Tag Archives: Women

Dear You

1 Nov

Georgia O'Keefe

I don’t know if you still visit here.  There are times I hope that you do, because of the extraordinary phone call we had the day you rang me in such fury and distress about your husband’s affair with me and its aftermath. When we stopped shouting we talked about so many intimate things and I find it remarkable, given our circumstances, that we found any trust at all in one another.

That trust fluctuates on my part. I don’t know you. I know you are protecting your husband from my fury and I don’t like that. He should deal with the mess. That’s what I told my husband. Deal with the mess you’ve made, I’m not saving you from its consequences. If she wants to scream at you it’s the least you can let her do, I told him. If I was her I’d poke your fucking eyes out, I said. Maybe I will anyway, I said.

I’ve no time for men who hide behind women like little kids clinging to their mother’s skirts. Raising boys can do that to a woman. When you’ve got them to adulthood you really don’t want to be taking on another man-child.

Anyway.

I think about you every day, and wonder how you are, and if you have anyone you talk to about these events. I wonder if you want us to talk again, and if that would help us or not. You sound brave. You sound strong. I imagine you always putting up a good front. I imagine how shocked and hurt you must be about what he and I have done to all our lives. I still can’t grasp how he has caused so much devastation to two women who love him, and whom he says he loves. It makes me wonder just what he thinks love means. Not that I’d know, love’s manifestations are apparently  infinite, and who hasn’t been beguiled by them at one time or another.

There are times I hope you aren’t visiting here. What you’d read could only make you feel worse. Perhaps you think I shouldn’t write about these things, but I’m a writer and writers are cannibals, we devour our own kind, digest them, and expel them out on the page.

I’ve kept back details that might give clues to his identity, which means there’s much I haven’t written about the genesis of the affair. It hasn’t done me any good to be reticent about this, and I’ve only done it for you. I don’t actually care if the entire world finds out who he is and the shitty things he’s done to both of us, but you don’t deserve that much exposure.

I only ever dreamt about him once or twice, but I dreamt about you a lot, or the woman my unconscious imagined you to be. I’d be at your house and we’d be talking, and walking round the garden. He’d be a shadowy presence in the background, sometimes asleep, a figure I’d see as I walked past his bedroom door, huddled under his blankets, nothing of him visible, a shape in a bed. All the energy was between you and me, and it was amicable and warm. I’d wake up thinking, what is this about, it’s bloody unnerving to be dreaming like this about my lover’s wife, there’s something going wrong with my head. Then after we talked I thought, she sounds exactly like I dreamed her.

He once asked me if I dreamed about him and I said not much, but I dream about your wife a lot.

I don’t know what he made of that.

 

He felt guilty all the time, he said. Guilty about me, guilty about you, guilty about the family he was putting at risk. Guilt is such a useless emotion, I told him. It rarely stops people doing what they want to do. It doesn’t do anything to help the people they hurt. It just exists inside the guilty party’s head and they think it means that deep down they’re good, just because they feel guilty.

Guilt didn’t stop him telling me to “remember my hips between your thighs” while you sat in another room crying because he was talking to me on the phone and you knew he was.

 ∫

 I was a complete failure at being a mistress. The demeaning limitations of that role almost destroyed me. I can’t imagine anyone who could be worse at it than me.  I would say to myself, I love him, I can do this, and cripple my nature for another day. His need of me overwhelmed me. I learned very early in life to respond to the needs of men before my own. You don’t have any choice in the matter when you’re a child and then the pattern is set, you don’t even recognise it and when you do, breaking out of it is the work of a lifetime. If there’s anything good for me in this sorry situation, it’s that I’m coming to understand how what I think of as love is distorted by the obligations imposed on me as a child. I thought I had all this sorted. Obviously I didn’t. Because honestly, no matter how attracted I’d been to him, I’d have done nothing if he hadn’t been in a state of desperate need, and begged me for me.

I’m not a feminist who believes in a sisterhood because we all have vaginas. I am a feminist who can see the politics of the miserable configuration in which we find ourselves.

