Archive | February, 2012

Deconstructing Scotty

28 Feb

The refugee is the representative of total otherness…This is the reason why the refugee is seen as such a threat…the terrifying absolute, total other, the symbol of contamination that otherness may bring upon community and identity. Costas Douzinas

Scott Morrison makes this existential fear of contamination by otherness literal in his construction of boat arrivals as “diseased,” and threateningly infectious to healthy Australians who are bound to take responsibility for their care.

He isn’t the first to draw this comparison between the otherness of asylum seekers and disease. The Solicitor General for Australia, David Bennett QC, when he defended the Howard government’s excision and migration laws in the High Court back in the early 2000’s linked the two thus:

Today, invasions don’t have to be military … they can be of diseases, they can be of unwanted migrants….

And then we have this:

Antisemitism is exactly the same as delousing. Getting rid of lice is not a question of ideology. It is a matter of cleanliness. In just the same way, antisemitism, for us, has not been a question of ideology, but a matter of cleanliness, which now will soon have been dealt with. We shall soon be deloused. We have only 20,000 lice left, and then the matter is finished within the whole of Germany.

— Heinrich Himmler, April 1943

So what can we take from Morrison’s tactic of blaming boat arrivals for exposing honest Australian workers and children to disease?  On the most superficial level it’s just another attempt to highlight the government’s failure to adequately manage the boats, although what Morrison would consider adequate management is anybody’s guess. His boss Tony Abbott just wants to turn them round and send them back to anywhere but here.

However, the narrative Morrison uses as a means to attack the government is far more sinister than Abbott’s preferred solution. Morrison, like many before him, is engaging in propaganda to further dehumanise boat arrivals with the goal of whipping up fear and loathing in the community that he can then use to turn voters against the government.

Boat arrivals are already widely perceived as breaking the law by requesting asylum here, a perception that is entirely wrong. Add to that the suggestion that they are dangerous to us because they are diseased, and their dehumanisation is almost complete.

Nothing unites a people like the threat of an external enemy. John Howard knew this well, and won an election by creating an enemy from whom he then offered voters protection. He was assisted by others such as then Senator Ross Lightfoot, who referred to boat arrivals as “uninvited and repulsive people whose sordid list of behaviours included scuttling their own boats.” (Human Rights Watch Report, 2003).

In case it wasn’t clear enough how undesirable boat arrivals are: “These people abuse their children,” Howard informed us. “I don’t want people who abuse their children in our country.” He must have meant he didn’t want anymore people who abuse children in our country, conveniently ignoring the sex abuse scandals raging in the Catholic and Anglican churches at that very time, and the appalling child abuse statistics generated by those already residing here. In using child abuse as an example, Howard unwittingly revealed the level of denial in which he lived his life and practiced his politics.

Howard was supported in his beliefs about boat arrivals by Anglican Dean Philip Jensen, who advised his flock in St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, in 2003 that any beliefs other than Christian are “the monstrous lies and deceits of Satan, devised to destroy the life of the believers.”  Yes, he meant Muslims who fetched up here on boats.

Criminals, harbingers of disease  and bent upon spiritual destruction of Christians.

Howard later revealed Jensen to be his spiritual mentor, to whom he turned for advice on stem cell research, Iraq and “moral issues.”

It hardly needs stating that anyone, refugee or intrepid traveller, can arrive in the country by air or sea, infected with something the rest of us would rather not catch. A friend of mine contracted tuberculous while travelling in India, for example, and unknowingly brought it home. Chlamydia, another disease listed by Morrison, is one of the fastest growing sexually transmitted diseases among young adults in Australia, and it isn’t being transmitted by asylum seekers in detention centres. It’s not hard to demolish Morrison’s stupidity.

But what is harder to demolish is the narrative he’s dedicated to continuing, a narrative that originated with Howard, Jensen, Lightfoot, Ruddock, Reith and the like, and that holds sway over politicians of all persuasions to this day. In this narrative, people who have every right to request asylum here are cast as criminals solely because they accept the invitation we extend through our voluntary commitment to a United Nations Convention.

