Archive | December, 2011

Bob Ellis: Oh, why can’t a woman be more like a man?

31 Dec

Bob Ellis is a very good writer. Like Christopher Hitchens, with whom Ellis enjoyed drinking privileges, one may not always agree with his content but his form is generally erudite and entertaining. Ellis’s review of the new film about Margaret Thatcher, “The Iron Lady”, published here at ABC The Drum, is no exception. Written with Bob’s unquenchable passion for language, it’s an eloquent review.

Unfortunately it also contains more than Ellis’s usual quota of reactionary misogynist crap, as do several of the comments he makes in response to his readers. Ellis manages to turn his review of a biopic which he feels should have been a political back room drama, into a thinking(?) bloke’s cri de couer that women ruined this movie. First of all by writing it, and second of all by not having the capacity for creating political back room drama to anything like the standard of that created by men.

While Ellis may have a point here, and political back room dramas (not always good ones) do indeed flow more easily from keyboards operated by male fingers, his explanation for this discrepancy is nothing short of insane. According to Bob, it’s because we’re female. That’s it. Our cunts govern our brains, to our everlasting detriment, and because we bleed we are “less good at disagreeing with ourselves” than are those of you who are possessed of hairy balls and pricks that produce semen (and political back room dramas) in glorious milky fountains. Sometimes.

The fact that women have not been allowed to participate in political back room life to anything like the extent and for anything like the period of time afforded to men, seems to have escaped Mr Ellis’s notice.

What is actually FAR more remarkable is that given the male domination of politics of all kinds, not just back room, there is such a paucity of good political drama available.I mean really, Ellis and those who agree with him, you’ve had centuries of experience and opportunity denied to us, in fact its only been in the last two that women have had any real input at all.

In spite of your total blokey domination of the political scene for all of human history, hardly any of you, comparatively speaking, have come up with political dramas that anyone will bother to remember. I could probably count them on my fingers and toes, plus another woman’s, and that doesn’t say much for thousands of years of male political domination, now does it?

Maybe there aren’t too many of you either who can “disagree with themselves” to the extent required for good back room political drama. Comparatively speaking. There’s a lot of male dross out there.

“The male impulse to power” Ellis claims, “is better understood, as a rule, by men.” I call bullshit, Ellis. There’s nobody understands the male impulse to power better than those whose lives are governed by it, whether they’re male or female. The male impulse to power is tragically generally NOT understood by the men who exercise it, understanding being of far less importance to such men than action, regardless of consequences. Indeed, understanding weakens this hegemonic masculinity.

The female impulse to power could be claimed to be equally misunderstood by men, usually because of the terror they experience when confronted by it. This impulse is increasingly channelled into hegemonic masculinity as more women take up influential political roles. None of this has anything to do with our cunts, and everything to do with the narrow biological imperatives imposed on us solely because we have them.

Ellis unforgivably imputes a creative intention to the writers of “The Iron Lady,” an intention that is in fact entirely his own, or would be if he’d been writing the script. Which he wasn’t. Maybe nobody asked him. How slack of them, considering he knew Maggie for three days, really really liked her legs, and was seduced by her breathless flirtatiousness. Ellis assumes it was the writers’ intention to create a back room political drama, in what could only ever be an imitative attempt to keep up with back room initiates like him. He then trashes the result, because in his book the attempt failed. He then extrapolates the trashing to the entire female sex, and says we can’t do it like they can. Because we’re women.

The more serious question here is why Ellis is compelled to frame so many of his arguments as gender wars, and more than usually stupid ones at that. A movie is not what he expects, or what he would have liked. Suddenly this is a statement about the inferiority of women, based entirely on our sex, without any context at all, political or otherwise.

Replace “women” with “Jews” or “Palestinians” or “Chinese” or “Germans.” Yes. It’s not pretty, is it.

Home

28 Dec

I’m looking for a
Home- where the wheels are turning
Home- why I keep returning
Home- where my world is breaking in two. Brian Eno & David Byrne, “Home”

The house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace…the house is a large cradle…it maintains him [sic] through the storms of the heavens and those of life. Gaston Bachelard, “The Poetics of Space”

Because it’s Xmas I’ve been thinking about home, and the devastating effects of not having one.

