Archive | June, 2012

On desperation

30 Jun

While politicians of various bents have found it expedient to weep in the Parliament these last days, what is absent in the asylum seeker policy brawl is an indication that the majority of them have any understanding at all of the desperation that drives the global movements of refugees.

And it is a global movement and we must eventually accept that we are not the only developed country stateless peoples look to for refuge, and indeed, we are so un-beleagured as to make us the laughing stock of nations whose borders are crossed by thousands of asylum seekers every week.

What I’m about to write about desperation may be unsettling, and may act as a trigger for some people. It is my experience of desperation, and it’s an experience that gives me the authority to speak on the topic.

As a young girl, from the age of about seven, I lived in very dangerous circumstances. I was beaten with hose pipes, fishing rods and my stepfather’s bare hands. I was tied up, always after I’d been ordered to remove my clothes. On many occasions until I was fifteen, I was threatened with death by this man who wielded a loaded gun that he fired into cushions. I was regularely absent from school because of my injuries.

I was first raped when I was ten. These rapes continued at regular intervals until I was fifteen. I cannot talk about these rapes more than to state their occurrence.

My stepfather was a doctor, and he performed various medical procedures on me in the surgery that was attached to our house. I cannot talk about these.

He also photographed me, posed and naked from the age of ten.

There’s nothing to be gained for either me or my readers in attempting descriptions of these events, and I am barely able to write this much. I am trembling. I am sweating. I am weeping. My heartbeat is loud and irregular. I feel nauseous. My body hurts everywhere. The pain in my head is appalling.

During those years  I told at least seven adults what was happening to me. Every one of them sent me back.  Every time I arrived home I was beaten, tied up, threatened with death if I did it again, and raped. I never stopped telling people, even though I knew the next telling might cost me my life.  In retrospect this seems to me something of a miracle. I love my young self, I love her with all of my heart, for her determination to help herself survive, for her willingness to risk death in the attempt to have her life.

So what does this have to do with asylum seekers? As Judith Lewis Herman wrote in the introduction to her book “Trauma and Recovery: From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror:”

This is a book about restoring connections…it is a book about commonalities: between rape survivors and combat veterans, between battered women and political prisoners, between the survivors of vast concentration camps created by tyrants who rule nations and the survivors of small, hidden concentration camps created by tyrants who rule their homes…

One of the things we have in common, those of us who survive the small, hidden concentration camps, and those of us who survive political terror, is our experience of desperation. Desperate to escape. Desperate to live. Desperate to experience the ordinary. Desperate to feel we can sleep safely in our beds at night, whether we fear the invasion of soldiers, or the stealthy night time visits of the rapacious stepfather. Desperate to be allowed to eat and drink. Desperate to live like a human being, untrammelled by the kind of primitive terror that reduces everything to a question of day to day survival.

The will, not just to live but to live a decent life, is inexpressibly powerful. Death can seem preferable to suffering the tyrannies of the imposed will of another, tyrannies that strip one of all integrity. This much I know. I know it with the full authority of my experience, and my survival.

One does not have to suffer in order to appreciate desperation. One does not have to experience prolonged terror and coercive methods of control. What is required for understanding is emotional intelligence and imagination. The majority of our politicians would seem to be seriously lacking both. Instead they appear to be, in the words of philosopher Martha Nussbaum  …people whose imaginations are blunted, who simply refuse the acknowledgement of humanity.

The odious tears of the sentimental who weep for the cameras yet support policies that will condemn the desperate to even more desperation, are deeply offensive to me as a survivor.  Your emotions count for less than nothing, when deterrence is your only answer to desperation.

The leaders of this country are behaving as did those adults who sent me back to the dangerous hell that was my home. I do not think those people were evil. I think they didn’t want to become involved. I think they were incapable of imagining the circumstances I was attempting to escape. I think they wanted more than anything to maintain the equilibrium of their lives, and I was a child who could disturb that forever. They moved me on, out of their sight and mind. They were cowards.