But casting them as criminals isn’t enough. Through what philosopher Martha Nussbaum describes as “a narcissistic refusal to tolerate the reality of something different from oneself,” boat arrivals are assigned the role of scapegoat for all that apparently threatens a country that has alarming tendencies towards paranoia and neurotic anxieties about sovereignty.

With Philip Ruddock referring to them as “infecting” us,  the boat arrival rapidly became in our mythology what Rénè Girard, in his commentary on the purpose of scapegoating, describes as “…the polluted figure, whose appearance within their boundaries fills the inhabitants with dread.”

We need proper processes for asylum seekers who arrive by boat, including attention to health issues for their protection and ours. But why does this have to be framed as a moral rather than a practical and human rights issue?

Morrison is a Christian, a member of the Assemblies of God Pentecostal churches. Does he share Philip Jensen’s views on the destructive and Satanic intentions of non-Christians?

Morrison’s press release is abhorrent. Is this the kind of Christian politician we want in government? And what the hell would Jesus say? It’s perfectly reasonable to ask that question of any Christian, and to expect a serious answer.

It’s time to refuse the moralistic narrative politicians like Morrison impose on what are questions of practicality and human rights. Let’s deal with them within those frameworks.

When I visited detainees in the Woomera Detention Centre I was overwhelmed by the effort they made to extend hospitality to me. They had nothing, and faced an uncertain future. Yet they managed to offer refreshments and they apologised for their necessarily constrained ability to honour a guest as they would like. The contrast between their notions of hospitality and the attitude of many in this country towards their appeal for sanctuary here, is shocking.

Yes, the detainees I met were absolutely “other” to me. But when encountering Other we have choices as to how we respond. “Other”, in the words of Derrida, “brings me more than I contain…” if only I allow that.

To shelter the other in one’s own land or home, to tolerate the presence of the land-less and homeless on the “ancestral soil” so jealously, so meanly loved – is that the criterion of humanness? Unquestionably so. Emmanual Levinas.


Scott Morrison and “diseased” asylum seekers.

28 Feb

Below is a media release  issued yesterday by Scott Morrison, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship.

Typhoid cases on latest boats highlight the risk of Labor’s border failures

Monday 27th February 2012

The confirmation of two cases of typhoid for asylum seekers on recent illegal boat arrivals to Christmas Island highlights again the risks and consequences of Labor’s failed border protection policies, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Scott Morrison said today.

“When illegal boats turn up in our waters there will always be the risk that people on these boats will carry serious communicable diseases. The more boats there are, the greater the risk of serious diseases presenting,” Mr Morrison said.

“Last year there were 56 cases of communicable disease from those who had arrived on illegal boats. These cases included everything from Tuberculosis and Hepatitis C to Chlamydia and Syphilis. These latest cases have now added typhoid to the list,” he said.

“Of greatest immediate concern is the risk to Australians living on Christmas Island, including children attending the local schools, as well those who come in direct contact with asylum seekers including our defence forces, Customs and border protection officers, federal police, detention centre workers, health professionals and immigration staff.

“These Australians have been living on the front line of Labor’s failed border protection for the past four years.

“Despite the best efforts of our health professionals and other officials responsible for dealing with these situations, there are no guarantees that the arrival of people carrying these diseases could not lead to an outbreak on Christmas Island or the transfer of these diseases to the mainland. This is the risk of failed border protection policy.

“In the past three months more than 2,100 people have turned up on 26 illegal boats. This is the highest number of arrivals over summer on record and 50% more than Labor’s previous record two year ago.

“Labor’s largest ever summer of boats followed their decision to introduce mainstream release of asylum seekers into the community, with support payments, free housing and set up packages worth up to $10,000.

