Archive | January, 2012

A woman’s response to authentic feminism.

30 Jan

The ABC invited me to respond to an article by Melinda Tankard Reist’s publishers, Susan Hawthorne and Renate Klein, on the ABC Religion and Ethics website. Their article was titled The authentic feminism of Melinda Tankard Reist.

Here’s my response

I haven’t entered into discussions as to Melinda Tankard Reist’s eligibility to be identified as a “feminist,” let alone an “authentic” one as defined for us by her publishers, self-described radical feminists Susan Hawthorne and Renate Klein.

I believe this straw-woman argument has diverted attention away from the more important issues of free speech and bullying that are inevitably raised by threats of defamation action. These issues affect many more people than does the somewhat narcissistic obsession with whether or not someone is a feminist.

I’m slightly taken aback at the authors’ vigilante assessment of my legal situation, expressed in their claim that I posted “defamatory statements.” They disagree with my comments, therefore my comments are defamatory. They apparently have no need to wait until a case is argued in court. (There is a very comprehensive analysis of the situation thus far written by a UK lawyer.)

Faced with the authentic radical feminist determination to take possession of the narrative before it has hardly begun, I am quite glad of the law.

Hawthorne and Klein point out that “misinformation, falsehoods and rumours” about Tankard Reist’s religious affiliations have been around for some time (since 2007 in some instances) and that they have been concerned about this “over many years.” (I’ll go into this at some length, as it is the heart of the matter.)

I’m not aware of Tankard Reist taking steps to correct this claimed misinformation? That would have prevented it being re-published by people such as myself. Had there been denials, I certainly would have included them in anything I wrote.

The most recent information available when I wrote the offending blog was a November 2011 television interview with ABC journalist Jane Hutcheon, in which Tankard Reist claimed when asked that she did not wish to discuss her religious beliefs as she feared such discussion would distract from her work. She did not say how or why.

Tankard Reist didn’t take the opportunity to counter years of what she claims is misinformation when Hutcheon invited her to clarify her religious views, and their effect if any on her work.

Neither did she avail herself of the chance to set the record straight in her interview with journalist Rachel Hills in January 2012.

We now know Tankard Reist is a Christian, and there is no doubt that she did work for Catholic Brian Harradine for twelve years as his bioethics advisor. During this time the former Tasmanian senator used his power to prevent aid agency AusAID from supplying reproductive education, abortion services and birth control to women in underdeveloped recipient countries (with serious repercussions for women who wished to have access to these denied services).

All this information is published on the blogs Unbelief.org (now inactive) and that of Leslie Cannold, along with a brief history of Reist’s career and early life, and her long association with a variety of conservative Christian groups. This latter is verifiable through conservative Christian sources such as Salt Shakers, evangelical Christian Bill Muehlenberg, the Australian Christian Lobby, the anti-choice lobby group Women’s Forum Australia (of whom Reist was a founding director) other sources on the web and in State Public Libraries.

There is no “misinformation” in the biography on Cannold’s blog. There are no rumours. There are no falsehoods. What, then, are these “falsehoods, rumours, and misinformation” that so trouble Reist and her publishers?

The first time I learned anything was amiss was when I received a letter of demand from Tankard Reist’s lawyer on 14 January 2012, stating that his client is not a Baptist.

I am of the opinion that if someone is aware of misinformation circulating for years, is repeatedly questioned about it and does absolutely nothing to contest it, then they really have no grounds for complaint if others believe it to be true. So I was rather surprised to receive this letter.

I was even more surprised to receive a second letter reiterating the threat, and referring to “false claims” made by other bloggers. The only “false claim” identified by the lawyers as a source of grievance is our statement that their client is a Baptist.

Is the identifier Baptist defamatory? Was she a Baptist when the biography was published? If we had all simply said “Christian” would none of this happened? Are you confused? Does anybody care, other than Baptists, perhaps, who might take umbrage at their faith being perceived as potentially defamatory material by another Christian.

Then there is the considerable amount of material that has nothing to do with either Unbelief.org or Cannold’s blog, material that documents her conservative Christian associations over a period of years. This includes the articles written by her for, among other groups, the Endeavour Forum.

