Archive | March, 2012

Tony Abbott, Freud, the death metaphor, and nannies

31 Mar

Bereft of anything resembling policy and driven by a singular obsession to become Prime Minister, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has to find a way to keep himself in the public eye. How better than to make offensive statements, sit back and wait for the outrage, then apologise publicly for your error in judgement? He’s on record as admitting a “slight tendency to draw attention to myself,” and BTW, I recommend this link: it will take you to an excellent blog on Abbott and women, a topic I cannot bring myself to address right now.

This is not a technique for the faint-hearted, but it can be carried off by someone whose sense of entitlement is so overweening, he believes he’ll be forgiven anything. Do it often enough and people can become inured to it. “Oh, that’s just Abbott, he’s always saying outrageous things and then apologising.” This can have the effect of minimising the offensive nature of his remarks, as one follows another with such rapidity the observer can barely keep track. I hope somebody is keeping a list.

Cynic I may be, but I see this as a deliberate strategy. I don’t think Tony Abbott is always making gaffes, though I admit he does that as well. In any case, it hardly matters – the gaffes also reveal a great deal about the man’s beliefs and mindset. A gaffe can be interpreted as a Freudian slip in its original sense:  the numerous little slips and mistakes which people make — symptomatic actions, as they are called […] I have pointed out that these phenomena are not accidental, that they require more than physiological explanations, that they have a meaning and can be interpreted, and that one is justified in inferring from them the presence of restrained or repressed intentions  [Freud, An Autobiographical Study (1925)] 

Yes. That. Especially the restrained and repressed intentions.

For example, I don’t believe for a moment that Abbott had forgotten the Sarah Palin crosshairs rhetoric and the attempted assassination of US Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords when he warned in Parliament that Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her colleagues had “targets on their foreheads.” What Abbott revealed in making this threat (and it is a threat) is that he shares the Palin mindset, the “lock and load” vision of politics that inspires the metaphor of killing your opponents, rather than just winning an electoral contest. In the case of Giffords, the metaphor became reality. The degree to which Palin’s campaign influenced Giffords’ attacker is likely impossible to ascertain. However, if leaders use violent and murderous language against their opposition,they  set a violent and murderous tone for  political discourse that makes the possibility of violent and murderous action a little more thinkable. No amount of apologising from Abbott can undo the revelation that he thinks in these terms. This is not one of those sporting metaphors so beloved by some politicians. It is a metaphor of death.

Although here I must confess that I’ve argued against the viability of death as a metaphor as follows:

Initially the death metaphor appears to be a viable until one looks more deeply into the associations it claims to make. Unlike any other metaphorical associations, those made with death are entirely incapable of substantiation: we have no idea at all of death’s composition and qualities. Death denotes radical absence, both of the sentient being and of knowledge: it signifies radical ignorance, and the utter impossibility of knowing. There is nothing in life, it can be argued, for which death can be asked metaphorically to stand.

But that’s another story and I only refer to it in case somebody who knows pulls me up for using a figure of speech I’ve claimed at some length is unusable. This is known metaphorically as covering my arse.

And so to nannies. Let me say right off I have no quarrel with people employing nannies. Had I been able to I would have, because working full time and looking after little kids is no joke. For a brief period when I lived overseas I had an au pair and it was heaven. However, it never occurred to us that anyone else would help us pay for  it. Tony Abbott seems to think it’s perfectly acceptable to extend the child care rebate to include families who employ live-in nannies. He proposes that this would be paid for “within the existing funding envelope,” necessitating big cuts in the rebates currently given to families who use day care centres and Family Day Care.

Given that a certain standard of housing and living is required to employ a live-in nanny or au pair (who receive wages plus room and board) this is not a viable option for families without spare rooms, and on a budget that cannot accommodate feeding and housing another adult. If everyone’s rebates are to be cut to service those families with the means to accommodate live-in nannies, this makes it even less likely that lower income parents would be able afford to employ live-in help. It will also put an unacceptable strain on those who are just making ends meet with the child care rebate to which they are currently entitled. All in all, it sounds like a plan to take from the less well off to give to the affluent. Why am I not surprised at yet another Coalition expression of universal entitlement.

Of course, this is quite likely another of Abbott’s attention-getting scams. And it has succeeded. The Opposition Leader is apparently in a place where even negative attention is better than none. Any nanny worth her salt would by now have sent him to the naughty corner to think about his behaviour.  For which she would likely receive this look:

Jenny Craig stoush: conference sponsor responds to Sheep

29 Mar

Dannielle Miller, Random House Image

Dannielle Miller, educator, author, business woman, children’s advocate and co-founder of Enlightened Education, left the following comments on yesterday’s article on the Jenny Craig situation.

To provide some background that may assist as things do seem somewhat confused here.As an educator and sponsor of the Alliance Conference, I initially raised concern over having the leader of a diet industry speak at a conference for leaders of girls’ schools with a polite email, and when my concerns did not seem to be understood, I sent the Alliance a more detailed letter of concern which you may read at this link:http://enlighteneducation.edublogs.org/2012/03/22/alliance-of-girls-school-conference-2012-say-no-to-diets/.I also decided to withdraw my company’s sponsorship of the conference.Interestingly, in the context of freedom of speech, I was then told I by the Alliance that I was “unprofessional” for raising my concerns publicly on my blog and that this reflected “poorly” on me. Censorship indeed.