“As long as Labor’s soft policies on our borders continue, these boats will continue to arrive along with the risks they carry, including people with serious communicable diseases,” Mr Morrison said.

The following communicable diseases were detected in immigration detention facilities on Christmas Island from 1 July 2010 to 6 May 2011 –

Diagnosis – Total
Chlamydia – 4
Dengue – 2
Gonorrhoea – 1
Hepatitis B – 10
Hepatitis C – 3
Malaria – 1
Pertussis – 1
Shingles – 3
Syphilis – 29
Tetanus – 1
Tuberculosis
(active) – 1
Grand Total 56
Source: Question on Notice, 11/12 Budget Estimates (BE11/0615)

A tale told by idiots

26 Feb

And so we enter the next stage of the Gillard/Rudd cage fight.

It’s nasty. It’s dirty. And despite Attorney-General Nicola Roxon’s political speak, Monday’s leadership challenge will not be the end of it, no matter which contestant triumphs. In a valiant effort to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted, Roxon is now calling for everyone to get behind whoever wins. Yes. I can see that happening. They’ve all demonstrated their capacity to focus on the big picture, haven’t they?

We are witnessing a clash of egos. It’s likely that anyone who seeks to lead a government is going to need exceptional self-belief and both Gillard and Rudd have demonstrated they’ve got it in spades. Remember Gillard announcing Rudd’s ousting with the revelation that the government had lost its way and she was the messiah who was going to get it and the country back on track?

Then this week we have Rudd telling us that only he can save us from an Abbott-led coalition government, to which Roxon responded that we ought to stop being fanciful about messianic rescuers. Of course she didn’t add, only if they were Rudd.

Neither of the contestants is messianic. They’re both more than a little shabby, and tainted by circumstances of their own making. If anyone is depending on either of them to save the country from Tony Abbott, they’re going to be very disappointed.

There’s a monumental battle going on to claim the high moral ground, when it ought to be about good governance. The level of vitriol directed at Rudd by Wayne Swan, Simon Crean and others is alarming: suppose Rudd does win tomorrow, or at  later date, how are they going to work with him? Have they all forgotten why they were elected? Man up, people. Stop whining about the demon Rudd and get on with your jobs. The world is full of people who don’t get on with their bosses. Most of them have to just suck it up.

This can’t be the first government to endure serious tensions, but they usually don’t get into this disgraceful self-eviscerating state about them.

As if that isn’t enough, the populace by far prefers Rudd to both Gillard and Abbott. It’s a reckless politician that denies the popular will, especially with this history behind it.

The overthrow of Rudd was bound to end in tears. What a pity those who dreamed up that scheme lacked the foresight to predict it’s inevitably long-lasting and complex repercussions. There seems to be an alarming disconnect between the government and the people, one that began when Rudd was ousted without much explanation. It’s a bit late now to wash that dirty linen, and it also looks rather after the fact.

Gillard may well be more capable of facilitating the daily business of governing the country than Rudd proved to be. Rudd may well be streets ahead in popularity, and perhaps this does indicate he stands a better chance against Abbott in 2013. That depends on what he does between now and then, should he win tomorrow. If his return to the leadership causes widespread revolt and ministerial resignations that’s only going to play into Abbott’s hands. This doesn’t augur well for Roxon’s preferred solution, and as she has already stated that if Rudd offered her a portfolio she wouldn’t accept it, one has to wonder just what she’s on about. While Rudd may be difficult, some of the others don’t sound so straightforward either. They also sound a long way from making the best of it and getting behind whoever wins.

This morning Education Minister Peter Garrett announced he wouldn’t work in a Rudd government. Who do these people think they are? Elected representatives, that’s who they are, and they aren’t elected to refuse portfolios.

If Gillard is returned, she and her camp can be accused of yet again ignoring the will of the people, who’ve demonstrated in the polls they want Rudd back, and more, didn’t want him thrown out in the first place. Somehow, Gillard will have to turn around those who are resentful, feel cheated, and don’t want her as leader when it comes time to fight the next election. One can imagine how Abbott will use this “denial of the will of the people” narrative against the ALP.