The Forum began life as “Women Who Want to be Women” and its mission statement reads: “Endeavour Forum was set up to counter feminism, defend the unborn and the traditional family. (‘A feminist is an evolutionary anachronism, a Darwinian blind alley.’)” Now there’s a friendly environment for an authentic feminist!

None of this need matter much. What matters is transparency and credibility, both absolutely vital for a person claiming the moral authority to exert influence over society’s sexual behaviours and values. And Tankard Reist most certainly claims moral authority.

On the question of abortion, when reading Hawthorne and Klein’s arguments we see their inclination to conflate: because some abortions are traumatic, all abortion is suspect. In the case of Tankard Reist, because a very small number of women she interviewed had a stressful emotional reaction post the procedure, all abortion is bad for all women and will inevitably lead to mental health problems.

A hard decision is also a choice. Women have to resist the maternalistic efforts of radical and authentic feminists to prevent us from exercising our right to make hard decisions and choices about abortion. Women must resist any efforts by these feminists to deny us sovereignty over our bodies. Women have the right to fully live our lives, and that must include learning to live with regret, or living unconcerned, or sometimes being on a continuum between the two.

I also take issue with the authors’ description of males as “men who are ‘free’ to act whenever they are ‘unable to control’ their sexual urges and must have the latest hit of porn.”

This is a profoundly disturbing statement, and gives insight into the contempt the authors apparently feel towards men, whom they seem to perceive as a dangerously unruly, abusive and sexually crazed homogenous mass.

We should demand that Hawthorne and Klein clarify exactly who are they talking about? To which demographic do they refer? My sons? Men I love? Men who are my friends? Men I respect as colleagues?

This gender prejudice appears again when they claim in reference to abortion: “sex is often coercive.” There are likely very many women who find themselves in need of an abortion not after “coercive” sex, but after loving consensual sex. What evidence do the authors have that abortion is often the result of men “coercing” women to have sex?

Sometimes some men coerce some women. It might be more useful to speak of these things truthfully, instead of using the stereotyping and dehumanizing rhetoric of extremism and polarization.

Tankard Reist could have at any time approached me about the problems she has with anything I’ve written. She has a public platform much larger than mine, where she could also have voiced her objections. Instead, she has gone first to the law as a means of silencing a woman who has questioned her publicly for over two years without ever receiving a response.

We may or may not have an authentic feminist here, but we most certainly have an authentic feminist issue.

It’s also worth noting that I have a very small blog and I am not a public figure. Threatening legal action to force me to remove the post has resulted in the content being plastered all over the media, in Australia and overseas. Literally thousands of people have visited the blog and read the post, only because legal action was threatened.

Hundreds of blog posts have been written on the threatened action from any number of perspectives, because it touches on a variety of deep and globally shared concerns.

Dialogue, had Tankard Reist been willing to enter into it, would have been a better, more honest and more discreet way to address the situation. Dialogue would have protected Tankard Reist from the unpleasant exposure she’s currently experiencing. That scrutiny will intensify if the matter proceeds to court.

Perhaps Tankard Reist believed I would be intimidated into cowering compliance by legal threats and that I would maintain a frightened, obedient silence. If this is the case, that belief alone speaks volumes.

This is a cautionary tale for those who would threaten anyone who is a member of an online community. Perhaps Reist and her lawyers naively assumed I wouldn’t tell my cyber community what was happening to me.

Within seconds, the story was tweeted around the globe. This immediately resulted in the so-called “Streisand” effect in which the information someone has sought to restrict becomes even more available, entirely as a consequence of the action taken to restrict it.

With the explosion of social media, it’s no longer as easy for those with a public profile and access to money to safely issue legal threats designed to intimidate an unknown and entirely un-influential blogger into silence.

Canberra Times journalist Crispin Hull looks at the costs of such actions, and supports my apprehension that I will be financially ruined if I defend an action.

Is Tankard Reist an “authentic feminist” as Hawthorne and Klein claim? I will leave this to others to decide, if they consider the effort worth their while.