The concept of a human right to ask for help and protection seems barely to exist in our world. Such requests are viewed as impositions, and those who make them, importunate. The implication of our treatment of asylum seekers is that they are sub-human, and that seeking asylum is a criminal offence. We deny any recognition of a priori suffering, and instead focus on maintaining an abstract construct of national sovereignty.

Those who denied me asylum did so to maintain their domestic sovereignty. They could not let me in, for fear of the ruptures dealing with my suffering would provoke.

I can never forget desperation. I can call it up in an instant. When I see it in another I have to respond. Try as I might, I find it very difficult not to despise those who wilfully close their ears and eyes and hearts to desperation. I have even wished it on them, that they walk a mile in the shoes of the desperate and know what it is to be turned away, when all you are asking is help to conduct a decent life.

Thank you for reading this. I give the last word to Emmanuel Levinas:

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 a criteria of humanness? Unquestionably so. 

Battling the Imaginary Pretentious.

28 Jun

Guest post today by my friend, writer, film maker and photographer Samuel Webster.  The Sydney Dance Company recently performed the show  2 One Another, an interpretation of Samuel’s poetry.

Just to demonstrate how current we are on Sheep, I note that the prestigious Salon.com published on this topic JUST A MERE FEW MOMENTS AGO.

Over to Samuel:

It’s been three months since my last collaboration opened at the Sydney Theatre, and I’ve talked a lot about it. I had been working with Rafael Bonachela and Sydney Dance Company on 2 One Another, and before it hit the stage, I had to do the usual rounds of media to promote and discuss the show. I’ve never minded doing interviews – I don’t find it a grind – because I enjoy talking about my work. Part of that is pure egotism, I’m sure, but I think there’s something more to it. Personally, I think I’m still finding the ‘mythology’ which pop artist Momus has referred to in his own work.

That mythology is part method and part a system of thought. The latter is such that even as I write this, the first time I have done so since undertaking the task of writing poetry for dancers, I find it evolving. It is the system of thought, beyond technique, which gives an individual artist some style. It’s that system which allows me to feel comfortable promoting myself as a film maker and poet, a photographer and painter. Because it sits above the technique and medium and informs the message.

It is this state of mind that I took into the studio. Without it, a poet working with dancers might turn out to be as strange as it sounds. By adapting myself as someone who represents and interprets, and forgetting the technical element with which I do so, I feel that I can work in any scenario based in impulse response. It is for this reason that none of the interviews filed about the show refer to the technical. Though I have made some effort to describe the kind of output that the process created, that was not the focus of the work. The focus of the work was always about building that mythology, contained and centralised in the dance studio, to inform the creation of abstract work. It is my firm belief that, unlike other forms of art, modern dance would cease to exist if it let go of the necessity for mythology. For me, contemporary dance’s means of representation is far too abstract to sustain without some grander consideration. Working with Rafael Bonachela may have spoiled me on this fact, because he is a very intelligent choreographer who has almost completely succumbed to the whimsy of such ‘mythological’ elements, yet has the technical ability to back it up. In fact, he is one of the artists I aspire to be like for this reason. I have not yet found the place where I can surrender to those elements, though I suspect that is part of an artist’s ongoing development. This is not to say that I wish to find my place in complete abstraction, but rather, I would like to train myself in a method which mythologises the real.

Reality is the catalyst for abstract expression – it is the anchor for grander ideas. Over the last few years, I’ve found myself strangely enamoured by work which finds itself in reality. Like Billy Collins naming the silence between himself and his dead father, or the way modern poets experiment with Twitter as a social medium of brevity. These are intellectual rich endeavours, yet sit in a plain of reality I find comforting. However, the appeal of such things has the by-product of leading me away from the simple enjoyment of the popular. Pop music is the first casualty, but film is sure to follow as I sink deeper into the comfort of pretence.