The only winner of tomorrow’s contest is likely to be Abbott, I fear. Serves the ALP right, I also fear. But pity the poor punters. We’re the victims in this farce. Not Rudd. Not Gillard. Not any of those precious pollies who just couldn’t find a way to work with their boss. They should have tried harder, shouldn’t they? Because they are probably going to pay the ultimate price for ousting him when they become the opposition in 2013.

This is truly a tale told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Another little break

18 Feb

I’m off for week’s holiday this morning, so my visits to Sheep will be intermittent, depending on when my household let me have access to my laptop! I’ve been banned from use of social media on a daily basis for the week.

And for my regular commenter Hypo, I’ve done everything necessary to retrieve you from spam so you shouldn’t have any more trouble.

Have a good week.

Forgiveness and human rights: a response to Charles Griswold

15 Feb



Part One

In which I argue the nature and purpose of forgiveness from a secular perspective, that is, from a horizontal, inter-human position, rather than the vertical, theological position of divine forgiveness and grace. I argue against the appropriation of forgiveness to the service of a philosophical discourse, and for multiple understandings and practices of forgiveness that are not reliant either on philosophy, or religious belief.

Must we not accept that, in heart or in reason, above all when it is a question of ‘forgiveness’, something arrives which exceeds all institution, all power, all juridico-political authority? Jacques Derrida

So let us speak of the mystery of forgiveness. Forgiving is imperative…it is extremely difficult to forgive. I don’t even know if forgiveness exists. Hélène Cixous

In his 2007 philosophical exploration of forgiveness, Charles Griswold, Professor of Philosophy at Boston University, states that forgiveness should be understood as

…a moral relation between two individuals, one of whom has wronged the other, and who (at least in the ideal), are capable of communication with each other. In this ideal context, forgiveness requires reciprocity between injurer and injured. I shall reserve the term forgiveness for this moral relation. All parties to the discussion about forgiveness agree, so far as I can tell, that this is a legitimate context for the use of the term; and most take it as its paradigm sense, as shall I.

A further definition of forgiveness is ‘…first and foremost the foreswearing of revenge…and of the other abuses of resentment.’ This definition will be implicit throughout my argument, but not in the context of its application being restricted to the paradigm of ideal conditions proposed by Griswold.

Griswold also states that his inquiry is secular, however within that stated secularity he has constructed a dogma, a system of principles and tenets authoritatively laid down, as by a church. Failure to attain the requirements of these principles and tenets results, Griswold claims, in exclusion from the possibility of forgiveness: ‘Where none of the conditions is met, the threshold of what will count as forgiveness is not crossed; sadly, and painfully, in such cases we are either unforgiven, or unable to forgive,’ he claims.

I explore the ramifications of this prohibition primarily from the perspective of the injured, and suggest that it is an extremely serious matter to cast either the injured or the injurer as beyond the ameliorating possibilities of forgiving and forgiveness, whether this is done under the umbrella of philosophy or religion.

I’m going to argue that the most appropriate context for discussions of forgiveness is within an embodied discourse of human rights. I’m also intrigued by what Judith Butler describes as the ‘…moral predicament that emerges as a consequence of being injured’ and from that argue that forgiveness is both a practical and an ethical necessity, and that it is the victim’s privilege, task and responsibility.

As well, I argue against Griswold’s belief that the perpetrator’s remorse is necessary for forgiveness. I also claim in opposition to Griswold that the attitude of perpetrators to their victims can and frequently must be irrelevant to the victim’s decisions about forgiveness.  We need a paradigm of forgiveness that is based in the embodied experiences of the injured, rather than defined as an abstract ideal to which the injured must aspire.