If it’s any consolation to you, I am still a fucking mess and don’t expect that to change anytime soon. At the same time, I realise that your pain must be excruciating, and what’s more, you have to see him every day and find some way of living with him. He said to me after you’d found out, You are crying on the phone, my wife is crying in the next room, this is impossible. Did you think we’d fucking get over it in five minutes, I shouted. Don’t you realise the impact of this on us?

I don’t think he had a clue, really.

I am here if you want. I understand if you don’t. I won’t stop thinking about you and wondering how you are. I never imagined I would be part of bringing so much hurt into another woman’s life.

Oh, I found my music. It is yellowed, and there are silverfish.  I think it is too late for me to think of a piano. But I often imagine you playing yours.

Jennifer.

Quint Buccholz Two

The cupboard under the stairs

29 Oct

A combination of illness and heart carnage has resulted in weight loss that has seen me holding myself together for the last few months with safety pins, and belts with new holes gouged in them by Mrs Chook’s screwdrivers. I knew that somewhere I had a store of thin clothes but I’ve lacked the energy and interest to look for them. I always hurl everything I don’t immediately need into a vast cupboard under the stairs that has no adequate lighting so a torch is required, or one of those reading lights that fit around the head. Having light doesn’t stop me forgetting that at some point I can no longer stand up in the cupboard, and I always crack my head on a beam. Nothing is stored in any kind of order so I have to trawl through all kinds of stuff to find the one thing I need. The whole process drives me mad, but seeing as I couldn’t stand safety pins for another day, I had to do it. I found my thin clothes, which are probably vintage by now but that’s all right, vintage is good, it’s like having a new wardrobe, and the pleasure of wearing something that actually fits me is great.

In the cupboard I found my husband and me a long time ago on Bondi Beach

Arnie and me

Arnie was a very unobservant Jew, except for Passover feasts which he loved, but I never acquired a taste for gefilte fish and matzah ball soup and fortunately, he delighted in cooking them. He loved as well getting into vigorous arguments with the man from Jews for Jesus up at Bondi Junction, and if he could, he’d bale up the Hasidic Jews who lived round the corner from us and have a robust exchange with them about the Talmud. Very occasionally he would go to the synagogue, and in his seventies he started Hebrew classes. I used to say he was conflicted about his tribe, to which he invariably responded “Ah, conflicted, schmicted,” with a rabbinical shrug. When I first met my mother-in-law in Hartford, Connecticut, she said, “For a shiksa, you’re a doll.” He always said that when we die we become energy in the universe. I don’t know in which part of the universe he has become energy, but I hope I can find him.

I discovered all kinds of things in my rummaging, including Mexican kitsch I’d forgotten all about. While living there a few years ago I became fond of the Virgin of Guadalupe, not least because she is also known as the Woman of the Apocalypse, “clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” I found her on a handbag in a market

Virgin bag

I found her in another market on earrings made from beer bottle tops

virgin earrings two

I found her on a postcard that I’ve put in a frame beside my bed

virgin photo

I found her on matchboxes and scarves, and in beaten tin that I’ve hung on the sitting room wall where she can watch over me while I sleep on the couch. She comforts me, and there are times in life when we must take our comfort wherever we can find it.

virgin guadalupe

Then I found my hair, cut off when I was twelve

Hair aged 12

And then I found this

In labour

The child I gave birth to that April day is now the father of these two

farm boys

And after being in that cupboard I like to fancy that we are all women of the apocalypse, clothed with the sun, and the moon under our feet, and upon our heads a crown of twelve stars, and if I can remember that when I go into the universe perhaps my husband will find me, and I won’t even have to look for him.

What a woman wants, what a woman needs…

28 Feb

Yesterday I visited a place on the NSW south coast that once served as a sanctuary, a place to which I fled after an almost terminal encounter with cancer left my whole being drastically weakened, terrified to live and equally terrified to die. Daily life had become impossible, I no longer knew how to fulfil its expectations. I needed solitude, away from city life, I needed to escape the claims and demands of human interaction, even with those I loved and who loved me, and I needed this so desperately I think I might have physically attacked anyone who tried to hold me in place. Fortunately, nobody did, I was reluctantly let go when I promised to allow visits, as long as nobody stayed too long, and how long was ‘too long’ was to be determined by me.