Riffing in the Lismore Pharmacy. A story by Maria Simms

30 Jan


Christmas cheer had eluded me when I walked into the tinsel festooned Lismore pharmacy. In fact I’d been feeling dispirited for some time. Isolation on a steep bush block, distance from friends, lack of city buzz, and a bad case of writer’s block had got to me. My lifelong desire to find myself at the pulse of a literary cultural life, or by this time any cultural life at all, had taken on a Quixotic quality without the romance of that eternal dreamer tilting at windmills from his wobbly horse. I was over grappling with heat and floods and weeds and reading about hugely successful writers in the weekend newspaper supplements.

The vista of Christmas glitz; the press of the sick, the anxious and depressed milling about at the prescriptions-out counter and the clamour of carols billowed towards me. The service number slip I’d been holding so optimistically seemed to droop as I sidled along a row of shelves towards the prescriptions counter passing creams promising relief from everything – ingrown toe-nails to inflamed joints and herpes. I have to admit I was almost enticed by tiers of chocolate boxes offering more tangible and immediate satisfaction.

Emerging triumphant from my bout of weakness near the chocolates I turned the corner at the end of the shelves and there she was, a glorious creature from head to toe. She was sitting in one of two white, plastic chairs carefully positioned for the tired and feeble opposite the crowded counter. I made for the empty chair next to her. Dark beseeching eyes and a vulnerable smile greeted me as she wriggled further onto her chair in a show of making room for me. A vacant seat in a pharmacy crowded with exhausted Christmas shoppers? And next to an exotic trannie? I had my Christmas miracle.

She wore a slim t-shirt above tiny shorts with fashionably tatty edges. Endless golden legs were tucked neatly under the chair. There was a hint of sequinned sandals. Around her face long black (extension aided) hair was caught in a thick fall that couldn’t disguise the beginning of male-pattern balding at her thinning hairline.

We sat beside each other in silence for a minute or two.

‘I love your earrings.’ The husky voice.

The thick paste of pancake was applied well with just a hint of prickle beneath it. Eyeliner formed a kohl shoreline around limpid eyes. Lipstick, discreet not garish, framed largish white teeth.

‘Thank you.’ I felt the earrings to remember what I’d pushed into my earlobes before I’d left the house. Ah, yes. The rough stone and odd shape. ‘Turquoise and silver,’ I said. ‘I always like it. Bit Navajo don’t you think?’

‘Definitely Navajo, Mexican too,’ she replied.

And there it was. The language was banal but the sub-text was something else – like a musical riff sending a frisson through the players.

The musician, Rikky Rooksby,describes a riff as ‘a short, repeated, memorable musical phrase, often pitched low on the guitar, which focuses much of the energy and excitement of a rock song’.* In academic circles it might be called a discourse, a language that holds the key for entry to its world. A bit like the language and tacit understandings needed to penetrate the world of the British upper class, or medicine, or journalism for that matter.

She and I knew this particular language!

Ours was a riff born in the inner cities where sub-cultures have developed numerous tribal cadences. This one I knew from the Sydney theatre scene in the late 1960s where transvestites and gays flouted conventional society as they’d done for eons, certainly since Socrates, condemned by some 550 judges, shlupped on his sandals out of a court in Athens. Found guilty of corrupting Athenian youth with provocative ideas he preferred downing hemlock to being silenced.

‘They look lovely on you,’ she said referring to the earrings.

It was my turn.

‘And the aquamarine around your neck is beautiful,’ I replied, truthfully. Seeing it brought to mind, fondly, the first boyfriend, a surfing, prize-winning pastry-cook with a crazed mother. He’d given me the ring. Aquamarine.

We were firing now – the banjo scene getting underway in Deliverance.

She hooked a finger under the chain and held the stone towards me. ‘It belonged to a friend of mine who’s passed. I wear it for her.’

AIDS? I wondered. So many taken by it. There was a pause – a bit like the silence for the fallen in RSL clubs. Then I pushed on. ‘The blue does look wonderful against your skin. You have lovely skin.’

Yes,’ she said. ‘It’s the Samoan in her.’ This reference to herself in the third person may have been part of her patter, or a slip of the tongue, but I suspected it was more like a test. Would I pull away, she was asking me.