That dreaded term, ‘pretentious’, seems now to be the empty dismissal of anything lacklustre to which effort seems to have been applied. Indeed, even engaging with it is likely to have me branded likewise. Nevertheless, I don’t see any reason to shy away from an idea for the sake of avoiding marginalisation.

It seems that the term ‘pretentious’ is the cry of the less engaged when feeling forced to think beyond the pure aesthetic of a piece of art. Why does that drive me away from pop culture? Because, those who really engage with the genre can come to one of two ends:

  1. Pop culture is naturally, and intentionally, devoid of meaning.
  2. Pop culture is unaware of the triviality of the tropes it propagates.

Pop musicians and blockbuster directors don’t guide us either way, because a belief in either direction requires conviction to the cause. Admitting superficiality could be a death knell for an artist who has been perceived otherwise.

So, instead of degrade a genre which the majority enjoys, we say that ”art has changed” and the art which refuses to change is “pretentious.” The term pretence literally refers to the act of intentional deception. But by that virtue, all art is pretentious, because even the furthest attempts at portraying reality are not without some form of deception. This is not a bad thing, because deception (a magician’s disappearing act) is not the same as insincerity (a loaded roulette wheel). Pretence seems necessary to me, so ‘pretentious’ as a term should not be used to degrade cerebral art.

Additionally, the notion of Art evolving into Pop Culture we see today is patently false. If anything, art has split into Intentional Art and Entertainment, and it did so because people engaged in the Entertainment business hijacked it with considerable amounts of money.

Perhaps, we could redefine the way we refer to the cultural landscape: ‘Art’ could refer to the use of a medium to bring about a point of some philosophical or intellectual statement or engagement; ‘Culture’, the repetition of specific tropes within a society which promote engagement and work toward some form of identifiable structure; ‘Entertainment’, is the use of a creative medium to fascinate and engage without aspiration to a developing consciousness. Instead of just accepting that the modern world’s concept of art is preoccupied with nightclubs and the hedonistic exploits therein, why not establish pop music as entertainment and deconstruct it through aesthetics instead of philosophical arguments?

Of course, none of this is particularly new, though we have more and more platforms on which to discuss it.  In 1988, Momus released “Tender Pervert”, a stand out track of which claims: “Whenever I played my protest songs, the press applauded me, rolled out the red carpet and parted the red sea. But the petit bourgeois philistines stayed away. They preferred their artists to have nothing to say.” (I Was a Maoist Intellectual)

If the music industry claims to be interested in art, why did people call for censorship when Sinead O’Connor tore an image of the Pope on national television? Why is such an act not standard fare?

A year after releasing Tender Pervert, Momus responded to the accusation that he could be considered pretentious with this: “You’ve got to have a mythology, a set of ideas to live by. Otherwise you have to get your ideas from News at 10 or Brookside or something. Pretentious – okay, I’ve read a couple of books in my time, because I was lonely and had nothing better to do on a Friday night than read Nabokov. I would probably have preferred to go down to the Stretton discotheque and boogie down, but that’s not the way my life turned out.”

To consider the pretence of something is like breaking apart the “technical playground” of the Ferris Wheel. Sure, knowledge of physics isn’t a requirement to enjoy the ride, but the manipulation of that knowledge, on the engineer’s behalf, is key.

The problem with conflating pretence and insincerity is simple. What should be niche, high order thinking, is dismissed because of some consideration that says an aspiration toward intelligence cannot occur without some level of arrogance. This way of thinking implies that the intellect exists only for perpetuating elitism, when it is more frequently the case that art aims to destroy the bourgeois, not strengthen it. In fact, if there’s anything that perpetuates the elite, it’s the pop music industry which profits hugely while paying artists a pittance.

With lovers of entertainment judging the progression of art, it seems that the only way to avoid the cry of arrogance seems to be to shoot for the middle-ground. This is the problem with bundling the arts and entertainment together. It is a bundling which places soviet war anthems alongside UK dance hits. The genre matches but the intention, reception and intellectual potential differ. Sadly, funding is also lumped together in this way, such that $1 million dollars for the rights to Annie is quoted, alongside grants for new opera, dance and theatrical works, as ‘funding for the arts’ when they are quite different in form.