Rest assured many health practitioners did then also send polite letters and make polite phone calls. It is my understanding it was only after Lydia Jade Turner’s polite phone call was dismissed ( Ms Turner was claims she was told the matter would not be discussed and she was then hung up on by the Executive of the Alliance) that as a last resort an on-line petition was created.

I don’t think that Jenny Craig, part of the global giant Nestle, with their multi-million dollar marketing budget, will struggle to find an audience for their messages, do you? I admire individuals who also stand by their beliefs and chose to speak up against BIg Diet Inc. Why must they be told they cannot speak up? Isn’t belittling their genuine concern censorship too? Wasn’t the whole point of protests like Occupy to encourage people to stop being complacent sheep and to be active?

I decided I would sign the on-line petition too but I will admit I did wrestle with some of the concerns you are expressing here before doing so as I agree calling on speakers to be banned can be a slippery slope. I was asked to justify my stance in light of freedom of speech on my blog:

“Yeah, it’s really enlightened to try and ban someone because you don’t like the company they work for.
Is that what you preach to the people you claim to be helping – if you don’t like their views shut them down.
You should rename your outfit as the Unelightened Thought Police.”

After considering this carefully, for it raises a valid point, I came up with the following:

“I will state that I have never aimed at banning Amy Smith or Jenny Craig. I understand that Jenny Craig is a legitimate business and have made it clear I appreciate Ms Smith is a highly accomplished woman. My letter (in link above) expresses my concern over the selection of the leader of a diet company being selected as a speaker at a conference for leaders of girls’ education.

As an educator, author, media commentator, and advocate for girls I felt I had a professional responsibility to voice my concerns ( which may I add was not easy to do given the Alliance is made up of women I deeply respect) . As a friend to many young women struggling with eating disorders, and a mother to two young girls, I also felt compelled to speak my truth. Under freedom of speech, I also have the right to do this. As a sponsor of this event, I also have the right to withdraw my funding if I do not wish to see my funds spent spent legitimizing the diet industry in this way.

A colleague, Nina Funnell, offered me feedback which I think also raises a valid point: “If a respected expert in the field such as yourself can’t offer feedback and raise concerns without risking attack how on earth can girls- who often feel disenfranchised and powerless- be expected (let alone encouraged) to stand up for the things they believe in. The teenage girl in me is cheering you on.” Teen girls have incredibly radars for inauthenticity. I would feel quite the hypocrite talking to them about standing up for what they believe in if I didn’t model that I have the courage of my convictions.

In terms of what Enlighten (my company) teaches young women I can assure you we do not preach anything, nor would we ever act as thought police. Our company’s mission statement makes this clear: “ Enlighten encourages girls to reach their own conclusions 
and to know their own minds. Rather than telling girls what to do, we focus on informing, inspiring and empowering them. We
 encourage girls to be discerning consumers and critical thinkers and to find their own voice and power in a complex world.” Education is the key. In fact, in much of my writing on young women I warn of policing and patronizing.

In all honestly, based on the Alliance’s response to the expressions of concern they have received to date, I do not think they will reconsider their choice of speaker. However, my goal in making my concerns public was to illicit vital conversations on girls and dieting and body image. This issue has absolutely achieved this.

This morning a teacher at a girls’ school posed a query of what girls in schools learning about freedom of speech might make of the protests. I encouraged him to get his students to read widely from both perspectives and debate the issue. Debates like this, that will now begin happening in our classrooms, also are an absolute win.”

May I also add Jennifer that there are surely plenty of other successful business woman out there who could be asked to speak – women who do not have their current success linked to the diet industry, an industry that relies on generating body dissatisfaction? Keep in mind that body image angst is a HUGE issue for young women. If Ms Smith still worked at Honda, I would be the first to roll out the red carpet for her. If she was to speak at a business summit, I may well attend to hear her. But mixing Diet Inc and girl’s education in the current climate of body image angst and disordered eating patterns simply cannot be helpful.Anyway, great to see discussion happening.

Jenny Craig & Jackie O

28 Mar

The Alliance of Girls Schools recently invited the CEO of weight loss company Jenny Craig to speak to hundreds of teachers at their upcoming conference. Amy Smith plans to speak on women and leadership, not body image, however the invitation has caused outrage among some health professionals, who have organised an online petition with over a thousand signatures so far, claiming that by inviting Ms Smith the Alliance is endorsing unhealthy dieting practices.

I was initially confused, and thought Ms Smith was speaking to girls about Jenny Craig. Fair enough to question that I thought. But no, she’s speaking to teachers about women and leadership.

It seems to me that if health experts are enraged by Ms Smith speaking, they’re going to have to protest if any woman who has anything to do with the fashion industry, women’s magazines, the cosmetic industry, and cosmetic surgery, all of which promote an unhealthy obsession with physical appearance that ought not to be encouraged in girls, is invited to address any conference that has anything to do with people who are employed in girls’ education.  Otherwise they will appear inconsistent and lacking in credibility.