She stretched out a leg. We both contemplated the burnished gold from thigh to foot. ‘I’ve got some Samoan in me,’ she repeated.

My arm rested in my lap, next to her leg. Freckled skin, the scourge of my life.

‘I wish I had some Samoan in me,’ I said.

There was a beat while she made a decision. She took another risk.

‘Well …’ she said, slowly at first, perhaps a lead-in tease, ‘that could be taken a different way.’

This to an older, ordinary looking woman she’d never met before. I admired her daring.

‘I knooww,’ I said, claiming the innuendo I hadn’t intended or even seen. Well, reader, I was rusty. It’d been a long time. But the idea of a young Samoan lover made me laugh. It made us both laugh and I suppose that’s when our riff really hit its stride.

For me it thrummed with a song from the past – a heady mix of theatre and the social and cultural upheavals sweeping Sydney in the late 1960s and 70s.

Here, for you, the reader, I can expand on what in the Lismore pharmacy was just a sense of that past lifting its head and shaking itself off. Fragments of it play like disjointed scenes from a Fellini movie. The theatre sequence began in 1967 at an evening spent sitting on planks at what had to be one of the earliest plays staged at The Pram Factory in Melbourne. (I remember it as a halting exposé of domestic dissatisfaction – rough around the edges, dimly lit, hard to hear, but determined at the core.) Then back to Sydney to the thrill of America Hurrah at The New Theatre with police standing by to rush the actors off to the clink for writing ‘cunt’ on the stage wall and holding large nude, vagina pink I’m told, puppets. My dear friend, Carole Skinner was in it, and in another transgressive production she told me she was worried about revealing her ‘bum hole’ to the audience as, having cast off her chastity belt, she climbed, naked, up high platforms onstage! (It was the first time we’d met.)

Which brings another fragment into focus. I was enthralled by the esoteric weirdness of late night performances at Martin Sharp’s Yellow House. This is where Carole, who was to become an iconic Australian actor, played Mae West trailing pieces of A4 paper stuck together around the tiny performance space left at the centre of the room by we onlookers squashed around the walls.

‘Don’t … step on … m’thesis,’ she said, so close to me I could have nibbled her earlobe.

Before this I’d found my way to the Ensemble Theatre where they were walking the talk of ‘method’ acting and I was hooked by this revolutionary approach – as so many were before and after me.

While I studied I did bits and pieces: a minor job on Hair; sweating in a huge felt costume (hot as a sauna) in a Commedia play under a tin roof at Christmas; being onstage with vital props and occasionally an actor missing; dancing with two left feet in ABC operas; a play I’m told I was in at The Wayside Theatre in Kings Cross, but can’t remember at all. I do remember being surprised at an invitation to participate in a workshop run by the famously experimental Polish director, Jerzy Grotowski, and his troupe. No English on their side, no Polish on ours. We gawked and ducked while they emitted grunts and sudden squeals and made great leaps across the bare room and tumbled over our heads.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream swept into Sydney like a new broom. Peter Brook’s production with actors on trapezes swinging high on a white set and Hugh Keays Byrne beating his chest as Snug and roaring through the audience in his lion suit, was inspired. John Bell’s version, his first play after arriving back in Sydney from London – had a warm-voiced girl from Barbados playing the most beautiful Titiana I’ve ever seen.

Leonard Cohen brought his orchestra and shared his vision of life in bitter/sweet songs of laughter and longing with his wonderful violinist uncle stepping into the spotlight to wrench wild gypsy music from his violin. Dust motes rising like soaring spirits. And Buffy St Marie, a native American Indian blacklisted in the US by Lyndon Johnson, played her throbbing songs of resistance and compassion to a packed State Theatre. And all the while Dylan’s endless tambourine was banging out the new era.

And police were banging on open doors to terrace houses where music poured down noisy, crowded hallways and out into the night. I remember two of them coming in to drink a beer and gaze curiously at a culture they couldn’t be part of before thanking us politely and pushing off. And the sweet sad chemist/actor (I see him again now that I’m writing about a pharmacy) stretched out so often on the lounge-room floor of the Paddington terrace I shared with artists and a soon to be screenwriter/editor, playing ‘Norwegian Wood’ over and over again while people stepped across him.