My next project is to shoot images in Tuscany, to experiment with the concept of memory and history and clashing nostalgias. Is this pretentious? Of course. It is an engagement with a localised mythology, defined by geography and constrained by medium. Without a doubt, the focus will be intentional and the colour balance deliberately manipulated. To lose the mythology would be to turn myself over to pure aestheticism and publish only those images which matched the generic representation of Italy. There may be those who have no need for deeper considerations than this but, for me, that is not art; it is entertainment. I have no wish to be an entertainer.

Read more about Samuel Webster here.

 SAMUELS NEXT PROJECT, BELLA TOSCANA, IS PUBLICLY FUNDED IN EXCHANGE FOR REWARDS FROM THE PHOTOGRAPHIC SERIES. VISIT THE PROJECT PAGE ON POZIBLE FOR MORE INFORMATION

“If that means deaths at sea continue, he said, so be it.”

26 Jun

As I read today’s piece by Peter van Onselen on the asylum seeker policy stand-off, the following stood out: 

One well-placed Liberal source told The Australian that Abbott would rather see Labor continue to bleed politically with ongoing boat arrivals. If that means deaths at sea continue, he said, so be it.

Let me just say that again.

One well-placed Liberal source told The Australian that Abbott would rather see Labor continue to bleed politically with ongoing boat arrivals. If that means deaths at sea continue, he said, so be it.

Fasten your seat belts: turbulence ahead

25 Jun

It was with a certain contempt that I watched footage of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott piously declaring that he would hold his forked tongue for twenty four hours while the bodies of drowned asylum seekers were recovered and taken to a makeshift morgue on Christmas Island.

And I noted the absence of any comment, pious or otherwise, from Shadow Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison. Perhaps they’ve put the muzzle on in case he comes out with observations somebody might construe as racist.

However, it seems inevitable that all gloves will be off when Parliament resumes today, and we will be subjected to the self-interested politicising of the plight of asylum seekers that began with John Howard and hasn’t stopped since.

No doubt the government will attempt a revival of its Malaysia plan. This surely will necessitate re-negotiations with that country, as the initial agreement covered only 800 boat arrivals, after which, presumably, we went back to how things always were.

Mr Abbott will no doubt adhere to his demands that the government re-open his beloved Nauru detention facilities, because, he will argue, when they were operative they stopped the boats. Quite how the Nauru option will stop the boats is unclear to me, after all, practically everyone who got to Nauru was found to be a refugee and resettled. Hardly seems like a disincentive.

What both major parties apparently fail to grasp is the desperation of people who undertake these journeys. The dangers they face are no deterrent. They risk their lives to have a life. An inability to comprehend desperation is fairly typical of most politicians. They lack the imagination, and are far too occupied with saving their own arses than they are with the plight of human beings in dire circumstances, at home and abroad. Lack of political will is responsible for some of the most obscene travesties on the planet.

What we urgently need is a regional approach to managing people movements. This will require a degree of co-operation between the government, the Coalition and the Greens. This possibility looks as likely as Gina Rinehart funding care and housing for homeless children.

What we will get is yet another extended brawl that will achieve nothing. Then there will be another catastrophe in which more lives are lost. Then we will have another extended brawl that achieves nothing. Then there will be another catastrophe in which more lives are lost.

As well as the asylum seekers, you know who I feel sorry for? The good people of Christmas Island who have to deal with the stark reality of these events in their back yards.

This piece from the Castan Centre unpacks the complexities with clarity. The author addresses the notion of saving lives by deterring asylum seekers from embarking in the first place. Perhaps, if our objective really is to save lives, we would supply safer boats?  Or is the saving of life a cover for deeper concerns about border protection and just stopping the boats?