I’d engage anyone in a debate as to whether Jenny Craig or Cosmopolitan is more damaging to girls’ notions of how they should look. I’d also take on the magazines that contain pages of fashion and slimming advice, followed by an orgy of food porn, followed by scorn for celebrity cellulite and muffin tops. Mixed messages, anyone?

Body Matters eating disorder specialist Lydia Jane Turner says “…the idea of this person [Amy Smith] actually speaking about inequality of girls and the economic standing of women I find incredibly hypocritical.” Ms Turner justifies her feelings by pointing out that Jenny Craig has sponsored the Kyle Sandilands show, and that Vile Kyle has a history of “fat shaming.”

I may be on shaky ground here, as I recently called Clive Palmer a “fat shit” on Twitter. However, in my own defence, the mental image that term of abuse conjures for me is literal: a great big stinky brown log that won’t go down no matter how much you flush.

To me, there is something abhorrent in demanding that anyone not be allowed to speak. For example, I was highly offended when Tony Blair last visited this country, was fawned over by the media, and addressed university students in his usual messianic fashion, justifying his part in the invasion of Iraq because he felt it was “morally right.”  In my opinion, Blair is a war criminal and I don’t like the idea of a war criminal let loose to influence our young. However, petitioning to have him silenced is more offensive to me than allowing him to speak. As with Ms Smith, everyone knows where he’s coming from. Adults can make up their own minds about his message. Not everyone shares my perceptions of him, and why should I claim the right to impose my beliefs on others?

It isn’t Ms Smith’s stated intention to “fat shame” anyone. She’s a woman who’s done well in the business world, and she plans to talk about her experiences. Yes, she’s part of an industry that has a dark side. Is there any industry that doesn’t? And do we silence all representatives because of that? Cardinal George Pell had better give up public speaking for a start. There are few industries more dangerous to children than his has proved to be.

 

Speaking of Kyle Sandilands, this spray against his on-air partner Jackie O appeared on the mamamia website the other day. Jackie O apparently declined to describe herself as a feminist, incurring the wrath of Mia Freedman, who feels that we should all call ourselves feminists a) because we’ve benefited from the efforts of our predecessors, and b) because if we believe in equality we are feminists. This generous definition doesn’t take into account the furious public debates between feminists as to who is and is not deserving of the title, debates that caused confusion and resentment, and quite likely prompted more than one woman to vow she did not want the title anyway.

Prue Goward by publik15 via flickr

I first became aware of Jackie O when she was on the receiving end of a gratuitous attack by the NSW Minister for Middle Class Morality, Prue Goward. At the time I wrote this:

Prue Goward, recently appointed NSW Minister for Families, whatever that is, has taken a nasty swipe at radio personality Jackie O for the manner in which she fed her baby.

Apparently Jackie O gave the child a bottle while simultaneously walking across a pedestrian crossing, an action Goward likened to the famous Michael Jackson moment when he dangled his little son over a balcony in Germany and subsequently earned global contempt for his fathering skills.

Why this is a concern for the Minister for Families remains a mystery to me. An over-zealous commitment to her new portfolio? Is she going to focus on perceived child abuse by the rich and famous? If the mother had been a working class woman would Goward have even blinked?

I’m glad she wasn’t in the nursery when once, in a sleep deprived state similar to those experienced by former PM Kevin Rudd, I accidentally stuck my fingers in the wrong jar and pasted my baby boy’s bits with Vicks Vapour Rub instead of nappy rash cream.

Soon to become a dad himself for the first time, he looked at me speechless, and quite judgmentally, I thought, when I recently confessed this transgression. Too late I realised my mistake. Now I probably won’t be allowed anywhere near the new baby, but at least we know the Vicks didn’t do its daddy any damage.

My sympathies at the time were firmly with Jackie O. I’ve since had cause to reflect that her relationship with Kyle Sandilands does remind me of a variation of an abusive situation, in which Jackie plays the role of enabler.  In spite of this I’ve never quite lost my impression of her as vulnerable, so when I read the criticism of her not identifying as a feminist I wanted to protect her.

The inimitable Helen Razer has her say on the matter here.

Refusing to call yourself a feminist is a crime for which there is apparently no adequate punishment, and from which there is no possibility of redemption. You just have to do as you’re told and say you are, even if you don’t feel it’s really you. Here, as with the attempts to dictate whom the Alliance of Girls’ Schools may and may not invite to address them, we see further efforts by ideologues and morality police to control our public and private discourse, to the degree that we are told we should call ourselves something we do not feel we are.

Life seems increasingly to be a battle to preserve one’s own integrity against the onslaught of busybodies who’s own life purpose seems to be telling everybody else who we should be, what we should do, who we should listen to (invariably them) and what we can see. Personally, I’m over it. The only obligation anyone has is to be upfront about where they are coming from if they want to have a public voice. Silencing people is not on, and neither is telling women how to describe ourselves. Haven’t we got enough of that already from the patriarchy and the beauty industry, and the religious people and and and and……

Kitchen Cabinet’s empty.