I don’t know what forgiveness is, though I’ve spent many hours thinking about it. Some say that it’s a state of grace that comes without announcement. Some say it’s a calm, in which there’s no ill will, and perhaps no thought at all. Some say it’s when you know something has ended and move on, without even really noticing

None of my propositions comply with the requirements of a concept of ideal forgiveness, whether that is theological or philosophical. They are a consequence of my experience of injury, and the subsequent profound moral dilemma I experienced. This dilemma is centred on the quite natural desire for redress and revenge, and the possibility of becoming a perpetrator if I act on this desire.

While Griswold’s definition is a legitimate context for the use of the term forgiveness, to declare this context the ‘paradigm sense’ taken by ‘most’, is to exclude from the experience of forgiveness millions upon millions of the injured who, for various reasons, are denied or legitimately shy away from the possibility of communication with their injurer. I argue instead for a much broader understanding of forgiveness, one in which unilateral forgiveness, that is, forgiveness that does not require the co-operation of the perpetrator, is included in the forgiveness paradigm.

I do this because injuries after which there is a possibility of ‘reciprocity’ are likely to be less common than those in which the perpetrator is unavailable or unrepentant. Such latter injuries can range in nature from the offended householder whose freshly painted wall is vandalised by unknown graffiti artists, to the victim of sexual assault whose rapist cannot be found, to the survivors of genocide whose tormentors are dead or unidentified. That is, circumstances which Griswold casts as ‘non-paradigmatic’, for example ‘…forgiving the dead or unrepentant…’ are likely to be more frequent than instances in which the injured and injurer are capable of communication and resolution.

As well, Griswold situates his argument ‘…in the ideal…’ and circumstances extraneous to this ideal are described as ‘…lacking or imperfect relative to the paradigm.’ If the circumstances do not fit Griswold’s ideal paradigm of dyadic forgiveness due to their failure to comply with the necessary ‘…baseline conditions…’ then, he claims: ‘…you are not engaged in forgiving, but doing something else.’

Below ideal baseline conditions for legitimate entry into Griswold’s country of forgiveness: ‘…may lie excuse, or condonation, or explanation, or any number of psychological strategies from rationalisation to amnesia…’ In other words if I assert that I have forgiven my perpetrator without having entered into communication with him, and without the benefit of his expressed remorse, then I am deluding myself.  Griswold elaborates: ‘…just being in the psychic state of no longer feeling resentment…whether that state is induced by medication, therapy, an astonishing act of will, an ostensibly religious revelation, or what have you,’ is not, he claims, sufficient to qualify as forgiveness.

As any survivor will attest, there is no such thing as ‘just being’ free of resentment: the struggle to overcome that feeling and everything associated with it is enormous, frequently ongoing and often demands more than just one ‘astonishing act of will.’ There is also a considerable difference between being medicated, and exercising one’s will. This argument for what forgiveness is not and why it is not is unconvincing, as is any argument that concludes an extensive list of unrelated generalisations with the phrase ‘what have you’.

The construction of an ‘ideal’ that is exterior to the imperfect human condition, complete with prescriptives and prohibitions for its attainment, is not entirely dissimilar to constructing a theology, not least in that both demand an original act of faith and belief in the existence of a fixed transcendental, from which subsequent thinking ensues. While the secular as proposed by Griswold is firmly disassociated by him from the religious, their prescriptive, exclusionary, and monolithic discourses are remarkably similar. For example: ‘…we count the capacity to forgive – in the right way and under the right circumstances – as part and parcel of a praiseworthy character,’ states Griswold. Who are the ‘we’ represented here, by what authority and process do they determine the ‘right way and circumstances’ for forgiveness, and how and by whom is the praiseworthiness of character determined?

The phrase ‘right way and circumstances’ inevitably makes reference to a metaphysical authority that ultimately determines what is praiseworthy and right, unless Griswold is assuming this authority for himself.

In a paper titled ‘Derrida, Death and Forgiveness,’ Andrew McKenna observes that Derrida

…claims to find in Western Philosophy a crypto-theology. His analyses regularly uncover presuppositions about foundations and primacies, points of origin and authoritative presences that correspond to nothing other than a Supreme Being, however veiled or unapproachable.