(The soon to be screenwriter/editor was Galia, then soon to be, Hardy. She married Alan and together they birthed Marieke You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead Hardy! How do you describe a friend’s intelligence, talent, wit, and generosity of spirit without it sounding like a hagiography? I’m not even going to try.)

On a darker note there was the bedroom at Taylor Square painted entirely black by a gay costume-designing predecessor who must have had hopes for its power to inspire. It certainly inspired hope in a large, well-known actor I knew who fancied himself as a Marlon Brando type. Using the pretext of wanting to be shown around the house he pushed me onto the bed when we got to the top of the stairs and lay on top of me, still and stealthy in that black-walled cocoon, as if the soft pressure of his weight on me would be persuasive. Galia’s arrival saved me. I’ll never forget my joy at hearing the front door slam and her voice calling up the stairs.

And finally, enter my life’s mate, young, tall, slender, exquisite. Directing black comedies and enticing me with his talent.

‘I’ve had my eye on a little number down there by the perfumes,’ she said, low voiced, leaning towards me to indicate the section of the pharmacy she meant.

It was hard for me to pick the alluring little number out in the crowd as I craned my neck for a better view.

‘I’ve been hovering around the perfumes to get a closer look,’ she said.

‘Were you trying some of those perfumes on yourself?’ I asked.

‘Yes, I was. Can you smell them?’

We both laughed.

‘You know Rihanna? She’s …’

‘A singer. I know.’

She stopped for a moment … a classic double-take … then continued.

‘Well, she’s just put out a perfume called Reb’l Fleur. It’s gorgeous.’

‘Hhmm … I’m not really one for perfumes,’ I said, hoping not to sound negative. This wasn’t the place to mention that you could walk into any house in our family wearing perfume and everyone in it would drop dead from allergic anaphylactic shock.

‘I know just the one for you,’ she said, undeterred. ‘It’s called Giorgio. By Armani.’

‘Ah, Giorgio,’ I breathed – both ‘g’s soft – the Italian way.

‘Giorgio,’ we crooned together, loving the sound.

And our riff ended there, both of us hitting the same warm note, in the Lismore pharmacy.

The assistant called her name and she left her seat for the counter where she stood with her long legs tucked together as neatly as she could manage and her tall body scrunched over to look smaller, more feminine I suppose, as she bent down to sign her prescriptions. Would she say goodbye I wondered. But she walked off … to where? What was happening in her life? Did she live around Lismore?

A woman I’d noticed standing nearby came to sit in the vacated chair. A nice enough looking county woman. Tidy, greying hair. As a gesture towards Christmas festivity she’d donned a red top and white, calf-length, elastic waisted, nylon pull-ups. The kind we of a certain age buy at Katies to accommodate our girth and our atrophied bits, sensitive to chaffing. Thick sandals suggested painful feet.

‘Well,’ she said, voice pursed, ‘if she was any taller she’d break.’

‘Lovely skin,’ I replied.

We stared ahead.

A bronzed hand appeared around the end of the shelves and squeezed my shoulder.

‘Goodbye darling,’ she said.

I clasped my hand over hers.

‘Goodbye, darling,’ I replied.

And then she was gone – the rebel flower!

______________________

* Rooksby, Rikky. Riffs: How to create and play great guitar riffs. San Francisco: Backbeat Books. pp. 6–7

© Maria Simms

Dr Maria Simms is a published novelist and short story writer who has worked as an academic for many years. Her crime novel, The Dead House, won the New Holland Genre Fiction Award. Maria has been a general editor; lecturer in creative and academic writing; head of a large university academic study centre; and director of university continuing education programs. In an earlier incarnation she worked in theatre and graphic design. Her interests include creative and academic writing, textual and cultural theory and Australian history with an emphasis on the place of women in the narrative of Australia. She loves a good yarn and hearing about the lives of people she meets.