DSCN0892

It was also fortunate that we owned a caravan behind the sand dunes on a largely deserted beach. You can’t live in a caravan, they said. You can’t live there all by yourself, you’ve been so sick, look at you, you have no hair and all your bones are showing. Fuck off, of course I can, I told them, unkindly. Any attempt at what I perceived as thwarting me made me frantically distressed, as if I was being pinned down by a body stronger and more powerful than mine that I had to fight off, or suffocate.

The caravan was in one of those old-fashioned parks where families spent their holidays year after year for as long as anyone could remember. When I arrived, exhausted from the four-hour drive and the emotion of goodbyes, the place was largely empty, being out of holiday season and in the middle of autumn. It was cold. The south coast climate is at best fickle, I have known us wrapped in sweaters and blankets on Christmas Day. The caravan, unoccupied for months during my illness and initial recovery, was musty and damp, a habitat for spiders and insects. The day was overcast, adding to the gloom, and while our spot beside the creek in a grove of melaleucas was idyllic, it allowed for little light under such a low grey sky. I had a panic attack. I couldn’t stay in the spider-infested gloom. I couldn’t go back to our light-filled Bondi Beach home where I suffered anxiety attacks every time I went out the front door into the neighbourhood I had, prior to my illness, loved to inhabit, with its cafes where I met my friends, ate weekend breakfasts with my husband and whoever else happened by, where we swam or walked the winter beach hand in hand talking as we always did with such energy and delight, even at the times we disagreed with practically everything the other said.

DSCN0889

After the cancer, I couldn’t talk about anything anymore. The ongoing blows inflicted by the illness, so unexpected, so unpredictable, they seemed unending in their variety and persistence. After cancer is a time largely underestimated in its power to disrupt. Generally, people think you ought to be relieved, happy you got away with it this time, determined to embark on a recovery regime that will get you back in the swim of things just like you were before. In reality, at least for me, it’s when the horror of the experience actually hits home, something that is impossible when you’re going through the treatments and your world has become medicalised to the extent that it overwhelms all other realities. Post cancer, every little twinge in your body is noted with alarm: is it coming back? For months I woke in the night drenched in sweat, from nightmares the details of which I could never remember, and a debilitating weariness dogged my days. There was nothing that did not leave me exhausted, and tearful. I couldn’t manage all this, and human beings as well.

I walked along this same beach yesterday, under a similar low, soft grey sky, the familiar smell of kelp, the haunting cries of seagulls, the gritty south coast sand between my toes. At the end of my beach there’s a broken wooden jetty where I used to lie on my stomach, peering intently at the stingrays gliding through the clear water beneath me. The rhythm of those days and weeks and months of solitude came back to me. In the mornings waking up sweat-soaked and panicked, climbing out of my single bunk bed to make tea on the gas stove, cold, even if the day was warm, because what I remember from those months is how I could never warm myself, even under piles of blankets, even in the hottest sun, it was as if I had a frigid core that nothing could reach, it was as if I had entirely lost my previously automatic ability to regulate even my body temperature. The trembling of my body, most especially my thighs, and the cold sweat drying on my skin. The fear of moving. The terror of putting one foot in front of the other. The utter loss of everything ordinary.

My husband and my adolescent children would visit and though I loved to see them, the relief I felt at their departure, at the resumption of my solitude, made me ashamed. I remembered yesterday the feeling of my starved gulping, my greedy devouring of nourishment not from my loved ones whom I invariably felt I had to reassure, but from the solitude of the natural world in which I was immersed. That was my healing. My guilt at abandoning them was great. But my need to be alone in this wild landscape overwhelmed it. I wanted nothing except what I needed to stay alive, some books, some music. The hurt I caused them did not become fully apparent till some years later when my eldest son, beside himself with unexpressed distress from that whole period of our lives, shouted at me, You didn’t need any of us! You just left us! You didn’t let us help you, you are such a fucking loner, Mum, you don’t fucking need anybody!