Homelessness takes several forms. There’s hard-core dispossession, when people literally have no roof over their heads and live on the streets. Sometimes they find a bed at a shelter for a few nights. There’s couch surfing homelessness when people move round friends and relatives’ homes in an effort to stay off the streets. There are families and single people living in cars.

There’s the homelessness of asylum seekers, dislodged from their belonging by circumstances outside of their control, seeking somewhere on earth where they can safely settle.

Then there’s living in places where you just don’t belong, such as institutions, where you are only there because you have no choice. That was my kind of homelessness from the age of fifteen.

My kind of homelessness was middle class. I had a roof over my head. The roof was that of the boarding school I’d been attending. The family I’d lived in up to that point consisted of my mother, her second husband, my stepfather, and my two little half sisters. My mother married her second husband when I was seven, and he brought us to Australia from England.

Up to that point I’d been raised by my grandparents in what seems now an almost idyllic situation. We were cash strapped – Granddad was a retired coal miner, and working as a night watchman at the gasworks. I was much-loved by him and Eleanor, my grandmother, even though they’d raised three children of their own. We had food, clothes, shelter, entertainment, and Granddad’s corgi dog. I had an uncle, and an aunt who kindly painted my tiny toenails for me by the kitchen fire when she was attending to her own. I idolized my uncle. I was safe, treasured, and kindly disciplined. I had what every child needs – a bevy of adults to take a loving interest in her. There was always someone to listen, and there was always someone to play with.  It worked for the adults as well: nobody was overburdened with sole responsibility for my well-being.

I hardly remember my mother during this time. She lived in the same house but must have been largely absent from my child’s world, as the impression she left was negligible. It didn’t matter.

It must therefore have been a great shock to me to be wrenched from that cosy world into the uncertain future offered by my stepfather and mother, both of whom were practically strangers to me, and transported to the other side of the world. Such a shock that to this day I have absolutely no memory of the parting. While she was alive, my grandmother revisited this trauma endlessly whenever we saw each other, which was rarely as we were now worlds apart, in every possible way.

My mother made an upwardly mobile marriage – her second husband was a doctor. Her first, my father, to whom she was married till I was three months old, played drums in a band. I know almost nothing about this man.I did go through a period of trying to find out, without success, and eventually I thought what the hell, the man obviously didn’t care about me and do I really want to find someone who didn’t care about me? No, I decided, and finally let it go.

The marriage took my mother out of the North Yorkshire mining town and working-class culture she loathed, to a new country and the rich possibilities of middle class professional life.

Unfortunately, her new husband was violent, abusive in every way possible, and had an eye for her seven-year old daughter. Suffice to say the next seven years of my life were a kind of hell into which I felt I had fallen through some fault of my own. Children do this. They assume responsibility for the most enormous adult events and if no one tells them otherwise, they labour under the burden for years.

The contrast between those seven years and the seven that preceded them was absolute.

At the age of almost fifteen, I revealed to one of the nuns at my Anglican boarding school just exactly what was going on in my home. Astonishingly, these intelligent, compassionate women believed me. I’d explained for them their bewilderment at my lack of scholastic progress when I clearly wasn’t stupid, my inability to sleep, my habit when I did sleep of walking and falling down the stairs, my inability to eat and thus to thrive, and my constant illnesses. Within days they had taken action. They consulted the Bishop, the Dean, and their lawyers. They summoned my mother and stepfather to the school, having first hidden me in a safe house so neither of them could see me. Lawyers, nuns, the Bishop and Dean confronted my parents, who made no attempt to deny my account of events in our house.

A deal was done. I was to be handed over to the guardianship of the nuns. I was never to go home again. My mother would be allowed to visit with me, but my stepfather must agree to never attempt to see me again, otherwise they would call in the police.

I was safe.

I was ambivalent about these arrangements. My family was appalling, at the same time it was the only one I had. My home was a place of great danger, at the same time, it was the only one I had.  I was relieved and grateful to have been rescued, but at the same time, I had no home. A boarding school is not a home, no matter how kind they are to you. I was supposed to go to various friends’ homes for holidays, which I did for a while, until the mortification of being unable to reciprocate their hospitality became too much for me. I would hide on the last day of school, and not reveal myself until they’d all gone. Then I’d be allowed to stay with the nuns in the great big empty boarding house, until term started again.