Thus far our politicians have proved themselves entirely inadequate on this matter. It isn’t good enough. Refugees are not going away. The numbers seeking resettlement here are miniscule compared with many other countries. It is a regional problem, but how can Australia take a responsible role in addressing it at this level when our politicians continue to domestically exploit widespread human misery to further their own interests?

Don’t let facts get in the way of hate…

21 Jun

In December 2010 when the WikiLeaks cable dump hit the headlines, Prime Minister Julia Gillard declared: “I absolutely condemn the placement of this information on the WikiLeaks website – it’s a grossly irresponsible thing to do and an illegal thing to do.”

A couple of days later, Ms Gillard was at a loss to explain her inflammatory comments.

“The foundation stone of it is an illegal act,” Ms Gillard told reporters in Canberra.

But the “foundation stone” was the leaking of the documents to the website, not the publishing of the cables.

“It would not happen, information would not be on WikiLeaks, if there had not been an illegal act undertaken,” Ms Gillard said.

Mr Assange’s lawyers have said they are considering defamation action against Ms Gillard after she accused the whistleblower of “illegal” conduct over the leak of US documents.

Thus our Prime Minister launched a campaign of misinformation about both Wikileaks and Assange, based solely on her personal opinion and clearly with little if any regard to her legal training.

The government then attempted to find legal cause to withdraw Assange’s Australian passport, in spite of the fact that he had broken no Australian laws.

Hardly surprising then, that Assange and his team of lawyers have come to believe he’s been abandoned by his government. While it may be true that Assange has received whatever consular support is due to him, Prime Minister Gillard had Assange hung, drawn and quartered from the get go, and she has never retracted her accusations and her condemnation.

If we follow Ms Gillard’s logic, then the newspapers who published the leaked cables they obtained from Assange, newspapers such as the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Guardian, The New York Times et al, are also acting irresponsibly and illegally because ““It would not happen, information would not be on WikiLeaks [or in the SMH, the Oz, the NYT, the Guardian et al] if there had not been an illegal act undertaken.” 

At this point I quote Anna Funder, winner of this year’s Miles Franklin Literary award:  I have spent my professional life studying totalitarian regimes and the brave people who speak out against them. And the first thing that someone with dictatorial inclinations does is to silence the writers and the journalists.

 

 

This is a link to an account by The Guardian of the events in Sweden that have led to Assange being accused of sexual misconduct. As you can see, the circumstances as described are unsavoury, though they would not all necessarily be considered sexual offences in Australia. They are also entirely a matter of she said/he said.

I have no idea of their veracity and I believe Assange, for his own sake, ought to have the opportunity to respond to the allegations made against him.  As well, the complainants are entitled to have their allegations addressed. It is puzzling that Swedish prosecutors are delaying the resolution of the women’s complaints by demanding, against, apparently, their own Supreme Court decision on interviews (see below) that Assange return to the country, rather than conduct a video link interview with him.

Bjorn Hurtig, Assange’s early Swedish counsel, makes these observations in his witness statement:

I also think it unreasonable that in a case of this kind, where extensive mutual assistance between the UK and Sweden would readily permit a video-link interview, for the prosecution to be so absolutely insistent that Mr Assange return (and at his own expense) to face questions that could easily be put over the video-link.

[Assange has many times offered to do this, and offered to engage in interviews with Swedish officials in person in the UK. The Swedish authorities have consistently refused these offers, demanding extradition instead. Assange continues to offer to answer the allegations via video link from the Embassy of Ecuador.]

I note that at least one of the complainants have been interviewed by telephone and the insistence that Mr Assange come back to Sweden merely for an interview is, therefore, unreasonable and contrary to the decision of our Supreme Court (NJA 2007, p. 337).

The problem for Assange with returning to Sweden is explained here. Briefly:

Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents the WikiLeaks founder in the US, said Assange and his legal team considered it highly likely that he would face an onward extradition to the US if he were sent to Sweden.