25 Mar

I’ve only watched one and a half episodes of the ABC TV series Kitchen Cabinet, a program in which the public broadcaster’s chief online political writer Annabel Crabb, “cleverly uses food as a vehicle to humanise her interview subjects.”

I’ve never doubted that politicians are human. No other species so vilely manipulates its fellows in the blind pursuit of power.  Watching them eat, drink, and pretend they’re revealing their real selves does nothing to “humanise” them for me, given that “humanise” means to make more humane, humane being a state characterized by “tenderness, compassion, sympathy for people and animals, especially for the suffering or distressed.” Of course no politician is entirely bereft of all of these qualities, and some have many, and even Hitler loved his dog and Eva Braun.

But the bottom line with all politicians is winning government, and it’s the rare specimen indeed that will put humanity before that goal. In this they remind me of the religious right who put God before humanity, in fact between politicians and fundamentalist religions humanity doesn’t stand much of a chance.

Aside: I refer to Hitler only as an extreme example of how even our most monstrous monsters have tender moments, not to imply there is any resemblance with any of our politicians because clearly there isn’t. I shouldn’t have to say this, but people sue for less.

The idea that a sanitised dinner party with media savvy politicians recorded for public consumption by four cameras is going to humanise anybody, suggests that the ABC thinks we’re brain-dead suckers, unable to tell reality shows from reality.

Plus, it  sounds rather too much like Auntie has ventured into offering free public relations services  for select pollies, who must have been beside themselves with delight at being offered the opportunity to put on their human masks and spin themselves silly, all for free.

That this carnival was created and facilitated by the chief online political reporter causes my stomach to lurch. I have nothing against Ms Crabb and I want her frocks, but there is something viscerally awry with this combination. I do not want to see my public broadcaster’s chief online political reporter engaged in intimate food and wine consumption with my politicians. I just don’t. I want boundaries. I do not like this blatant fraternising.

I would like to believe that the ABC is on my side, that is, an independent, unbiased as possible link between me and the politicians. When the chips are down, I want an ABC that will ask the hard questions without fear or favour, because its journalists are working in the public interest, not those of the politicians. I want the ABC to intercede for humanity. What else is a public broadcaster good for?

Instead, we have an ABC that aligns itself with the pollies, creating a dyad that excludes the public. Occasionally we are invited in to vicariously experience the lifestyles enjoyed by both, rather like a virtual tour round the palace, afternoon tea with the Queen chucked in to keep us slavering and curious in a Jerry Springer kind of way, about what we can never be part of. It is an us and them situation.

Considering that the public pay for both the broadcaster and the pollies, this is an unsatisfactory state of affairs.

What will humanise politicians in my eyes is when they treat asylum seekers with respect and decency. When they just get on with legalising same-sex marriage. When they turn their attention to the homeless, especially children, most of whom will never get to eat watercress soup and Persian love cake washed down with a nice red. In short, when politicians stop making everything a political power struggle and put humanity first, then I’ll think of them as humanised.

As Immanuel Kant put it ” all politics must bend its knee before human rights, and only in this fashion may politics ever aspire to reach the stage where it will illuminate humanity.”

I’m sorry to say this series has done it for me. Ms Crabb has no credibility as a chief political journalist left, as far as I’m concerned. That is not to say she didn’t succeed as the anchor for the series. I think she did it very well. However, I am left with the image of Ms Crabb in far too cosy culinary congress with the pollies, and this image will, I fear, override all others.

That the ABC should produce a series such as Kitchen Cabinet indicates that the grumblings and protestations about Auntie are firmly based in reality. Just last week a website was set up to accommodate complaints of bias that have been doing the rounds on blogs and Twitter for some time now. Kitchen Cabinet has convinced me like nothing else has thus far, that there is a great need for a coordinated public protest against the increasing alignment of some ABC journalists with politicians, an alignment that excludes the interests of the public who pay both their wages. This time, I think, the ABC has gone too far.

The battle for control of the sexual discourse

21 Mar

One thing that remains unacknowledged in anti porn literature I’ve read is that classification guidelines in Australia already address the kind of pornographic sexual violence to which the campaigners are opposed. This is well explained in Nick Ross’s article on the classification riddle, with these examples of what the “Refused Classification” category disallows:

No depiction of violence, sexual violence, sexualised violence or coercion is allowed in the category. It does not allow sexually assaultive language. Nor does it allow consensual depictions which purposefully demean anyone involved in that activity for the enjoyment of viewers.

Fetishes such as body piercing [and tattooing], application of substances such as candle wax, ‘golden showers’, bondage, spanking or fisting are not permitted. As the category is restricted to activity between consenting adults, it does not permit any depictions of non-adult persons, including those aged 16 or 17, nor of adult persons who look like they are under 18 years….

Depictions of bestiality, necrophilia, incest, drug use, paedophilia, detailed instruction or promotion in matters of crime, high-impact violence and cruelty

And with regard specifically to violence associated with sex, the following is in the refused classification category: Violence: rough or injurious physical force, action, or treatment. This includes actual violence (shooting, punching, pushing, throwing a person, etc), implied violence (gunshot sound effect, news article, mugshots), aftermath of violence (person with injury, dead body), threat of violence (“I’ll kill you”), and violent behavior (woman holding gun while engaged in sex with man). Note down ANY and ALL violence, even if it looks contrived or unrealistic (plastic swords, etc). Depictions of dead people are also not permitted.