The nuns were good to me. They were beyond good to me. They did everything they could to make up for my losses. I wasn’t always grateful. When I played the piano in a competition where everyone else’s mothers and fathers showed up to support and admire, I wept after my performance that the nuns who’d come with me weren’t my parents, and I was the only girl there without anyone. My final act of ingratitude was to repudiate their religion.

The humiliation of living as an emotional beggar in an atmosphere of comfortable middle class families stayed with me for years. It will probably never entirely leave me. Where I live, though I’ve been here for years, still feels disturbingly temporary. Every time I try to think of it as home, I baulk.I can’t go there. Such is the power of a word. I don’t believe I won’t lose  home again, and a real home is not supposed to be a thing you can lose.  No amount of rational thinking and concrete experience convinces me otherwise. I remain, on this topic, seven years old, and dumbfounded at the turn my fortunes have taken literally overnight.

The legacies of that time have been many and I’d be hard pressed to decide which was the worst. However, this is a piece about home, so I’ll focus on that one. I have never been able to get my head around the concept of home. It’s not about bricks and mortar. It’s a magical name for a yearned for and unattainable state, full of meaning, feeling and emotion that I’m unable to let myself experience. Why? Because first I’d have to rage and grieve over having home snatched out from under me all those years ago, and that’s a dark place I can only very infrequently visit. To survive I’ve held those feelings at bay. I hop over them as I hop over hot sand on a blistering summer day, never letting my feet settle long enough to suffer anything more than slight discomfort. And only when I’ve forgotten my thongs.

The price I pay for acquiring these skills of avoidance and denial is never being able to feel I’m at home, or even that I have a home. The pay off is survival. We’re urged to confront that which disturbed us, rather than allowing it to fester and thrive and taint our daily lives.  While that is necessary, timing is all. Premature confrontation brings down the defenses that have been our friends, and allowed us function in the world. After all these years, my instinct tells me it’s time to let them go, and I couldn’t have done it a moment sooner.

For our house is our corner of the world, Bachelard writes,…it is our first universe, a real cosmos in every sense of the word. 

What then, of the child whose cosmos consists of abuse and exploitation? What, then, of the child whose topoanalysis reveals primarily sites of torment and terror?

The truth for me is that I can’t let myself feel home in the present until I grieve for the loss of that first one. I can’t imagine doing that grieving, and surviving the experience. Emotional cowardice provokes childish, self-berating dialogue: I can’t do it! Yes you can, you have to! No I don’t, you can’t make me! Well, if you don’t you’ll stay homeless forever! I won’t! I will not! You can’t say that stuff to me!

In a more adult state I realise I have to lay these matters to rest. I don’t want to leave this life carrying so much ancient sorrow into whatever comes next, even into nothingness. I want to leave with the cleanest possible emotional slate, grievings grieved, angers soothed, losses accepted, insult and injuries forgiven, both those I inflicted and those I suffered, at peace, as much as is possible, with the hand I was dealt. I want to have used my potential for surviving that hand to my fullest extent, and I want to leave satisfied that I achieved that.

In other words, I want to go home.

So this is my New Year’s resolution. I will do whatever needs to be done to assuage the loss of home. And then, with any luck, I’ll be able to feel home again, as I did when I was born, as I did as a little girl, as I did till I was seven. I think this will not only make life better for me, I’ll probably be a more pleasant person all round, having relinquished one more source of post traumatic stress that shuts me off from others whom I care for, and who care for me. The misery buck has to stop somewhere in a family. Let it stop with me.

Heaven knows- what keeps mankind alive
Every hand- goes searching for its partner
In crime- under chairs and behind tables
Connecting- to places we have known

Two blogs to read. And thank you, and happy holidays!

24 Dec

I’ve just read two blogs that remind me just how classy Australian blogs can be.