The concrete reality [is] that he was facing a political prosecution in the US, he was facing the death penalty or certainly life in jail. Faced with that, he had extremely limited choices.

The US empanelled a secret grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks and Assange in May 2011, but has not issued any requests for his extradition to the UK or Sweden. However, Ratner said both he and Assange believed it was “more likely than not” that a sealed indictment had been drawn up.

According to a Human Rights Watch report, Sweden has form. In 2001 Sweden was involved in the illegal US rendition of  two asylum seekers suspected of terrorism from Stockholm to Cairo. This involvement violated the global ban on torture. Both asylum seekers were tortured when they arrived in Egypt, despite assurances given to Swedish diplomats.

The UN Committee Against Torture concluded that Sweden violated the Convention against Torture by illegally expelling him [Al Zari] to Egypt, and stated that “procurement of diplomatic assurances [from Egypt], which, moreover, provided no mechanism for their enforcement, did not suffice to protect against this manifest risk.”

The US has imprisoned Private Bradley Manning, the WikiLeaks cables source, in a manner that has been described by Glenn Greenwald as “conditions that constitute cruel and inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many nations, even torture.”

One need not be a conspiracy theorist to see where this is headed. The bizarre refusal by Swedish authorities to question Assange by video link in an interview which is designed to establish whether or not there are grounds for bringing charges against him. The oft -forgotten fact that Assange has already been questioned on these matters while in Sweden, the allegations were dismissed, and he was allowed to leave the country.

And on the matter of these allegations it’s worth reading this brief interview with Oscar Swartz, author of A Brief History of Swedish Sex: How the Nation that Gave Us Free Love Redefined Rape and Declared War on Julian Assange.  Swatrz claims that  in Sweden: “Sex is being increasingly used to control communications – and as a political weapon,” and says his book shows “how Sweden descended from one of the western world’s most sexually liberated nations to its most repressive.”

The hatred expressed against Assange in Australia is frightening, and much of it seems to be based on personal antipathy. A great deal of it seems to originate with journalists and has from the start, as I wrote in these two articles in December 2010

It is even more frightening in the US where there have been calls for his assassination and demands that he be hunted down like bin Laden. Hatred such as this, and the unworthy example of presumption of guilt set by Prime Minister Gillard at the start of the story obscures the complexity of the narrative, and reduces it to a George W Bush story of good versus evil.

Personal opinions about Assange and his character ought not to blind anyone to the bigger picture unfolding here. There is something rotten in the manner in which these events have been and continue to be handled by the Australian, Swedish, and US governments. This should sound alarm bells for all of us, especially, one would think and hope, for journalists and writers whose responsibility it is to hold governments to account and protect us from dictators. WikiLeaks efforts to do this may have been clumsy, and at times carelessly cavalier. However, to my mind, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange & WikiLeaks have struck a blow for transparency in high places that in spite of claims to the contrary has struck nerves. For this they have my admiration and my ongoing concern for their welfare.


 

 


 

  

Annabel Crabb and Peter Reith

19 Jun

Yesterday I read a tweet from Annabel Crabb to a tweep who’d complained that Peter Reith was on The Drum AGAIN. Anyone on my Twitter feed will know that we are constantly complaining about the regular presence of Mr Reith, both on the televised and the online version of The Drum. Regulars like David Horton of the Watermelon Blog ask several times a week that the ABC reveal Reith’s contract with the public broadcaster, to no avail.

Many tweeps repeatedly point out the role Reith played in the Howard government, particularly in regard to the so-called “Children Overboard” scandal, in which the government made unsubstantiated (and later discredited) claims that seafaring asylum seekers had thrown children overboard in a presumed ploy to secure rescue and passage to Australia.

A Senate Select committee later found that no children were thrown overboard from SIEV 4, and that several Howard government ministers including Peter Reith had deliberately misled the public by “cynically exploiting voters’ fears of a wave of illegal immigrants by demonising asylum seekers.”