It is just such a crypto-theology that Griswold has constructed in his philosophy of forgiveness, in which forgiveness is perceived first and foremost as an ideal concept located in the authority of an unidentified exteriority, and one that the imperfect human being must struggle to attain.

In claiming the necessity for a sovereign ideal that must create notions of lack, imperfection, exclusion and failure, Griswold is describing a vertical concept of forgiveness that can be seen as largely irrelevant to the temporal and inter-human experience of suffering and forgiveness, as viewed through the secular lens, and through the horizontal discourse of human rights. Human beings are most usefully served, I would argue, by considering forgiveness not as an ideal whose conditions one may fail to meet, and perhaps through no fault of one’s own, but rather as a universally accessible, cosmopolitan practice.

To be continued.

When it’s ethical to disclose your religious beliefs

11 Feb

I grew up in a nominally Christian household. I was educated at a boarding school run by Anglican nuns. As a young mother I had my sons baptised. Soon I’ll attend the baptism of my infant grandson.

In my early thirties, I ceased to believe in the Christian God and organised religion. A few years later feminism gave me the analytic tools to deconstruct religion and reveal it for the powerfully oppressive force it can be for women.

I look back to my time with the nuns with great gratitude, but I no longer subscribe to their beliefs.

What I learned about being a Christian is that a follower is expected to live his or her faith. It isn’t some abstract concept that is trotted out on Sundays. It’s supposed to imbue every aspect of life, every action the believer takes is to be taken in God’s light, and when a Christian encounters difficulties of any kind, a Christian prays to God for guidance and sustenance. No matter what one’s profession, one is expected to perform it as a Christian, according to Christian values.

I don’t know if all Christians learn this, but we certainly did.

Followers are also expected to identify themselves in the hope that others will “see their good works and glorify their father in heaven.” And, hopefully, join the religion.

These seem to me a commendable set of expectations. Transparency, honesty, willingness to share, and to extend invitations to others to join you in what you believe to be the best way to live a life here on earth.

As long as they remain strictly invitations.

So I am entirely unable to comprehend the attitude held by Melinda Tankard Reist that her religious faith distracts from her work and she doesn’t want to talk about it for fear of being “labelled.” Labelled what, I’d like to ask. Labelled Christian? How and why does Tankard Reist believe that being labelled as a Christian distracts or detracts from her work?

In an interview with Reist on Mia Freedman’s website mamamia is this observation: Ms Reist herself has said in the past that she is reluctant to discuss her stance on religion because people tend to use it to ‘colour’ the rest of her work.

My understanding is that a Christian is supposed to “colour” their work, indeed colour their whole lives with the presence of God. Why is this “colouring” regarded as negative by Reist to the degree that she is reluctant to discuss her religious views and appears to distance herself from them when the question of their influence on her work arises?

In the same interview a comment from Herald Sun journalist Jill Singer:

Worst of all, in my view, is that Tankard Reist protests robustly if anyone dares question what it is that informs her strongly held opinions. Specifically, she gets very, very edgy if anyone dares suggest her Christian beliefs influence her opinions.

If you are proud of your beliefs, and are living a life based on them, why would you become “very, very edgy” if anyone suggests those beliefs influence your opinions?

As she is a Christian we can legitimately expect that Reist comes to her morality influenced and guided by the morality of her faith. If this is not the case, then one has to wonder what kind of Christianity she practices, as the concept of a Christian who is Christian in everything other than her morality is somewhat baffling.

When Reist in her role as the morals police seeks to influence public morality and public policy, it is entirely reasonable for her audience to ask if her morality is influenced by her Christian beliefs. Christians have very specific moral positions. They are not all the same, and unless Reist reveals what hers are, we can only make assumptions. To claim, as does Reist, that her Christian beliefs are in some way different from her moral campaigns and can’t be discussed as they will “distract” from those campaigns, is more than a little bizarre.