 When we have restrictions such as these already in place, what more can anti porn campaigners want?

In my opinion some campaigners are engaged in a moral battle to control who may desire whom, when and how. Their arguments are founded on conservative moral assumptions about what sex is or ought to be, how it can and can’t be performed, and by whom. To this end they define pornography as not about sex, but solely about violence against women.

Anti porn campaigners conflate sexual violence and exploitation with pornography to strengthen their argument against it, even though there’s a variety of porn available, from the inoffensive to the frightening. They allow no exceptions: their position is that all porn is bad because all porn is inherently violent and exploitative.

They also conflate fantasy with reality. Women who enjoy rape fantasies for example are not usually hoping to be raped. Some 31 to 57 per cent of women are estimated to have such fantasies, and there are other fantasies both women and men enjoy without the desire to act them out, as this article explains. Mentally healthy people know the difference between fantasy and reality. What I suspect anti porn campaigners would like is for people not to have fantasies of domination and submission, or any other fantasy that involves what the activists perceive as contrary to what sex is “supposed” to be. The battle is not only to control how we perform sex, but also to control how we imagine it by casting desire as violent and exploitative if it transgresses conservative boundaries.

For some women the consumption of porn is a radical act, and the acknowledgement that we experience desires not traditionally associated with our sex can be liberating. This doesn’t make us disturbed or bad. One of the dangers of the anti porn campaign is that it seeks to repress desires it considers inappropriate. This includes women’s desires, and as we have not yet entirely clawed our way out of sexual repression we need to be conscious of the possibility of losing what we’ve gained.

Porn undeniably appeals strongly to emotions and desires, otherwise there wouldn’t be so much of it. Pornography conveys a multitude of messages that elicit complicated responses. Sexual emotions are immensely complex. Many of our desires are formed or influenced long before we begin our sexual lives. Pornography, whether those against it like it or not, speaks to us about very real desires. Not all of them are easy to accept, nevertheless we are creatures of the dark as well as the light, and accept this we must, bearing in mind that we have laws in place to deal with real violence and exploitation.

Anti porn campaigners often express a view of sex that is sentimental and euphemistic. Sex should be devoid of messiness, vulgarity, impulses to power and aggression of any kind. Certain sexual acts disgust them, as campaigner Gail Dines makes graphically apparent. What really matters in sex, they claim, is the relationship. Sex as the expression of complicated emotions, not all of them pretty, sex as a performance of erotic power, male or female, and sex as a means of gratifying physical desire without emotional commitment, is apparently abhorrent to them.

As  campaigner Emma Rush wrote recently: “To be anti-porn does not mean being anti-sex. Rather, it promotes sex in the context of loving relationships.”  Yet “loving relationships” are only one avenue of sexual expression. Sex takes place in many contexts, and to imply that unless it is in a context of “loving relationship” it’s violent, destructive, immoral and pornographic is blatantly wrong. For example, is the author saying that couples in the throes of separation ought not to have sex because they no longer wish to maintain their “loving relationship?”  Is she arguing that nobody should have sex until they know they love one another? Just what is her definition of a “loving relationship?” What passes for love may at times be far from what some consider ideal, and love can be as confusing as sex.

Another anti porn activist, Clive Hamilton, makes this observation about “casual” sex: Perhaps this is why many people are left with a vague feeling that each time they have casual sex they give away a little of themselves, that something sacred is profaned and they are diminished as a result. Casual sex truly is meaningless sex.

The construction of a sexual ‘ideal’ or indeed an ideal of “love” that is exterior to the imperfect human condition, complete with prescriptives and prohibitions for its attainment, is not entirely dissimilar to constructing a theology, in that both demand an act of belief in a point of origin, an authoritative external presence, from which instruction on the rightness or wrongness of a practice emanates.

Claims of the rightness of a sexuality confined to “loving relationships” and the alleged profanity of casual sex must refer to the commandments of some metaphysical authority, unless Rush and Hamilton assume an infallible authority for themselves. Alternatively, their positions are social constructs, and if that is the case, we need to be convinced why they ought to have more influence over us than any other social construct. Empirical evidence for claims is the best way to establish this. Rush and Hamilton et al need to prove the “sacredness” of sex, the profanity of casual sex, and the need to confine sex to loving relationships, or risk being perceived as founding their campaign in a crypto theology that is of no real consequence to anyone other than those who believe in it.

While there is no doubt sex can be a powerfully binding metaphysical experience, this is not its only function. And isn’t it possible to have an intensely powerful experience with a “casual” partner? Sex can transport us to an altered and exalted state of consciousness. Sexual emotions can break through inhibitions and boundaries. Does it happen every time we have sex? If it doesn’t, even within a loving monogamous relationship, has sex been “profaned?”