It was also found that on no less than fourteen occasions, Reith and/or his office were informed that children had not been thrown overboard, and that photos Reith claimed proved the allegations were in reality images of asylum seekers and children struggling in the water after their boat had sunk.

Add to that charges of the improper use of a phone card, and Reith’s much criticised handling of the waterfront dispute when he was Industrial Relations Minister, and you have a politician with a very fraught history. His close relationship with the ABC is regularly and rightly questioned. The public broadcaster usually makes no comment, but yesterday Ms Crabb broke with tradition and tweeted:

@annabelcrabb: @preciouspress I’m always pleased when Peter Reith’s on. I think he’s a great panel member.”

While I acknowledge that the ABC’s responsibility to attempt a balance of perspectives in its opinion and analysis means there will inevitably be guests with whom somebody disagrees, I do wonder why a politician with a record such as Reith’s is their choice as a regular participant.

Now I wonder why Ms Crabb decided to so wholeheartedly endorse him, and in such a personal fashion. I thought we’d just established through the shaming of Stephen Long, that it is not the job of ABC journalists to express displeasure or favour  towards any public figure.

The ABC presumably offers Peter Reith as a credible, honest commentator on current affairs. Now endorsed by Annabel Crabb, it seems confirmed that as we have long suspected, Mr Reith’s history is irrelevant to the ABC because he’s “a great panel member.”  The ABC legitimises Mr Reith by offering him a regular platform, and now by Ms Crabb’s personal seal of approval as well.

There are many far more credible alternatives to Peter Reith, whom the ABC might invite to express a right-wing point of view. Personally, I am unable to dismiss Mr Reith’s role in the Children Overboard affair, and I am saddened that the ABC and Annabel Crabb apparently find it so easy to erase that shameful chapter of our history, and to redeem and grant legitimacy to someone who was a central participant in that disgrace.

 

 

I’m gonna stand by my woman now

18 Jun

Women bagging women is nothing new, but last week there was something of a spike in the pastime that left me wondering why we need patriarchy to do it for us.

I’m not referring to disagreement or critique, I’m talking about spite, judgement, contempt, and downright bitchiness that does nothing to progress civilisation, of the kind that feeds an exclusionary dynamic and precious little else.

First I came across this piece of anti bisexual woman contempt in the HuffPost Gay Voices blog, from radical feminist lesbian writer Julie Bindel. Ms Bindel is railing against allegedly hedonistic bisexual women “tourists” who “sleep with women on the weekends and go back to hubby on Monday mornings.” They have no sexual politics, she claims, and are exploiting full-time lesbians who have a political as well as sexual commitment to same-sex relationships.

I guess dedicated lesbians are capable of refusing to sex to touristing bisexual air heads lacking a sexual politics. I mean, nobody’s forcing them to put out for a woman who also engages with a penis are they?

Ms Bindel concludes: “If bisexual women had an ounce of sexual politics they would stop sleeping with men.” One could equally argue that perhaps if lesbians had an ounce of sexual politics they’d stop sleeping with bisexual women?

Then I read Elizabeth Farrelly’s column in the Sydney Morning Herald titled “The New Feminism: if it’s girly it’s good.” “Here’s the truth. I’m not a misogynist” Farrelly begins, perhaps not the best first line I’ve ever read. She then gets stuck into women who refuse to leave what she calls “the sewing circle” to take on the wider world of real  things. “Most of what passes for feminism these days… just legitimises girliness” she writes. I can see where Farrelly is coming from on this: I’ve moaned more than once about how feminism seems to be about body hair and lipstick these days. At the same time, I see nothing at all wrong with a bit of girliness: it is possible to have a reputable sexual politics and talk to other women about clothes and lipstick and occasionally have a good giggle over cocktails as well. This insistence on categorising is so, well, patriarchal. Real women break out of boxes, in my opinion.