Ethically, Reist is required to reveal how her Christian beliefs influence her opinions.  The public is not required to sit meekly by and unquestioningly accept a social order likely designed according to Christian morality, particularly if that morality is in some way concealed.

My Christian upbringing taught open-ness, pride, and joy in that faith. The idea that faith would detract from a moral message is simply incomprehensible. Does one build compartments, then? In here my faith, in there my morality and the two have no relationship?

The ethics of the situation are obvious. If Tankard Reist is a practicing Christian then there is no doubt that her faith guides her moral values. If she has a relationship with God in which she seeks through prayer advice and instruction on her work, as Christians are required to do, then she is ethically obliged to disclose this.

If she is seeking to morally prescribe for the public then we need to know if she does this in conjunction with her relationship with the Christian God, or if she is acting entirely alone.

Why? Because there are millions of us who do not believe in that God and do not wish to be forced to live our lives subject to any Christian morality. We have a human right to live free of religion and the imposition of religious morality.

We have the right to ask, is Tankard Reist acting in the best interests of human beings or in the service of her God? Because the two do not always coincide. The bottom-line with just about all religions is what many of the followers perceive to be God’s will, and not necessarily the welfare of human beings. We have overwhelming evidence of this priority.

If anyone seeks to morally prescribe from such a position, I am entitled to know that and to make my decisions accordingly. In those circumstances it is, to my mind, completely unethical to refuse to discuss one’s relationship with religion and its influence on one’s very public work.


Greer at the Opera House, Eva Cox, Julia Gillard and MTR. Feminism today. *Sigh*

7 Feb

There’s been a debate raging in the media for over three weeks now as to whether or not morals campaigner Melinda Tankard Reist’s claim to be a feminist is legitimate. Some of the arguments are addressed here and here.

This has come at a convenient time for the Sydney Opera House events management team, who have now co-opted the debate and the threats of defamation made against me by Tankard Reist as advertising material for their upcoming event starring Germaine Greer and Naomi Wolf. This event is titled “The F-Word,” and up until the legal threat the organisers were worried that nobody was interested in feminism anymore. The resulting internecine wars have gone a long way towards cheering them up.

Any woman who believes she has the right to tell any other woman she may not call herself a feminist is engaging in an act of bullying. A woman may self-identify in whatever way she chooses. Others may disagree with her choice but disagreement isn’t the same thing as attempting to deny her the right to define herself as she sees fit.

There were at least twenty-seven different factions of feminism last time I counted, many with oppositional points of view. Hegemonic attempts to impose just one definition of the ideology as the norm on all women who would thus identify themselves, is antithetical to feminist principles.

In a situation where the group calls itself “feminist” and is but one of many groups identifying as such, on what grounds does this group assume the entitlement and privilege that allows them to declare all others ineligible?

The ongoing fights about who is entitled to identify herself as a “feminist” are a sad indicator of an ideology that is rapidly disappearing up its own fundament. For example, presented with a choice between engaging in public debate about the other issues the Reist defamation threats have raised, such as free speech, our defamation laws, the rights of bloggers and social media users, all of which are or would once have been considered feminist issues, the public feminists decided to ignore all that.

Then we have the pro Tankard Reist argument that she is an “authentic” feminist as presented here. Whenever someone uses the word “authentic” in an argument such as this I wonder why. To cast other feminists as “inauthentic” perhaps? The article is written by women who describe themselves as “radical” feminists. Are they also authentic? Have I fallen down a rabbit hole?

The battle for and against is two sides of the same struggle for sole possession and domination of the feminist narrative. A struggle that is founded on exclusion, expulsion, entitlement, privilege, and an appalling lack of imagination.

If I wanted to define feminism for myself, I would turn to bell hooks

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.