Demagogic moral outrage of the kind exhibited by many anti porn activists is fuelled by emotions that cast any sexual practices other than those they deem acceptable as immoral and violent.  As the law already offers protection, anti porn campaigners are likely on a crusade for social purity based on personal preferences.  It’s a battle for control over sexual expression, for what people do and watch in the privacy of their homes. It’s a battle to control the manifold expressions of desire.  It’s a familiar battle for control over the public discourse on sex, and it’s one that must be contested whenever it reappears. Replacing one dominant representation of sexuality with another is no answer and does little but create another class of “deviance.”

Written on our bodies: God’s Own Party goes to war on women

18 Mar

When Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama fought it out to win the Democrats’ nomination for Presidential Candidate in 2008, the claim that “Americans are more misogynist than racist” was used as a street-level indicator of who would triumph. As we know Obama won, though whether or not this proves the observation is impossible to determine.

In the 2012 Republican battle for nomination, religion plays a central role, to the extent that the party is referred to by some US media as God’s Own Party, or, the American Faith Party. Professing your faith, once a no-no in US politics, is now de rigueur for Republican candidates who represent a party comprised in large part of Catholic traditionalists, evangelicals, fundamentalists, and charismatic protestants; some strands of Judaism, and Mormons. What these disparate religious groups share is faith in the power of religious values to create a better country, and in some instances, a belief that God’s law should govern society.  The belief in a shared ultimate vision for the ordering of human existence, and the subordination of human experience to dogma and doctrinal claims are hallmarks of right-wing religious beliefs. Now for the first time in US history the core identity of a political party is “the profession of a religious faith in politics.” In other words, God’s Own Party is dedicated to a mystical imperative that supersedes all other concerns: faith.

Abortion and gay marriage are two of the fundamental issues that provoke anxiety and uncertainty in supporters of the AFP.  Some commentators see the origins of the new party back in Ronald Reagan’s presidency, when he made efforts to appeal to the Bible belt following the Roe v Wade decision on abortion. Since that decision, religious groups have felt themselves particularly alienated from politics, and disgruntled that religion apparently had no role in determining an aspect of public policy about which they held zealous views.

Hillary Clinton, now US Secretary of State, recently made the following comments:

Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me. But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women. They want to control how we dress. They want to control how we act. They even want to control the decisions we make about our own health and bodies. Yes, it is hard to believe that even here at home, we have to stand up for women’s rights and reject efforts to marginalize any one of us, because America needs to set an example for the entire world.

Given current conditions, the US is far from setting an example to the entire world in the matter of women’s reproductive rights.

Clinton is required to refrain from commentary on domestic politics in her role as Secretary of State, however it’s clear that’s she’s referring to what New York Times Columnist Maureen Dowd describes as an “insane bout of mass misogyny” perpetrated by G.O.P. leaders in their efforts to outdo one another in selling their religious conservative credentials to voters.

The personal consequences of this insanity for one woman are detailed in this devastating account of her experiences in Texas, after new laws were introduced requiring certain procedures before a woman may undergo a termination. Women are compelled to have an ultrasound, during which they are legally required to listen while a doctor is legally required to describe the foetus they are carrying. They must then wait 24 hours before termination, presumably to give them time to change their minds after hearing this description, and in some states, the foetal heartbeat.  In the case of Carolyn Jones described in the link, a nurse turned up the volume of a radio in an attempt to drown out the doctor’s words and spare Ms Jones some anguish. One can only imagine the toll these laws take on the staff of women’s health clinics, as well as the patients.

Doctors are then legally required (under threat of losing their license) to read out a list of the dangers of abortion, including the discredited claim also made by religious groups in Australia, most recently on ABC’s The Drum, that there is an increased chance of breast cancer after a termination.

Seven US states require that an abortion provider perform an ultrasound on each woman seeking an abortion, and then require the provider to offer the woman the opportunity to view the image. In most states she is permitted to “turn her eyes away.” This legislation is based on the paternalistic notion that women might not know what pregnancy means, and having the foetus described, hearing its heartbeat and viewing an ultrasound will educate them. The desired outcome is that after this compulsory education, a woman will change her mind, refuse to terminate the pregnancy, and carry the foetus to term.

Some of these requirements have been in place in some states since the mid 1990’s. There hasn’t been any noticeable decline in the numbers of women seeking abortions, indeed some figures indicate an increase, especially the figures used by the anti-choice campaigners, who often claim an “epidemic” is underway. It’s generally agreed by abortion providers that women have made up their minds about termination before arriving at their clinics, and no matter how they are tortured, are disinclined to change their minds.

Many women seeking abortions have already given birth, and are well aware of what they are doing. Apparently, according to anti-choice activists, even when a woman has carried a child to term she still can’t be trusted to know what she is planning to do. Most insidious is the Orwellian co-option of language to justify these last-minute efforts at re-education under the guise of “informed consent.”  The “Women’s Right to Know Act” is the title of the legislation, a title that implies a woman hasn’t got a clue in the first place, and that information is being deliberately withheld from her by abortion providers.

And then there is the “post abortion grief” argument so beloved by some activists in Australia:

Abortion foes have long focused on what they allege are its negative mental health consequences. For decades, they have charged that having an abortion causes mental instability and even may lead to suicide, and despite consistent repudiations from the major professional mental health associations, they remain undeterred.

