the public who attempts to intervene.

Then there’s the cumulative toll domestic violence takes on services such as police, paramedics, hospital staff, counsellors, and those who provide legal aid services. In terms of its capacity for widespread and generational damage, intimate and family violence is a catastrophic event far exceeding any terrorist threat we face.

Yet the Minister for Women’s only intervention is to cut funding to frontline services when they ought to be urgently increased, and by tenfold.

As a salve and to appear as if he’s interested, Abbott promised an awareness campaign. However, he’s failed to address where women and children will go for assistance and shelter after our collective awareness is raised. We don’t need another government awareness campaign when services are inadequate, or don’t exist. We need the services. Abbott’s promised awareness campaign, in conjunction with service cuts, is one of the most cynical moves this government has made. That is saying much.

Tony Abbott is a crap Minister for Women. Probably the most crap Minister for Women in the world. The sooner he takes his sorry arse out of that portfolio and appoints someone who gives a damn, the better. With Abbott at the top, violence against women and children is never going to decrease in this country, and with his funding cuts he’s making it easier for perpetrators to be left on the loose and unaccountable.

Someone once said you can judge the state of a country by the way it allows animals to be treated. I think you can judge the state of a country by the way its government allows women and children to be treated. And by any measure, this government’s attitude to violence against women and children is absolute crap.



Politics, policy makers, and religion.

6 Sep
Religion vs politics. Ruth Clotworthy

Religion vs politics. Ruth Clotworthy


Last time Sheep ventured into this territory I was threatened with defamation action, however, undeterred, we’re going there again.

If you argue that a politician’s religious beliefs don’t affect his or her attitudes to policy, firstly consider this exchange between Catholic Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Qanda’s Tony Jones on refugees and immigration, back in the days when Abbott was LOTO and not too lily-livered to front up to an unpredictable live audience.

Note: It’s a measure of a leader’s failure that he becomes less available to unpredictable audiences, not more. In case you need another example of his failure but you probably don’t 

TONY ABBOTT: …Jesus didn’t say yes to everyone. I mean Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it is not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.

TONY JONES: It’s quite an interesting analogy because, as you know, and a whip was used on that occasion to drive people out of the temple. You know, if that’s the analogy you’re choosing, should we take it at face value?

TONY ABBOTT: No. No. I’m just saying that, look, Jesus was the best man who ever lived but that doesn’t mean that he said yes to everyone, that he was permissive to everything, and this idea that Jesus would say to every person who wanted to come to Australia, “Fine”, the door is open, I just don’t think is necessarily right. But let’s not verbal Jesus. I mean, he’s not here to defend himself.

Now read this piece titled “Scott Morrison and the conveniently comforting doctrine of predestination,” written when Morrison was Immigration Minister.

Briefly, the doctrine of predestination followed by Morrison’s Pentecostal faith claims that god has determined whether or not you will be saved before even you are born. Your material status in the world identifies you as chosen or rejected by God. Wealth, standing and comfort identify you as chosen. Poverty, lack of standing and misery confirm you as rejected. Therefore, the chosen do not have to feel anything other than pity and contempt for the rejected: according to the doctrine of predestination, it’s futile to attempt to improve their lot because god has already decided their fate. Indeed, attempting to improve the lives of those god has already rejected is an affront to god.

It’s impossible to argue that the religious beliefs of these two men have not affected their political judgements, not only in the matter of asylum seekers and refugees. However, asylum seeker policies illustrate with stark clarity how religious beliefs can be used as justification for barbarous practices, by Christians as well as by other religions.

At least twelve of Abbott’s cabinet of nineteen are Christians, and eight of them are Catholics. The LNP candidate for the West Australian seat of Canning, Andrew Hastie, recently blasted a journalist from Perth Now, who put to him questions about his own religious beliefs, the beliefs of his father, a Presbyterian theologian with interests in creationism, and a blog posted under the byline of Hastie’s wife Ruth, in which Christian opposition to same-sex marriage is outlined. Hastie responded emotionally and publicly to the journalist’s private email inquiry on these topics, angrily warning media they could go after him but they’d better not go after his family, and finally claiming that personal religious beliefs have no relevance to politics and he won’t answer any more questions on the topic.

I have no interest in anyone’s religious practices unless she or he is  in a position to affect and legislate public policy, and then I have a great deal of interest in the beliefs they hold.