However Farrelly goes further. She dislikes, she says, “boring” women authors like Margaret Atwood and Jeanette Winterson, preferring instead “writing with a higher IQ and lower pH than most women can manage…”

Ouch. That’s misogynist.

“It is clear,” Farrelly claims, “that to criticise women, or worse, poke fun is considered misogynist.”

Well, sometimes it is misogynist and sometimes it isn’t. Every time someone criticises Julia Gillard somebody else claims it’s misogyny,and while there’s certainly plenty of examples of that, there’s also legitimate criticism that has nothing to do with gender.

Then there’s Lara Bingle. About whom I know practically nothing more than the vitriol I’ve seen directed at her because of her TV reality show, “Being Lara Bingle.” I was initially confused by this title, wondering if it referenced the movie, “Being John Malkovich,” in which a miserable puppeteer stumbles across a portal into the star’s mind and charges people $200 a pop to spend fifteen minutes seeing the world as he does. Great and absorbing complications ensue, of the kind I simply could not imagine in a TV reality show about a young woman who seems to have done little other than perform in a failed tourism promotion and have a public fight with a famous cricketer who then dumped her.

For reasons I cannot fathom, Ms Bingle’s foray into reality TV has provoked quite vile criticism from many quarters, overwhelmingly from women. This caused me to ponder on the way women treat women, especially when the woman in question is young, and has the kind of beauty that is currently favoured in the mainstream. I mean, don’t watch it girls, if it hits your spite buttons. Ms Bingle is merely trying to make a life for herself, and accepted an opportunity practically every girl would if it came along.

“She decided to do it, now she’ll have to pay the price” was one piece of  self-satisfied Schadenfreude from an older woman who sounded as if she’d been waiting her whole life for Ms Bingle to fall flat on her face.

Ease up, girls. We have men to put shit on us.

Finally, this isn’t overtly about women bagging women but behind the scenes you’ll find much anti woman sentiment masked as concern and feminist politics. Many of you will have heard of Valerie Solanas and her Society for Cutting Up Men, otherwise known as SCUM. Solanas authored the SCUM Manifesto, a rabidly intense and sustained attack on men that states, among other things:  In other words, the male is an incomplete female, a walking abortion, aborted at the gene stage. To be male is to be deficient, emotionally limited; maleness is a deficiency disease and males are emotional cripples, and  SCUM will kill all men who are not in the Men’s Auxiliary of SCUM.

Ms Solanas went on to attempt the assassination of artist Andy Warhol after a dispute with him about a film script.

And so to the current Australian connection with SCUM. In July 2011 the SCUM Radical Feminist Conference was held in Perth. It was advertised as being of interest to  females who want to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex. Workshops, guest presenters and social activities, plus a space to celebrate and re-member the life and work of Valerie Solanas and other radical feminists.

At the top of the updated SCUM Conference program there’s an announcement of the launch of Melinda Tankard Reist’s book, Big Porn Inc.

I was utterly shocked to discover Ms Reist’s apparent affiliation with the SCUM Radical Feminist Conference. I had no idea Ms Reist was so radical in her feminism, indeed there are some leading feminists who have publicly argued that Reist is not a feminist at all. (Another example of women bagging women, I suggest and a serious one. BTW I am the blogger mentioned in this article whom Reist is still threatening to sue. See Defamation category on this blog).

Reading through the program I discovered that Ms Reist’s publisher, Spinifex Press director Susan Hawthorne, gave a paper at the conference on feminist manifestos and SCUM.

I have yet to understand how exploitation of women and girls can be prevented through violence against males. All males, that is, indiscriminately, because they are male, and as advocated by SCUM. I fail to see the logic.

I could just be thick but to my mind, having my name and my book heading the program for a Society for Cutting Up Men conference would imply I was sympathetic to their cause.

And what would Jesus say?

So in conclusion, I’ve had  belly full this last week of women bagging women. Is that all we can do with our liberation, such as it is?

PS This Kravitz song will aggravate many people and is begging for a feminist deconstruction.

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