Maria is the managing director of WordCraft Consulting, a company specialising in academic, business and creative writing. She can be contacted at: maria.simms@bigpond.com

Belconnen, Baptists, and the lawyer’s letter

26 Jan

This is the paragraph in the letter I received from Ric Lucas of Colquhoun Murphy, describing the two claims his client, Melinda Tankard Reist, intends to use as the basis of a defamation action against me:

For instance you assert that Melinda Tankard Reist is a member of a church that preaches the second coming off [sic] Christ, the end time, evangelism and that sex filthies the human female and renders her impure. You claim that “Tankard Reist is a Baptist.” This is simply false, yet you have erected an entire panoply of criticism upon it. And you finish your attack by alleging without the slightest evidence that our client is “deceptive and duplicitous about her religious beliefs.

This is false and unwarranted, and seriously defamatory.

It seems to me that the primary “seriously defamatory” alleged offense is describing his client as a Baptist. My contested post is here.

Whether or not Tankard Reist worshipped at Belconnen Baptist church regularly or occasionally remains unclear. However, she did participate in a forum at that church in 2009 alongside speaker Sheridan Voysey. The forum was called “The Quest for God” and was part of the church’s “Inspiring Christian” series:

29/9/09.

“Sheridan will speak at both 8.45am and 10.30am services as part of their ‘Inspiring Christians’ series, alongside Tim Costello, Melinda Tankard-Reist and others.”

This doesn’t prove MTR is/was Baptist, only that the Belconnen Baptist church thought highly enough of her to invite her to participate as an inspiring Christian. I assume that Tankard Reist at that time did not think as badly of Baptists as she apparently does now, given her intention to sue over being described as one of them. If she felt so badly about Baptists then, one would think she would be most unlikely to participate in that church’s events.

Tankard Reist was also associated with the Salt Shakers, a conservative Christian group founded by two Baptists in 1994. Again this does not mean MTR is a Baptist. However, it does indicate that she didn’t think badly of that religion, and she was willing to write for their journal. These writings are not available online, however I’m told they can be found in the State Public Library.

Tankard Reist also wrote for the Endeavour Forum. Here is their mission statement:

Endeavour Forum was set up to counter feminism, defend the unborn and the traditional family.  (“A feminist is an evolutionary anachronism, a Darwinian blind alley”.) 

Tankard Reist’s writings for Endeavour are not available online, but may also be found in the State Public Library

Baptists. 

There’s plenty of information about Baptist beliefs on the internet. While I wouldn’t claim Wikipedia as a faultless source, in the matter of describing the beliefs of a mainstream religion, it’s hard to go wrong. It’s not rocket science.

However, better than Wikipedia is the information from the Baptist Union of Australia. Baptists, as I claimed, do indeed believe in the doctrine of the virgin birth, the second coming of Christ, and the end times when the righteous will be taken to heaven, and the unrighteous will be punished and condemned.

I am willing to concede that many Baptists likely don’t interpret the virgin birth as do I and many, many others. However, disagreeing on the interpretation of a story was not, last time I looked, grounds for defamation.

In my opinion, someone who has strong links to a religious community over a long period of time, and then attempts to sue someone who writes about those connections, is likely being evasive on some level. And I wonder what those Baptists think about their religion being used as grounds for defamation?

Ms Tankard Reist also requires a prompt apology and retraction by a signed letter, in terms to be agreed with this firm, and which should also be published on your blog “No Place for Sheep.” She also requires payment of her legal costs.

She reserves her right to damages for defamation.

We note that this is a concerns notice pursuant to s126 of the Civil Law (Wrongs) Act 2002 and is not for publication.

OK.

Feminism? In a pig’s feckin’ ear.

25 Jan

And yet another feminist in the msm makes it all about feminists.

And they’re even running  a poll about it.

Apparently feminism has been reduced to public spats about who has ownership of the brand. Feminism these days apparently no longer cares about much else. The co-option is complete.

Feminism, at least that faction of it that has a public voice, has now been entirely subsumed by capitalism. How the patriarchy must be cheering! Look at these feminists in these cat fights about who is allowed to be a feminist!

But we’re not complaining. While they fight about nothing, they aren’t focusing on us.

I’ve always had a wry little laugh at Bob Ellis when he sets to lamenting about the moral demise of the ALP. He shouldn’t take it so seriously!  But not anymore. It is heartbreaking to watch as a vision you believed in sells out to the degree that it is unrecognizable. To watch as it becomes the property of a handful of white middle class  women who figured out how to make a name and a living for themselves by being just feminist enough to gain a foothold in both camps.