Which left me speechless. And reaching out for him and he came into my arms, grown up, so much bigger than me, and sobbed.

DSCN0891

I don’t know how it is for others, but I’ve always had a dreadful struggle between what I need for myself, and what others need from me, and what I want to give them because I love them. Sometimes I think I will die if I don’t have time absolutely alone. Sometimes I cannot bear to engage in one more conversation about, essentially, nothing, the kind of conversations that make up so much of our daily discourse, the words that serve to weave the binding threads between people, and that is their purpose. Sometimes I think if I am not able to sit in silence in the natural world for as long as I need to, I will start breaking things. It’s as if the healing never really finishes, needs to be topped up from time to time with a return to the inner self who increasingly becomes more solid, more real, than any outer persona and whose needs are so far from anything found in the everyday world with its constructed conventions, and its claims that largely require almost incessant, low-intensity interactions for their fulfilment.

For a woman to do what I did, leaving home, husband and family who cared for me through the desperate and dangerous phase of my illness, insisting on solitude rather than accepting their love was seen largely as selfish, and it was, there’s no denying that. It had a price, for all of us, but yesterday I understood that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong or frightening about paying a price for something deeply desired, these are deals we strike every day, choices made, choices rejected, and almost every one of them has some effect on someone to a greater or lesser degree. I still don’t know, after all this time in this life, how much I am allowed to take for myself, how much selfishness I am allowed, how many choices I may make that cause another hurt or discomfort, how responsible I must be for protecting another from disruption in the pursuit of my own desires and needs. With every situation this must be weighed up anew, and I have made some horrible errors. It seems that the important thing is that I continue to bother to attempt these fraught calculations, even though my sums may be dreadfully wrong. I hope that is the case, though I don’t expect I shall ever know.

Quint Buchholz. lemaze-studio.com

Quint Buchholz. lemaze-studio.com

All about women

9 Apr

“All About Women” was the title given to a day of feminist conversation and debate between women about women, at the Sydney Opera House on April 7.

Aside: I understand Bob Ellis inveigled his way onto some panel or other, on the topic of whether or not men can be feminists. He took the opportunity to reveal that he has not had sex with his wife since 1966. (CORRECTION. APPARENTLY ELLIS SAID HE HAS NOT SLEPT WITH HIS WIFE SINCE 1966) In either case, whether he believes this makes him a feminist or not I don’t care to contemplate.

I’m all for women gathering to discuss ideas and exchange views, however I did get more than a little infuriated by the title of this event.

For as long as I’ve been a feminist (or an anti-feminist as some would have it) I’ve complained, and the women I associate with have complained, about what I will term “the patriarchy” and its offensive tendency to refer to us as “women” much as one refers to “cows” or “chickens” or “fish.” That is, as if we are an homogenous group with no individual characteristics, who all think the same, desire the same, and act the same because we have breasts and vaginas.

Take, for example, Freud’s infamous question “What do women want?” asked as if we are not individual women but Woman, the planet’s largest hive mind, and there really is one thing, if only Dr Freud could have found it, that would solve Man’s problems with us.

My feminist friends and I have expended much energy over the years in an effort to educate the patriarchy in the unacceptability of dehumanising half the human race by referring to us as one being.

So understandably, I was enraged when I learned that a feminist wordfest had been given the title “All About Women.”

There must be an inherent and entirely unexamined sense of privilege and entitlement  at work, to allow any woman to consider that anything she has to say can be extrapolated to all women.

What the title does is refer us yet again to an elite feminism that claims these days to be feminism. And it seems to me this kind of feminism has taken an unfortunate turn in its abandonment of first principles. We are not a hive mind. We are not “women” or “Woman.” We are complex and individualised human beings with an infinite number of concerns,ambitions, desires, sorrows and griefs. If leading feminists have become so damn lazy they’ve forgotten that, then we need new leaders.