When a religious individual in a position of influence claims their beliefs will not affect their political decisions, this indicates at the very least a disturbing capacity for duplicity: the Christian religion is a proselytising religion, its followers are exhorted to demonstrate their faith and to live out that faith in every aspect of their lives, unashamedly bearing witness. They must therefore either betray their Christian principles, or betray the secular voter, as they cannot feasibly hold faith with both.

There’s a vast chasm between the philosophies of the man Jesus, and the teachings of religions such as those followed by many of our politicians. Religions are constructed by men to further their self-interests. It ought to be a fundamental requirement of aspiring politicians and policy makers that they disclose any religious beliefs they hold. It isn’t a private matter, when you’re charged with determining the nature and course of a society.



Thanks to @davispg for links and inspiration



Abbott: Even a Nazi feels shame, but those illegal immigrants? Shameless

5 Sep

The Atlantic. Asylum Seekers flood into Hungary


Our socially dominating right-wing authoritarian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, is talking more even more drivel than usual. ISIS, his pet death cult, are worse than the Nazis he claims, because unlike the Nazis, they have no shame.

I’ve searched far and wide. I can find no suggestion anywhere that the Nazis were ashamed of themselves. Never mind.

In practically the same breath Abbott has busied himself criminalising the estimated four million Syrian women, children and men fleeing their country and the ISIS death cult, by declaring them to be “illegal” immigrants.

In other words, death cult is badder than bad Nazis, but fleeing bad death cult is even badder then bad Nazis AND badder death cult?

Prime Minister Abbott then co-opted the death by drowning of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi to justify his stop the boats campaign, saying at least we don’t have drowned babies washing up here anymore because we’ve stopped the boats.

By the way, remember the Christmas Island boat tragedy when then immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison said we shouldn’t pay for the funerals of drowned babies? Flying corpses to the mainland for burial, Morrison said, was not giving taxpayers “value for money.”

(I urge you to read the article in New Matilda I’ve linked to in my first sentence, for an insight into the psychology of right-wing authoritarians. It explains much.)

British Murdoch columnist Katy Hopkins suggested that Europe should adopt Australia’s approach to asylum seekers by “threatening them with violence until they bugger off.” Which is a pretty good précis of off-shore detention, when you think about it. Australians have big balls and tiny hearts, Katy claims, admiringly, as apparently that’s the perfect combination for male-dominated leadership and murdering, directly and indirectly, millions of people seeking asylum.

At this point things become confusing. Nazis are bad for murdering millions but they have the capacity for shame, so not as bad as ISIS death cult who aspire to murder millions, as many as possible on social media so definitely no shame, so badder than Nazis. But Europeans should directly and indirectly murder millions and that’s good, no shame required, because big balls and tiny hearts are great. As long as they’re in white, non-Nazi bodies. Right.

Meanwhile, the New York Times published an excoriating editorial damning Abbott’s ruthless and inhumane asylum seeker policies. For which Abbott feels no shame, because…all right, I won’t say it all again but if he gets to talk in threes why can’t I?

There was considerable robust debate the other day concerning whether or not the image of the tiny body of Aylan Kurdi, washed up drowned on the beach, should have been published by The Guardian, and re-posted on social media.

For mine, the very fact of this debate highlighted our privilege: we do not have to directly deal with such horrendous circumstances, rather, from a safe distance, we have the option to debate whether or not it is kind or unkind to us that we are confronted with images of those circumstances.

There seems to be an attitude about that we have an inherent right not to be disturbed and discomfited. We don’t. Nobody was forced to look at the images, and warnings were issued for those who wanted to turn away. As Carol Duncan quite rightly tweeted, if you don’t want to see the pictures, exercise your privilege and turn off your devices.

With millions of displaced, desperate people roaming the globe, and the numbers set to increase, we have no right to demand censorship of images of their plight. If you don’t want to see it, don’t look, but please, spare us the preciousness of your complaints that you are traumatised by looking.

Shame, anyone?

A Syrian refugee plays Thursday after heavy rain at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.

A Syrian refugee plays Thursday after heavy rain at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.







When you can’t say no

3 Sep
The Persistence of Memory Dali

The Persistence of Memory


Long read on a difficult topic.

There’s an abundance of evidence in the literature that women who have been sexually abused in childhood are twice as likely to experience sexual assaults at some later point in our lives, than are women who have not.