First, in the spirit of the season David Horton takes a good look at those whining reactionaries such as Barnaby Joyce who always get on their soapboxes at this time of the year and complain about the de-Xmassing of Xmas. The Watermelon Man’s posts invariably contain little gems of information that both delight and embiggen the brain, and this one is no exception. While you’re there, have a look at some of the other posts because Horton has one of the most unique and interesting voices in the blogosphere.

Then there’s this one, by Carey Moore. It’s a timely reminder that no matter how bizarre one might believe Tony Abbott to be, this is no time to get complacent about his chances of being the next PM. Titled “Busting a few Tony Abbott myths,” Carey unpacks five common assumptions made by Abbott haters that speak to the unlikely prospect that he’ll become our nation’s leader, and shows just how dangerous they could become if we allowed ourselves to be lulled by them.

One of the things I like about this time of the year is the enforced holiday. I like it that the country slows down for a couple of weeks, and that gives me permission to do the same. What the hell, it’s Xmas, I don’t have to…. fill in the blanks. For the next couple of weeks we can loaf about, kayak as much as we want to, sleep in, read crime novels, watch the Sopranos again from the very first series, listen to as much music as we want and slop around in our bathers and sarongs all day. Friends and family will come and go over the next few weeks, and the house has been made ready for easy hospitality.

So I may or may not put stuff up on Sheep!

Thank you so very much for visiting here, reading the blogs, commenting, and engaging with me. No Place for Sheep is approaching its first anniversary in a few days. We’ve had over 43,000 visits this year, and the National Library of Australia has suggested adding us to its digital archives, an honour indeed.

I’ve discovered I was born to blog, and I’ll be forever grateful to have lived in an era when this powerful means of self-expression is so readily available.

If you can, spare a thought for people doing it rough for whatever reason. Those of us free to enjoy this time of the year are among the earth’s most privileged inhabitants.

Be safe, be well, and love one another.

Why the UN cannot protect asylum seekers we send to Malaysia

23 Dec

Australia 2002:

The United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Mary Robinson, requested Justice P.N. Bhagwati, Regional Advisor for Asia and the Pacific, to visit and report on the treatment of asylum seekers in detention in Australia in 2002, specifically focussing on the Woomera IRPC in South Australia. This report focused on ‘…the human rights issues related to the conditions of detention and the treatment of persons in the immigration facilities…’ (Bhagwati, 2008). Under ‘General Impression’ the first paragraph of the report reads as follows:

Justice Bhagwati was considerably distressed by what he saw and heard in Woomera. He met men, women and children who had been in detention for several months, some of them even for one or two years. They were prisoners without having committed any offence. Their only fault was that they had left their native home and sought to find refuge or a better life on the Australian soil. In virtual prison-like conditions in the detention centre, they lived initially in the hope that soon their incarceration will come to an end, but with the passage of time, the hope gave way to despair…He felt that he was in front of a great human tragedy. He saw young boys and girls, who instead of breathing the fresh air of freedom, were confined behind spiked iron bars…these children were growing up in an environment which affected their physical and mental growth and many of them were traumatised and led to harm themselves in utter despair.

The Australian government’s response to UN concerns about our treatment and indefinite mandatory detention of asylum seekers was absolutely zero.  The UN had no influence at all over our practices, and still does not.

To all those who take comfort from the lie that the UN will watch over asylum seekers we send to Malaysia and ensure they are not criminalized and treated inhumanely, can you explain why the UN has greater powers in that country than it does here, or anywhere else in the world?

The UN has no power to control what nations do to asylum seekers. Of all countries, we should be aware of that. The government continues to lie in the most bare-faced fashion about the UN’s influence in Malaysia, in order to justify sending asylum seekers into an unsafe situation.

Next time a politician or anyone else says the UN will supervise the treatment of asylum seekers from Australia, ask them how, and remind whoever is making that claim that the UN can’t stop us indefinitely detaining them, and driving them mad in appalling conditions.

The UN has no teeth in these situations. It is a disgraceful falsehood to pretend otherwise.


Wilson and Dines: together at the ABC Religion and Ethics website

21 Dec

It seems my review of Big Porn Inc annoyed the world’s foremost anti pornography campaigner, Gail Dines. She’s written this piece in response and Scott Stephens, editor of the ABC’s Religion and Ethics online, has put my review up as well, in the interests of balance.