“All about some women” is admittedly not quite as catchy as is the universal, but it is a good deal more honest.

woman

Elite feminism. Who is it good for?

1 Apr

This piece by Anne Summers on women in government sent me to Twitter with the question “Can Anne Summers explain to me the advantage of having a conservative female PM over a conservative male PM?”

There isn’t an answer to that question unless you are a fanatic, which Summers seems to increasingly become on the matter of Julia Gillard, and then the only answer is, vagina.

It might be worth noting that all the women ministers remained loyal to Gillard in the attempted coup on her leadership, Summers writes. Although a few female members of caucus supported Kevin Rudd (and were willing to be filmed with him while he spoke after the meeting where Gillard was re-elected unopposed), there were no women in the key group of plotters. Nor did any women resign as a result.

An act of double treason, then, that the females who supported Rudd were willing to be filmed with him as well? They should have hidden their allegiances, perhaps, not flaunted them, standing by his side?

Is this an example of gender solidarity, Ms Summers muses. Except of course for the women, (are they real women?) who legged it to Rudd’s camp. And how to explain that failure?

This is an aspect of feminism, increasingly dominant, that I find, well, I don’t think repulsive is too strong a word. It affects me viscerally, as is required of true repulsion. The concept that female genitals correlate with good governance is dangerous in so many ways I don’t even know where to begin. Surely such a gendered concept is one women have been fighting against for centuries now? Surely it is the very cornerstone of patriarchy? 

Just what these women in government are achieving for women not in government is not immediately clear. Indeed, for many single mothers the change to Newstart, for example, is nothing short of disastrous (so much for gender solidarity). I’m informed on Twitter when I voice objections to this obscenity, it was John Howard’s legislation.

This confuses me. We are supporting our first female Labor Prime Minister, even when she perpetuates John Howard’s policies?

The Gillard government’s record on asylum seekers? Makes me want Howard back. Same-sex marriage? ‘Twas Howard who changed the Marriage Act to prevent this, & despite her party supporting a reversal of Howard’s meddling to allow same-sex nuptials, Prime Minister Gillard will have no truck with it.

But that’s all right, because, vagina.

Of course women must participate in government, and at the highest levels. But why I am supposed to support women whose policies I despise, just because women, is beyond me. This “Rah rah ra! Women are in power!” stuff shits me to tears.

It is a particularly middle class, privileged feminism that spares little thought for women who do not inhabit its exclusive clubs. It is offensively self-congratulatory. It is dishonest. It is distorted. And outside of its immediate rarified circles, I can’t see what good it does anybody.

We did once hope that when women got to the top they would take care of their sisters. Which, come to think of it, is just as naive and dangerous as Ms Summer’s position.

Flower of Life. Georgia O'Keeffe

Flower of Life. Georgia O’Keeffe

Sexualisation in the city

24 Sep

 

This extended stay in the city has brought me into much closer proximity with many more human beings than is normally the case, living as I do in a tiny village in a rainforest girt by sea and the mighty Clarence river.

Even living at Bondi Beach doesn’t do as much as one might imagine to relieve the constant pressure of humanity and its leavings, given the domination of buildings and people overwhelming the landscape, but even so I’d rather be here than inland.

Sometimes at home, sitting in my feckin Swedish chair in my peaceful work room from which at night I can hear the sea, I wondered if the entire sexualisation of women and girls moral panic might be passing me by, simply because I didn’t see enough. I was protected from intrusive advertising in public spaces, and most of all, from the observation of women and girls in great numbers going about their daily lives dressed as they saw fit.

Perhaps it’s because Bondi, but there’s a lot of very tiny very tight shorts  about. What I think when I see them is oh my gods, that must hurt you are cutting off the blood supply your lady bits will atrophy what about thrush there’s no air in there doesn’t it chafe when you move…and then I remember in my twenties and thirties lying flat on my back on my bed so I could zip up jeans that sat just as snugly. I remember wearing very short skirts and midriff tops even in a London winter. I remember a period of shoe fetish when I teetered about on stilettos holding babies, a practice that ought to be forbidden for the babies’ sakes. It was fun. It was costuming. But it wasn’t “sexualising.” “Sexualising” was what was done to me as a child through sexual abuse.  There is a world of difference.