Neither the American Psychological Association nor the American Psychiatric Association recognizes so-called post-abortion traumatic stress syndrome as grounded in clinical evidence. As these bodies apparently are willing to recognize just about anything as a syndrome, the fact that they refuse to grant credence to this particular “syndrome” is significant.

As I wrote here, there is a continuum of reactions to the experience of abortion, and none of them should be extrapolated to prove one thing or another, and certainly not to claim that “post abortion syndrome” is an argument for outlawing abortion.

An attitude typical of Republicans who support the AFP is encapsulated in this comment on abortion: “We can’t ever think that a fetus is somehow undesirable or even disposable,” said Justine Schmiesing, a mother of seven who noted that she does not “contracept.” “We don’t want government to act in ways that ignore life, and that is why we are speaking up.”

The Republican party’s focus on women’s reproductive rights (contraception is also under fire, but that’s another whole article) as a political battleground does not augur well for US women, especially in the southern states, as the fallout from new laws causes a cut in federal funding that affects all health services for low-income women:

After Texas blocked abortion providers’ participation in its Medicaid Women’s Health Program, the White House officially notified the state Thursday afternoon that it will pull all funds from the program, which totalled about $39 million last year.

The Medicaid program offered a wide range of health services to women who otherwise would be unable to afford them. Texas refused to allow any abortion provider to participate in this program, despite the fact that clinics providing abortion such as Planned Parenthood, also offer a multitude of other services. As federal law already forbids the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, this action is purely political. As I wrote here in April 2011:

The call for de-funding was justified by Republicans and prominent Tea Party supporters such as Sarah Palin as necessary to prevent taxpayers’ money being used to provide abortions. Palin tweeted that “the country’s going broke, we can’t AFFORD cowboy poetry and subsidised abortion.”
 In fact, some 3 per cent of Planned Parenthood’s total services deal with abortion, and that 3 per cent is restricted to terminating pregnancies that are a consequence of rape, incest, and those that are a threat to the mother’s life. The use of federal funds for any other type of abortion is already illegal.
Republican anti-abortion spin reframes Planned Parenthood as a major provider of subsidised abortion, and so determined are conservatives forces to ban the procedure they were prepared to not only close down the government’s ability to financially function, but to deny all other health services provided for poor and low-income women by the PP health centres.

Not only is this a war on women, it’s also a class war.

The Republican party is today dominated by presidential candidates fuelled by a sense of higher purpose, who market themselves as agents of God, chosen to guide America back to the path of righteousness from which it has apparently so grievously strayed. Society must be re-shaped to fit their doctrinal mold, because to them, doctrine is more valid than human experience. The differences between the religious faiths represented in GOP are temporarily suspended in the interests of attaining the greater good.

What is alarming is that gaining control over women’s bodies has once again come to represent attaining the greater good. That women will suffer in the political/religious struggle for the imagined ideal is irrelevant, as it is women who allegedly most grievously transgress this ideal. It is women, specifically women’s sexuality, that obstructs those who seek a god-fearing society.

After all, central to the US pledge of allegiance, piped by every school child in America every morning, is the phrase “ one country under God.”  God’s Own Party is determined to make America one country under God, and if you’re a woman, and even more if you’re a poor woman, you will be crushed in the righteous pursuit of the imposition of God’s will.

As Wendy Kaminer puts it in the Atlantic:

Would we tolerate a religious right to refuse treatment or accommodation on the basis of race as readily as we tolerate a religious right to refuse reproductive health care? Of course not. Your right to act on your religious beliefs is not absolute; it’s weighed against the rights that your actions would deny to others. Today, and perhaps for the foreseeable future, claims of religious freedom tend to outweigh claims of reproductive freedom. But that is a consequence of history, politics, and culture and is subject to change. The balance of power is not divinely ordained.

The religious right in US politics doesn’t attempt to conceal its agendas. One doesn’t have to ask where they’re coming from, they’re only too happy to tell you. If ever there was an argument for being informed of the religious beliefs of politicians and public figures who seek to influence policy, the US situation is it. Even the US Constitution, so clear on the separation of church and state, has become irrelevant in the face of renewed religious determination to control women’s reproductive health. In the southern states, it looks as if they’re succeeding.

If I tell you I love you

15 Mar

This story was first published in M/C Journal

1.‘If I tell you I love you,’ he said, ‘then I’ll have to do something about it.’

2 .‘When you were an infant,’ I would like to say to my son, ‘I heard your cry through the open window. I sat in the autumn sun, under the peach tree in the courtyard your father and I laid, brick by brick, during the hot summer before you were born. I heard your cry coming from the yellow nursery, through the white window frames and the floating cotton curtains. When I heard that cry, milk flooded my breasts. They swelled and stung, my nipples rose up hard and sprouted fountains; the front of my pink shirt grew dark and soaked. All this, at the sound of your waking cry.’

3. I offer my breast to my lover. Astride him, I lean forward and lower a round and rosy globe into his waiting mouth. He accepts only its hard tip, while delicately fingering the breast’s curves that are swollen, not with milk this time, but with desire. ‘Suck,’ I whisper and he does, noisily like the babies used to, kneading and fondling.