Feminism was about equality, and that includes equality between women, not just equality with men. Feminism was about honesty, and shining intelligence, feminism was an analytic tool that was unique and adopted by many seeking to expose all kinds of inequality.

Feminism and feminists helped me save my own life.

And now?

It’s enough to make a strong woman weep. Weep, I tell you! Feckin’ bloody weep!

The f word, the virgin birth and the sword of Damocles

24 Jan

I love feminism in the way I love some of the insights and opinions attributed to Jesus. I love it in a bell hooks kind of way:

Visionary feminism is a wise and loving politics. It is rooted in the love of male and female being, refusing to privilege one over the other. The soul of feminist politics is the commitment to ending patriarchal domination of women and men, girls and boys.

So it was with increasing outrage that I watched the story of Melinda Tankard Reist’s legal threats against me hijacked by one high-profile feminist after another in an unedifying brawl about who can and can’t be called a feminist. Debates about feminism: yes. Debates about who is allowed to be called a feminist: why?

One of feminism’s struggles has been about giving women a voice. So it was initially with amusement and later indignation that I saw two of Australia’s most public feminists, Eva Cox and Anne Summers, describe me in their articles as a blogger  being threatened by Tankard Reist. Not even a female blogger, thank you very much, and Cox says I’m a nit picker to boot. She doesn’t name me, but she says I’m nit-picking. Any man who did that to a woman writer would be flayed.

I objected loudly to this, not as some might have it because I’m especially egotistical, though I could well be, but because this denial of my voice seems to me to exemplify a steady watering down of feminist principles, and perhaps, according to hooks’ analysis of contemporary feminism, a co-option by capitalism that has virtually disempowered it as a force for change.

Thus we are reduced to brawling in national newspapers about who can and cannot be a feminist, while the big issues raised by Tankard Reist’s action, such as freedom of speech, the politics of the economic power of one woman being used against another to silence her, are left to brilliant bloggers such as Scepticlawyer to unpack.

Interestingly, every other account of the stoush I’ve read in blogs and the MSM has named me. I become anonymous and stereotyped only in the leading feminists’ pieces. I am not well-known, therefore it isn’t necessary to name me in an MSM argument about feminists who are well-known. Yes. Capitalism has co-opted.

While I don’t believe that either Summers or Cox was being malicious, their failure to use a woman’s name in an article about feminism indicates a troubling forgetfulness as to what feminism is about.

Both women have since apologised for the oversight.

I’m receiving a steady flow of demands that I “get [my] facts straight” about the virgin birth. There are no facts about the virgin birth. There is no evidence. It’s a story. I’m as entitled as anyone else to interpret the story and comment on it. There’s a long feminist tradition of commenting on these stories and analysing them through a feminist lens. It’s but one of many options for analysis and it’s as valid as any of the others.  Contest my analysis by all means, but not by demanding “facts” that simply don’t exist.

It appears that Melinda Tankard Reist can legally hold her threat of defamation action over my head for the next twelve months without doing anything more than she has already done. If she so chooses, she can continue bullying, threatening and intimidating me for the next year, and theoretically curtailing my freedom to speak for that time, as anything I write can be co-opted into her list of grievances against me to be subjected to threats of legal action.

While I don’t care if Tankard Reist is called a feminist or not, I do find it interesting that she has chosen to employ patriarchy’s most oppressive and repressive tool, the law, against me. But what is even more interesting is that neither Summers nor Cox   has even remarked on this attempt to silence a woman with patriarchy’s weapons.

The last word by bell hooks:

I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.

This in the Age today: “Tankard Reist explain yourself.” A very informative piece about Tankard Reist’s background. I’m very, very glad this got up in the msm.

The editor, not the author called me “a blogger.”

“Once we suffered from crimes, now we suffer from laws”

23 Jan

This is a brilliant legal analysis of the complexities of the Tankard Reist/Wilson stoush from Scepticlawyer.