If you look at the list of relevant articles beside my piece, you’ll see mine is the only one apart from Professor Alan McKee offering an alternative point of view, so they’re probable going to have to publish quite a few more before balance is attained.

We’ve signed the Convention, but…

21 Dec

I don’t know about anyone else but I’m beginning to feel righteously infuriated by the asylum seeker stand-off. The kind of righteous fury that would prompt one to smite the fools and political charlatans, if one only had smiting powers.

So far the best account of the current impasse I’ve read is this one by Robert Manne at The Drum this morning. Since then both Alexander Downer and Philip Ruddock have thrown in their two pence worth here in the SMH, with Ruddock claiming the Malaysia solution is still possible, while Downer advises Abbott to keep his nose out of negotiations at this stage, and let government and coalition teams handle them rather than leaders.

This latter piece of advice I heartily endorse. Abbott has not shown himself to have the slightest talent for negotiation. That unfortunate lack is exacerbated by an ingrained misogyny that makes negotiations with a woman especially problematic. Add to that the fact that this particular woman has the job he believes is his by divine right and clearly, including him at the table is going to get us precisely nowhere.

Abbott cannot be trusted to empty his head of personal grievances and focus on the much bigger issues at hand. That’s just one of the multitude of reasons why he should not be Leader of the Opposition, and especially why he should not be our next PM.

As for the Malaysia “solution.” Remind me, wasn’t it  only 800 most recent boat arrivals we were planning to send to that country?  Haven’t we just about reached that number?  So if we do pack 800 asylum seekers off to an uncertain future and accept 4000 refugees in exchange, what next?

Oh, and I forgot. We have to change the law first so we can put that “solution” into effect, thanks to Robert Manne’s enterprising nephew David, who took the government to the High Court and got the Malaysia “solution” kyboshed under our current legislation.

A small digression. There has been much brou ha ha about the use of the word “denier” in the climate change debate. Those who object claim it is an unmistakeable reference to Holocaust deniers. Yet nobody gives a hoot about the use of the word “solution” in the refugee debate, even though it immediately puts one in mind of Hitler’s genocidal “final solution.” To my mind “solution” is far more repulsively evocative than “deniers,” especially given that word’s confusing (and defusing) French meaning, that is, the thickness or otherwise of stockings.

What nobody will address is our responsibility as signatories to the UN Refugee Convention, and how that influences the decision by asylum seekers to attempt dangerous sea voyages. People only make these drastic attempts to get to us in the first place because we are known to be a country of asylum.

We make no stipulations about who can claim asylum, or the manner in which they gain entry to our country. These high falutin’ invitations to hospitality bear little resemblance to the reality, though since the last High Court decision those who arrive by boat are to be treated the same as those who arrive by plane, ending a truly despicable discriminatory practice based entirely on methods of transport.

The UN Convention clearly does not work for Australia anymore. We are turning ourselves inside out in our attempts to find ways to circumvent it, while still wishing to remain full signatories. The people suffering most as a consequence of our gyrations and manipulations are asylum seekers, who hear our invitation and accept it, only to either die on the way, or be treated abominably once they arrive.

I don’t imagine that our commitment to the UN Refugee Convention is going to be re-assessed anytime soon. So perhaps we should consider educating potential asylum seekers in our little ways. Yes, we have signed the Convention and you are absolutely entitled to believe that we are a country of asylum, and to attempt to come here requesting sanctuary. However, if you die in the attempt that is not our fault. Should you be successful and be granted refugee status, the fact that we are a country of asylum does not mean you will automatically be allowed to stay here and we reserve the right to send you to whatever country we can persuade to take you off our hands.

So do not think when you embark on your epic journeys, that you will be allowed to stay in this country in the event that you arrive. We do not like queue jumpers, and we prefer to give sanctuary to those we invite, not those who importunately demand it of us by just turning up.

No, we agree that none of this appears in the fine print of the UN Refugee Convention. Yes, we are quite likely engaging in misleading advertising. However, as there is nothing at all you can do about that, because we are powerful and you aren’t, we suggest you don’t come here in the first place.

You think we should reword our commitment to the UN Convention?  Meh, everybody who’s anybody knows that Convention means nothing.

