Tag Archives: Feminism

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?







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.


Elite feminism. Enough, already.

24 Oct



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.





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



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.



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

27 Sep



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?


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