 

Entitlement, bullying, and private faith

21 Jan

Since I received defamation threats from Melinda Tankard Reist’s lawyers, I’ve had occasion to consider just what a defamation threat is actually intended to achieve.

If I had done what was demanded of me, that is apologised, retracted, signed and published a letter drafted by the lawyers, and then paid all Tankard Reist’s legal costs, I would now be free of fear. This is the deal. Do what we say and you won’t have to worry about massive legal costs that will break you. Don’t do what we say and you risk ruin.

This is what a defamation threat does. It is weighed in favour of the plaintiff. It does not require a fair hearing in a court of law for it to be effective. It works entirely on fear. It is bullying. There’s no other way to describe it. It’s a bullying scam. The plaintiff counts on you collapsing and doing what she’s demanded, for fear of what will happen to you if you don’t.

You pay all the costs of her instigating this bullying action against yourself. The plaintiff will get exactly what she wants, which is you silenced, and it won’t cost her a cent.

Neither Tankard Reist nor her lawyers counted on their intended victim announcing she’d received defamation threats on Twitter. That wasn’t the way it was supposed to play out. Bullying only works when there’s secrecy. Take it out into the open, shine the light of day on it, and it’s useless as an intimidatory tactic.

Tankard Reist is reportedly horrified at the swell of reaction against her, some of which has been quite foul. I have also received some disgusting tweets from people claiming to be her supporters. I know how to use the block button. I know Melinda does as well. It works. If you don’t want to see them, Melinda, get someone else to monitor Twitter for you. And take responsibility for having created this situation all by yourself.

In her article in the SMH today, Julia Baird says in her last paragraph that it would be a pity if Tankard Reist’s faith was used to try to discredit her.

I’ve never used the ad hominem argument that MTR’s views should be dismissed because she’s a Christian. My argument is that as a public figure, seeking to influence public policy on female sexuality and its representation, and on abortion to which she is unequivocally opposed, she needs to be upfront about her religious allegiances. Women have the right to know if someone who is working to prevent access to abortion is doing so from concern for women, or is fueled by her belief system.

We need to have from MTR evidence -based arguments against abortion, and many other issues she argues on emotive and anecodotal grounds. Because if this evidence isn’t available, her conclusions are subjective. This is not good enough.

No one should be attacking Tankard Reist because of her faith. She should be rigorously questioned on her evidence for her claims and if she has none, then she should be asked to explain on what they are based. This is the price paid for advocating a public morality. I don’t care what she tells her children to do. But once she’s prescribing for women, thats another story.

Baird also asks the question when must a private faith become public? I would say certainly when the believer is in a position to effect public policy making on issues of morality. The churches have considerable power, consider for example their exemption from anti discrimination legislation in the matter of employing gays and lesbians. Any other employer who refused to hire on the grounds of sexual orientation would be liable for prosecution. Not so the churches. Why? Because of their beliefs.

So are we required on the one hand to adjust our laws to accommodate the Christian faith, while simultaneously granting the believers who influence those laws the right to conceal that faith from the public gaze?

Are any Christians entitled to wield such influence, and to demand protection from all scrutiny as well?

I don’t understand this notion of privacy around religion. It seems to me many religious followers, perhaps not all Christians but certainly some, believe that living their faith in the light of day is one of the things their God requires of them. Christian politicians for example, usually seem reasonably up front about where they are coming from. What reasons would a Christian have for demanding privacy for their faith in Australia? They aren’t facing any kind of discrimination or persecution, indeed it is their churches that are enacting discrimination.

This:

Matthew 5:14-16  “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

And this:

Matthew 28:18-20
(18)  And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  (19)  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:  (20)  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

While it seems that faith is regarded as personal in many Christian teachings, it is not regarded as private, and these are two entirely separate things.

Tankard Reist has publicly said that she tries to live her life doing what Jesus wants. Where does Jesus require his followers to be private about their belief in him?

I don’t know how long Tankard Reist and her lawyers can keep their threats hanging over my head. I have no control over this. In the meantime thank you to everyone who is helping me with their concern, interest, signing of the petition, tweets, DMs, blog comments, phone calls, and even dinners and wine. I count myself lucky. Very, very lucky. And I thank you.

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