The reasons for this are many: an inability to recognise and avoid predators, high risk behaviour, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, alcohol and drug use; inability to refuse unwanted sexual contact, inability to behave assertively with a man in a sexual situation, emotional flooding and numbing when in situations of unwanted sexual activity. All these can lead to what is known as “re-victimisation,” and that in turn leads to long-lasting and high levels of psychological distress and compounded trauma, as the re-traumatising impact of the adult abuse adds to and exacerbates that already experienced in childhood.

Somehow, after years of severe CSA I escaped re-victimisation, not by any conscious effort on my part because I was entirely unaware of the perils that can be the consequence of early abuse, but because I didn’t encounter any predators. I had a suite of other significant difficulties to deal with as a result of that childhood, such as trusting people, fear of abandonment, hyper-vigilance, suicidal ideation, anxiety, and the rest, but the re-traumatisation of further sexual assault was not among the obstacles I encountered in my desire to fully live my life, in spite of my childhood.

Until last year, that is, when I became another statistic. Another survivor of CSA who experienced re-victimisation, re-traumatisation, and is now on the long, long road to getting my life back. Again.

I’m reminded here of the Twitter hash tag “ Not all men.” Intended to counter generalisations about men’s behavior, the phrase has been criticized for deflecting conversations from uncomfortable topics, such as sexual assault. Whenever women write and speak about our negative experiences with men, someone inevitably chimes in, “Not all men are like that.” I’ve said it myself, because I’m wary of the stereotyping that is inevitable with gender-based arguments, and I don’t like it when it’s used against women. At the same time, there’s no doubt the phrase is used to derail and distract. Instead of a discussion about sexual assault it becomes a brawl about “not all men do it.” I don’t know how we circumvent this, unless we replace the word “men” with “predators,” when we’re talking about male perpetrated violence against women.

There’s no doubt that not all men are predatory, and the men I encountered for decades posed no threat to me.


Eerily, the circumstances of last year’s sexual assault almost exactly replicated scenes from my childhood. I continue to be tormented by the possibility that the man had sufficient knowledge about my history to make this deliberate, rather than coincidental. I have written about my childhood in some detail on this blog, and in my PhD, which is online and easily accessible. In fact, at our second meeting the man asked me about my childhood abuse, and it was after I’d briefly answered that he made his first sexual overture.

I’ve never found it easy to speak of those childhood events. Writing, though, is another experience altogether. Writing allows me to make some kind of order from the chaos of that time, and bring the fragments of myself back together into something approaching a whole. We are nothing if not story, and the urge to have our story make sense to us is a powerful one. There’s a necessary discipline in autobiographical writing that allows the author to stand back from the immediate rawness of her own narrative. She becomes an observer and recorder, a witness, bearing testament to her own self. These are skills I acquired to help save myself from annihilation by the dark magnitude of sexual abuse. Stepping back, while at the same time never letting go of her, that child who couldn’t say no.


The assault last year took place in a car parked in a secluded area, one of my stepfather’s settings of choice when I was a child. I had gone to considerable lengths to ensure that situation, one that had occurred with this man on two previous occasions, was not repeated. The present-day experiences had left me struggling with a crippling distress I didn’t recognise, couldn’t analyse, and had no desire to repeat. I told the man I had been distressed by the sexual encounters in the car, and I didn’t want to do it again. He responded by assuring me that he never wanted to do anything that distressed me, and that the manner in which we next met was entirely up to me. He agreed when I said our next meeting would be in public, and there would be no intimate contact. I resolved that I would use that meeting to end the relationship.

Unfortunately, the man did not respect our agreement, and without any attempt to renegotiate the terms of engagement, drove me to a secluded place. I think it was when I realised he was unnecessarily driving me somewhere that I first began to feel a vague unease. But I had no reason to distrust him. Rather, I distrusted my own feelings.


Traumatic events can lead to extremes of remembering and forgetting. The events may be remembered with intense vividness, or deeply repressed. Often there’s a combination of both. Traumatic events can remain fixed in the memory just as they occurred, their intensity unassuaged by the passage of time and experience. The extreme emotional arousal experienced in such a situation may account for the unique nature of traumatic memory, as the body’s chemical response to terror interferes with normal memory function.

I had never experienced flashbacks to do with the specific childhood circumstance of my stepfather’s car, though I have over the years struggled with them in other settings. They became increasingly infrequent, until I almost never experienced them at all. The emotional scaffolding of traumatic memory was, I believed, sufficiently disassembled after years of hard work in and out of therapy, and I was free.