There’s a good piece on what sexualisation is and isn’t here by Ray at the Novel Activist blog.

Young women in revealing clothing are not “sexualising” themselves.  They may indeed wish to look sexy. Whether they succeed or not is entirely in the eye of the beholder but the desire to look sexually attractive is perfectly normal for a young woman. How she performs her sexual power is largely dictated by the dominant social customs of the day, and I don’t think those customs have changed dramatically in the last few decades. They remain as restricted and unimaginative as ever.

To the moral campaigners a display of flesh signifies their concept of  a prostitute, and to them, there’s little worse than a prostitute. They fail to see that displaying flesh is not automatically offering that flesh for sale or use, and in their failure, they mimic the consciousness of rapists and sexual abusers. Healthy people don’t assume that a young girl wearing short shorts is offering herself for sex. Healthy people know there’s a good deal more involved in navigating a sexual encounter than mere apparel, and they know that mutual and agreement are the key words, no matter what a woman is wearing.

What the moral campaigners want is that women take responsibility for controlling male sexual desire by not provoking it with our flesh. They’d be more useful if instead they put their considerable energies to work in campaigns that focus on educating boys to become men who take responsibility for their own sexual desires, and how they enact and gratify them.

If it is true that young women feel obliged to sexually service young men to a degree previously unheard of, then surely we need to be better educating our boys in sexual manners, rather than wringing our hands about our girls’ short shorts.

Sex is everywhere and why that should surprise anyone I don’t know. It is a powerful, dominating human force. Of course it is everywhere. Of course the majority of humanity is interested in sex. Of course sex sells. Of course women and men want to be sexually attractive. I mean, get over it.

In my utopia we’d be educating girls and boys about sex at school and at home as soon as they showed an interest. We’d be preparing them for the overwhelming nature of sexual feelings and emotions. We’d be accepting the role sex plays in our own lives and passing that acceptance on to our young, and we’d be doing it without guilt and shame.

Covering the female body is not going to achieve a thing. The campaigners are very noisily barking up the wrong tree, and from what I can see around me, nobody much is listening to them.

 

More Abbott on women: equality is “folly” ‘cos biology.

11 Aug

It would be folly to expect that women would ever approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, their abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons.  Tony Abbott

As recently as 2010, Tony Abbott was given the opportunity to elaborate on the above statement and to withdraw it, if it no longer represents his views on women. He did neither, so I can only conclude he continues to hold these biologistic views about women’s potential.

I wonder if Abbott extends his beliefs on biological determinism and inequality to any group other than women?  It seems unlikely that someone holding to that ideology would only apply its doctrines to sexual difference.

What are these “large number of areas” in which women can never have equal representation, cos vagina? The only one I can think of is being a sexist dick.

Abbott reveals in this statement his belief that difference is a barrier to equality. Women can never be equal to him because we are biologically different from him. Only those who are biologically the same as him are his equals. Ergo, all others are in some way lesser beings.

Does he apply this theory to skin colour as well as genitals?

The prospect of a leader of this country who holds views that are the basis for the theory of eugenics, ought to give us all pause for thought.

Not only are women lesser beings and therefore un-entitled to desire equality, it is , according to Abbot, folly to believe that we can ever be otherwise. Foolishness. Silliness. Nonsense. Madness, even, to think that women, hampered by our biology, potential destroyed by our vaginas, can aspire to even approach equal representation in large, but unspecified numbers of areas. Areas like medicine? The law? Politics? Academia? The finance sector?

In which areas of life does having a vagina determine your ability or otherwise to think?

I don’t think Abbott is unequal to me because he’s got a penis. He’s unequal to me because he thinks owning a penis makes him superior, and that makes him a fool.

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