4. When he said ‘I’ll have to do something about it,’ he meant leave the others who had claims on his affections and take up with me in a permanent way. That was how he understood love, as responsibility, and long term goals. I was uninterested in these matters, young and with no sense of the future. ‘Fuck me,’ I whispered and he dabbled the tips of his fingers ever so slowly, in the wet flowing out of me down there.

5. He watched me. He watched me arch and open my mouth and cry a little and he flicked his tongue against mine, all the while dabbling with the most delicious rhythm, and flicking and whispering ‘Is that good? Do you like that, does it feel nice?’ until I cried out loud, and cried tears too. All that love flooding and stinging me. Stinging and flooding me.

6. The child suckled, but with less urgency, drowsy against my breasts. Milk trickled from the corner of his mouth. I stroked his full cheeks with the tips of my fingers. Counted his toes again as I did every day through the weeks after his birth. Kissed his fair brow, ran my tongue along his soft, fat arms. Fell asleep in the autumn sun underneath the peach tree in the courtyard we’d made. Fell asleep with the milky, snuffling infant heavy in my arms, and my breasts bared to the afternoon breeze. Fell asleep and dreamed I was in heaven.

7. It wasn’t always thus.

8. For example. My mother, on a carpet of bluebells in a northern forest at midsummer in soft, dappled light made love, and subsequently found herself with child. Her first sexual encounter, a stroke of bad luck if ever there was one. Family shame ensued. A short-lived marriage. A humiliating return to her father’s house with a tiny infant. My soft, fat arms, and my ten curled toes wrapped up tight in the blanket of disgrace.

9. This was only the beginning of the repercussions of that unplanned act, that reckless moment in the bluebells. My mother’s white dress stained bluebell blue and red with her blood. My father’s reassurances that came to nothing.

10. In fairy tales it is never the mother who hovers, heavy with bad intentions, around the growing girl. In fairy tales, it is always the stepmother, as if the notion of a mother consumed by dark passions towards her daughter is too abhorrent for fairy tales to bear. But someone has to bear it.

11. Children. Love blindly, and suffer, and always look out from their being with hope.

12. Grown up, I lie in my bedroom, alone. It’s late afternoon, and staring out of my window at the darkening sky I see the wicked witch of the west with her pointed hat and her black hair and her long black garments. I watch her fly across clouds made bleeding and orange by the setting sun. It seems to me that she is snarling at me, sending out rays of malevolence towards me where I lie on my white bed. ‘I did not take your life!’ I tell her. ‘I did not take your life!’

13. When finally I sleep I dream, not of the bad fairy, but of sex. It’s a long time since I’ve been with a man. My nighttime lover is a stranger. The love we make is sweet with greed. It trembles tender and dangerous between us, with lucidity too brilliant to be contained by fairy tales. I wake at dawn in the midst of orgasm. The encounter has about it a perfection that I’ve never known in waking life.

14. I didn’t know my mother’s breasts, but I remember to this day how her hair hung smooth, like black silk, like black satin, like midnight velvet, across her shoulders, and down the length of her back. I didn’t know my mother’s breasts, but to this day I imagine them as white, as cream, as milk, as soft, as perfumed, as tender, as giving. I imagine them as rosy globes within which love might dwell, waiting for me to suckle, waiting for me to drink from them the secret lessons they contain, the lessons that will set me right in life.

15. What does it mean when you have stolen your mother’s life, I wonder, as I prepare myself for the day. Is it a crime for which one may never atone?

16. ‘If I tell you I love you,’ he said, ‘then I’ll have to do something about it.’

17. ‘Best not, then,’ I advised and turned my back on him, the better to grieve my losses and count my blessings and dream my dreams.

18. In another lifetime, I saw him in a car park. We didn’t speak. Though I wanted to, though I made those movements towards him that signal the beginnings of an encounter, he waved me back and gestured with his silver head towards a shadowed figure in the front seat of the car. I understood. I shrugged my bag more securely across my shoulders and walked on. My head held high. That night I remembered everything from years ago, with little or no regret, and with a warm delight that I had once known these things, and yet escaped with my life.

19. ‘When you were an infant,’ I would like to say to my son, ‘I took you in our bed, you slept between your father and me and in the mornings when we woke my breasts were full and aching. I offered them to you, and when you had finished, and fallen back into your infant dreams, I gave them to your father. These acts of love I count as some of the most generous I have ever performed. Your gratitude and your contentment, your small sighs, your unforgettable gaze, all these let me know the best of everything, at least for a while.’

20. The floor of my room is made of pale polished wood, and two brightly patterned oriental carpets lie across it, adding warmth and comfort. On the low table beside my bed there’s a small pile of books, a pair of reading glasses, a blue vase holding several stems of iris I bought at the Sunday markets, and a reading lamp with an engraved glass shade. I stay alone now, in another kind of love.

21. Sometimes I lie in this calm room, on my white bed, and through the window I watch the wicked witch in her long black garments that are like midnight velvet, like black satin, that flow out behind her, smooth as silk. I watch her as she flies back and forth across the darkening sky.

©Jennifer Wilson 2011

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