I didn’t like how I’d felt about the sexual encounters in the car with the man. They felt demeaning, but I initially attributed those feelings to the adolescent and unsatisfactory nature of such encounters that I wouldn’t expect, as a mature woman with a long and satisfying partnership behind her, to enjoy.

However, I had not in my life thus far experienced anything that might trigger memories of my stepfather’s sexual assaults on me in his car. I remember on one or two occasions in my life being a passenger in a car with leather seats. The smell of those seats nauseated me, and caused me a strange emotional discomfort, but it wasn’t until years later I remembered my stepfather’s car had leather seats, and I was able to make the connection.

What was necessary for the trigger to become fully operational was that the experience be forced upon me. The unease that started up as the man drove away from where we were supposed to be, became the silent terror I endured when my stepfather picked me up from my boarding school and drove me somewhere I did not want to go, to do things I did not want to do. I was unable even to ask the man where he was going. Already I’d lost touch with the present, and the process of being engulfed by the past had, unbeknown to me, begun.


Trigger. There’s a term with its fair share of controversy. Last year, in the US, there were demands across many university campuses for trigger warnings to be attached to all manner of texts, so that students would know in advance that some of them contained material that might cause distress. The term “trigger warning’ first appeared in feminist spaces to alert women that topics such as sexual abuse and other forms of violence against women were discussed in these spaces, at times graphically, to give them the opportunity to choose not to go there. Fair enough. This makes sense. However, things got rather out of hand, for mine, when students demanded The Great Gatsby be marked with a trigger warning, and various other kinds of, for mine, silly demands that, like the “not all men” claim, serves to derail and distract from the very serious matters of discussions of violence against women, and the provision of opportunities for women to speak out, in detail if we wish, about what has been done to our bodies, our minds and our hearts. There is a dark world of difference between feeling uncomfortable or disturbed by confronting scenes in literature, and experiencing a flashback.

What is a trigger, then? It’s smell, sight, sound, taste, touch, a circumstance that particularly evokes the memory of a past traumatic event. It results in a flashback that returns the victim to the original trauma, with all the intensity and immediacy of the initial experience. Obviously, triggers are unique to the individual survivor.

A flashback can be visual, when traumatic events are vividly re-seen by the mind’s eye. It can be experienced entirely in the body, with no visual component. The body has its own memories, stored in all its secret places.

The flashback can consist entirely of feelings, with no images attached to them. For me, it is generally the latter, accompanied by bodily sensations. I rarely visualise. I am flooded with overwhelming and chaotic emotions that make no sense in the present, and that paralyse me. I feel a sensation of extreme cold in my belly, and I tremble at my core. My legs feel unusually weak, and I fear they won’t work. Terror dominates, and keeps me physically locked in place. All this is concealed. There are no overt manifestations. As a child I knew I couldn’t show any fear or resistance. I had to comply, while inside me the terror roared and swirled.

These are the things that happened to me last year with the man in the car. It was as if the two earlier encounters were preparatory rumbles, and this third one, compounded by the shock and disbelief of his profound betrayal, his abduction of me against our agreement and my firmly expressed wishes, unleashed the full force of traumatic memory. I could do and say nothing. I couldn’t refuse, and I couldn’t resist. I complied.

The intensity was such that eventually I became numbed, and dissociated. I watched myself take his penis in my mouth and suck until he came, just as I’d done with my stepfather. I saw the leaves of the trees through the windscreen, just as I’d done with my stepfather. I felt nothing, and I felt, chaotically, everything. He moaned, like my stepfather. He even said, repeatedly, “We’re not really doing this,” a phrase so reminiscent of my stepfather’s order that I forget what had happened and tell no one that to this day, I feel shaken by the coincidence.

I told no one for almost twelve months.


My stepfather, though a violent man in other areas of family life, was never violent with me sexually. Rather he wanted to be a lover, and he wanted me to respond in kind. The man was not violent either. He wanted to be my lover, and he wanted me to respond in kind. They wanted me to enjoy them, and to enjoy myself. I’ve often thought that this deeply corrupted message of “love” and apparent consideration for my enjoyment in circumstances that make enjoyment inconceivable, has messed with my head to such a degree that I will never entirely clear myself of its corruption. They walked softly, and carried the big stick of love and harm made one. They saw me only as a means to their end.

This is characteristic of predators. They are unable to distinguish between love and great harm, and so they perpetrate the latter, while proclaiming the former. There is no firm ground left for you to stand on, once you’ve encountered ambiguities of that complexity.