 At the risk of incurring the usual old anti feminist slurs, I’d suggest that any woman or group of women who seek to take possession of the term “feminist” are engaging in their own form of patriarchal domination, and one that we could all do well without.

I don’t know if Greer and Wolfe will be discussing any of this. But I am bemused as I watch a defamation threat made against me by a self-described feminist, turned into an advertisement for an Opera House event at which two of the planet’s most famous feminists will discuss the relevance of feminism. Irony, anyone?

Then there’s the furore about whether or not criticism leveled at Julia Gillard is sexist and misogynist. This is difficult. I’m of the opinion that there is a strong misogynist undercurrent, but I can’t prove it. It’s easy enough to find examples of male PM’s whose appearance is subject to mockery, and exaggerating physical appearance of politicians is the cartoonists’ stock in trade.

Gillard comes with baggage of the worst kind. Would the emotions surrounding that baggage have remained so powerfully alive had a man ousted Kevin Rudd? Is it worse when a woman does it? And if so, why? Is this a manifestation of unresolved mother issues from the time when many of us were under some woman’s thumb, and powerless? Does it hurt more when a woman does it because they aren’t supposed to?

Fascinating questions for an analyst of the collective psyche.

I do take issue with the argument that because she’s a woman Gillard has less authority. She has authority, and in my opinion that authority is both increasing and stabilising as she grows into her role.

Rather, there are those among us who resent a woman’s authority. We might like to reframe that as the woman’s regrettable lack of that quality, however I don’t believe that’s the case in this instance. Anyone who watched as Gillard calmly instructed her bodyguards to ensure Abbott’s safety on Australia Day can’t claim the woman has no authority. It’s innate.

The inability to accept and deal with a female authority figure  is often expressed in dismissive contempt.

In many ways turning the Gillard story into a gender argument is not helpful, even though misogyny is undoubtedly present and ought to be outed if possible. Nevertheless, a woman can’t win when gender becomes the focus of the debate, and Bob Brown didn’t do Gillard any favours by attempting to defend her. I doubt it’s a stoush the PM herself is eager to engage with.

And so to the second feminist Australian Legend to be honoured by Australia Post, Eva Cox.

After referring to me as a nit-picking blogger in her article for New Matilda on whether Tankard Reist is a feminist or not, Cox later apologised for the insult.

However, as she then went ahead and published the same article again here I’ve come to the conclusion that her apology meant less than nothing.

It’s interesting being silenced from both ends of the feminist spectrum. Tankard Reist uses the law in an effort to control me. Cox chooses the arguably more subtle method of refusing to name me and dismissing my arguments at the same time. A man would be pilloried for using the same negating tactics against a woman writer.

Cox apparently has no objections to the law being employed to silence female dissent, which surprises me somewhat, but there you go. Tankard Reist has positively seized upon the law as an instrument of personal control, and has now resorted to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights as well.

Then there’s this description of me and my kind made by Cathy Sherry, in her article defending Tankard Reist. I am, she writes, an  “unaccountable blogger sneering and abusing from the safety of [my] bedroom.” According to Ms Sherry, I’m not even worthy of an office simply because I blog. In a later comment elsewhere Ms Sherry refers to me as “faceless” as well, while Anne Summers refers to me simply as “a blogger”. Summers also apologised later.

How to explain this feminist contempt for female bloggers? One would think that blogging and feminism were made for each other. The blog offers an ordinary woman a voice where once there was a deep silence that has been broken only by a select few.

At the end of  three weeks of remarkable encounters with a variety of self-described feminists I have to conclude that because I’m unknown, a blogger, and entirely without influence I don’t count as a feminist or as a woman, and am to be shut up one way or another by a feminist who has more of a public presence than me.

I’m not unduly upset by all this, but I am very puzzled, as well as a little aggravated. I fear it says a great deal about where feminism is today, and it isn’t pretty. I fear it suggests that feminism has sold itself out to some of the values it once despised and resisted. I fear it’s going to be all down hill from here, if we aren’t very careful.

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