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Hitchens, Iraq and the writer’s voice

19 Dec

The late Christopher Hitchens was a brilliant writer. Even when you loathed his content, his form was reliably superb.

Everyone is entitled to at least one bizarre position on something in their lifetime, and for Hitchens his outstanding peculiarity  was his support of the invasion of Iraq.

Hitch envisioned a “short war,” one in which Saddam Hussein would be overthrown with a minimum of destruction. He vigorously supported George Bush, and when it became obvious to even the most ardent supporter that there were no weapons of mass destruction stockpiled in Iraq, he claimed that given that was the case the invasion was even more necessary, as it could be undertaken without fear of a nuclear or chemical response. The man was, on the subject of Iraq, crazed.

His loathing of Hussein was profound. He was right that Hussein and his “crime family” maintained “private ownership of Iraq” that ought not to be allowed to continue. However, the same could be said for several dictators, Mugabe, for example, who are left in place. The Bush-led invasion was not preemptive, in Hitchen’s view, but a natural historical consequence of US interest in Iraq’s affairs since 1968, including CIA involvement in bringing Hussein to power.

The post 9/11 timing of the war made sense, he claimed, as the terrorist attacks on the US homeland were an example of “fascism with an Islamic face.” This generalized justification allowed Hitchens to gloss over the reality that the terrorists involved had nothing to do with Iraq, but were mainly from Saudi Arabia. They were the “face of Islam” to him, regardless of their nationality.

So convinced of his rightness was Hitchens, that he titled his 2003 book  “The Postponed Invasion of Iraq.” His view will be, he declared, on the right side of history, while those who oppose both the war and his take on it will find themselves left behind.

Anything is possible of course and if conservatives rule the world in the future Hitch will be proved right, given that the victor writes  history. However, as Foucault argued there is no power without subversion, so in the event of  conservative global dominance, there will be dissenting voices arguing that Hitchens, Bush, Howard and Blair were wickedly wrong.

It’s all very well to predict the right and wrong side of history, but that depends entirely on who’s in charge of writing it.

For me, one of the most powerful pieces of Hitchen’s recent work came in this short essay for Vanity Fair titled “Unspoken Truths.” In it, Hitch gives us a glimpse of the state of stunning vulnerability all humans enter when we have to live with knowledge of our approaching death from terminal illness.

The cancer treatment he was receiving damaged Hitch’s vocal chords, causing him to fear the loss of his voice on both a real and metaphysical level. For a writer, the voice is all, and Hitchens movingly describes his sense of shocked  defeat upon encountering this unanticipated indignity. The essay is also a resonant meditation on the writer’s voice. It was a Hitch maxim that if you can talk well you can write, so for him, to lose the ability to talk well threatened his very identity. “So this above all,” he exorted his students, “find your own voice.”

And as he revealingly notes in the final paragraph of the Vanity Fair essay, quoting W.H. Auden: “All I have is a voice.”

What is also interesting in the piece is how this renowned atheist seems to be embarking on a flirtation with an un-named transcendental exteriority. For example, he quotes the Leonard Cohen song:

If it be your will,
That I speak no more:
And my voice be still,
As it was before …

which leads the reader to speculate who Hitchens imagines he is addressing. We know for the poet Cohen it’s God, but it’s a bridge too far to ascribe that sentiment to Hitch. Contrarian he was, but steadfast in his disbelief.

Hitchens also quotes T.S Eliot “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

Hitchens had a voice that could enthrall, whether you were listening to his articulate, mellifluous presentation, or reading his sustained adjectival abuse of those he regarded with contempt. His position on Iraq is to me a terrifying aberration, one that I will never understand, and one that I believe added unjustified gravitas in the eyes of many to what was a vile and unethical war.

Hitchens was as large in his faults as he was in his brilliance. He was a figure of immense complexity, and this is what drew me so powerfully to his work. Our culture doesn’t  encourage complexity, indeed, more often than not it is pathologized. Now and again a figure appears in fiction or reality who embodies our potential and reveals our possibilities, for better and for worse. In other words, humanity’s full gamut. Hitchens was just such a figure, and I am sorry he is gone.

Vale, Christopher Hitchens.

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