As a child I found solace in books, and in music. Later, I found writing. Against all odds I became a reasonably accomplished pianist, I think because when I sat at the piano in some unaccountable way my body became mine again, through the music I made. At every possible opportunity I hid myself away in a practice room, and played. There was an ageing nun at my boarding school who liked to sit beside me, and knit black mittens while she listened. Her presence was comforting, though we rarely spoke more than a few words.

A few weeks ago, struggling with after-effects over which I have little control, I felt a powerful desire to play the piano again, as I haven’t for years. In a fine piece of serendipity a woman round the corner had a piano she didn’t want anymore, and now it’s mine. I have much of my old music, kept since girlhood. When it arrived, I approached the instrument with a great deal of trepidation. What if I couldn’t play anymore?

My fingers are stiff and inflexible, compared to how they used to be. I’m starting with scales and arpeggios. Yet even as I fumble I feel the return of the mysterious force that moves through my fingers and connects my body to the source of sound. I hear the musical possibilities in the mundane and repetitive notes of a scale. I feel the joy of making sound, the satisfaction, humble as the sound I make is. I can’t resist attempting to play a simple piece, though I hear my teacher’s voice telling me I’m not ready yet. A sweet arabesque, and to my delight the fingering comes back to me, it’s still there after all these years, another kind of memory triggered by an altogether different set of circumstances, a welcome memory, a memory that reminds me who I am, and what I can still be.

When you can’t say no, you have no freedom, no agency. You’re anybody’s victim. When you write, when you play music, when you read the text you act with agency, you exercise your freedom. You are a human being, no longer only a means to another’s end.


Next week, we are expecting our newest family member, who we already know is a little girl. Today I bought pink rompers for her, then I said to her mother on the phone, I had to buy just one pink thing, I don’t know why, I don’t believe in all that stupid stuff, I’m not buying one more pink thing, I swear, just this one.

I want to be here to help teach her everything she needs to know.

I want to be here to read to her.

I want to be here to teach her how to play the piano, should she be so inclined.

I want to be here. That is all.



To thine own self be true

1 Sep



Last night I saw the Bell Shakespeare production of Hamlet, with Josh McConville in the lead role, stealing all the thunder.

As we drove home, we rather sheepishly admitted to one another that we’d both thought at points during the performance, ah! That line would do well for Tony Abbott! And that one for Dyson Heydon! And that one for the entire Labor Party. Which is, when you think about it, a double tragedy in itself: that we are so immersed in current politics we can’t watch Hamlet without reference to them, and that those politics are of such a hysterically dramatic  and comedic nature, they lend themselves to the centuries-old utterances of the imaginary inhabitants of the rotten state of a fictional Denmark.

Of course this is an aspect of Shakespeare’s genius. Capturing the timelessness of emotion and its multitude of expressions, particularly, in this play, through politics both public and private.

The production was comedic, more so than any production I’ve seen, and it worked remarkably well. Hamlet is the blackest of black comedies, with a rapid-cycling central character possessed of a sharp wit, honed by grief and rage, intent on revenge, maddened by betrayal, cruel in his torment, unspeakably savage to the hapless Ophelia, who loves him. The scenes of Hamlet’s emotional and at times physical savagery towards Ophelia are awful to watch. He raves, frothing, then grabs her crotch in a gesture drenched in both violent contempt and desperate desire, as she, poor girl, attempts to protect herself from forces beyond her comprehension. Then he kills her father. Swine.

For a modern audience, Shakespeare’s ability to leap without warning from the comedic to the tragic to the farcical is a little disconcerting: we’re used to consuming our entertainment in discrete categories and when it is dished up complex, it’s more likely to be found in lengthy television series such as The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, both of which, for mine, are Shakespearean in their mastery of emotional complexity. So it’s a tad challenging to cope with such variety in a period of two hours, and I admire Elizabethan audiences for their stamina.

This morning I found in my inbox the following pome from lovely M. I woke up with Ophelia on my mind, thinking she had so little voice, so little agency, and I wanted another ending for her rather than suicide in the river. While the pome doesn’t give her the outcome I’d have chosen I think it is an interesting one, and the last stanza is perfect, opening up another aspect of Hamlet’s complexity not explored in the play. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. 



By Susan B. Anthony Somers-Willett

The air tonight is thick as curry;
like every night this summer I could cut it
with my wine glass, spray it with mace.
Over and over it would heal together
like a wound, follow my click and pace of heels
down Conti Street, St. Ann, Bourbon.

Oh Hamlet, if you could see me now
as I pump and swagger across that stage, cape dripping to the floor,
me in three-inch heels and a technicolor G-string—
you would not wish me in a convent.
They’ve made me a queen here, married me off
to a quarter bag and a pint of gin.

The old men tend bark and splatter, rabid
at each table. I think they stay up all night
just to spite the moon. They bring their diseased
mouths to the French Market in the morning,
sell Creole tomatoes to tourists who don’t know
what they are. Each bald head shines plump and red.

It seems like so long ago that I modeled
for those legs outside of Big Daddy’s—
the ones over the door that swing in, out, in, out—
the sculptor made me painted as Mardi Gras.
I thought you might recognize them if you ever passed
with the boys, parading from Abbey to Tavern,
or think them royal feet in need of slippers.

Someday I expect to find you here,
sitting at the table between the first and second rows,
fingering bones or something worse.
And in the end you will throw me a columbine,
light me a Marlboro and take me to a 24-7 where
jukebox light quivers, makes us as thin as ghosts.

But for now, I will dance for the fat man
who sits in your place and sweats his love for me at 3 a.m.,
because only he knows I am Horatio in drag.

Susan B. A. Somers-Willett, “Ophelia’s Technicolor G-String: An Urban Mythology” from Roam. Copyright © 2006 by Susan B. A. Somers-Willett.










If you think she’s less human because of what she wears, you’ve got the problem not her.

31 Aug

Sexualisation of girls


There’s an article in The Conversation this morning titledSexualised girls are seen as less intelligent and less worthy of help than their peers.

The piece is the result of a study conducted with the goal of ascertaining if adults are as condemning of “sexualised” girls as they are of “sexualised” women. “Sexualised” in this instance refers to the clothing girls and women are wearing.

The conclusion is yes, study participants perceived girls in sexualised clothing as less moral, less intelligent, and less worthy of care and concern than are their less sartorially “sexualised” peers. This mirrors societal attitudes to “sexualised” women, attitudes that can determine, for example, empathy or lack of it for women and girls who are rape victims. This empathy can be considerably reduced if the victim is perceived as immoral, unintelligent, and even deserving of rape if she was wearing “sexualised” clothing at the time.

“Sexualised” women and girls are perceived as less human than the non-sexualised, as objects lacking in intelligence and up for use and abuse, and as more likely to be responsible for sexual assaults perpetrated upon them.

While I have no doubt that the study is accurately reporting its findings on society’s perceptions of women and girls,  it seems to me the problem is not the clothes we wear, rather the problem is society’s attitudes towards us.  These attitudes and perceptions remain unchallenged by the authors of the study, indeed the study appears to be assuming such attitudes are inevitable and  acceptable, and that women and girls must conform to them by policing what we wear.

The entire notion of “sexualisation” is born from a repressive and unhealthy attitude to sex, and to women who enjoy our sexuality, and who dress in ways considered to emphasise our sexuality. There is absolutely nothing wrong with us enjoying our sexuality and dressing how we like. What is wrong is a societal assumption that we are immoral, less human, and deserving of rape if we do.

Obviously there must be something inherently dodgy about sex, if women are deserving of punishment for overtly expressing enjoyment of our sexuality.

There is no question that given societal attitudes, it’s hideously perverted to dress young girls in the same way. It should come as no surprise to anyone that if young girls are dressed in a “sexualised” manner, there are adults who will perceive them as potentially objects for sexual gratification, and not much use for anything else.

However. What opponents of “sexualisation” consistently avoid or overlook, is that dressing girls and women in garments considered modest will do absolutely nothing to change a dominating perception of overt female sexuality as immoral, dangerous and an indicator of sub-humanity and low intelligence. This perception will persist, no matter what women and girls wear, and this is what urgently needs to be challenged and changed, not some bits of cloth in which we clad or omit to clad ourselves.

Look to those doing the “sexualising” if you want attitudes to women and girls to change. You can wrap us in burqas and they’ll find a way to “sexualise” us. People who perceive women and girls as sexual objects are the problem, and will remain the problem.

Why the hell should we be called upon to repress ourselves because of their brutish ignorance?

And why don’t the authors of studies such as this one in The Conversation turn their attention to the cause, rather than the symptom?


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