Archive | March, 2013

In praise of modern families, and bickering.

27 Mar

For some years now, Mrs Chook and I have shared a house, The Dog, and a domestic life, for the most part, harmoniously. At first we were the subject of  some salacious speculation in our village, especially when my separated second husband came to visit one Christmas because he was lonely in Sydney, got sick, and thoroughly overstayed his welcome.

At the time I was unaware of the gossip because I didn’t care. It always surprises me that anybody would be interested, but unconventional domestic arrangements still frighten and confuse some people. This is why we can’t have gay marriage. Frightened and confused people are preventing it.

Our main method of dealing with domestic tensions is to bicker them out. We are perfectly comfortable with this, though a friend recently refused to travel in the car with us because she said our bickering reminded her too much of travelling with her parents.

Real bickering contains no malice. Indeed, it demands love and affection as a prerequisite. In their absence, it ceases to be bickering and becomes acrimony. I concede, though, that for some, the demarcation line can be obscure.

 

We have complaints against one another, mostly small, but they can be the most aggravating. For example. We never eat breakfast together. I eat mine at peculiar times, and usually at my desk or roaming. This morning I ate the last two caper berries before Mrs Chook got round to food. I had no idea they had her name on them, and frankly, it probably wouldn’t have made much difference if I had, because I wanted them. Mrs Chook informed me she had been looking forward to those berries, and there was a brief and futile dispute, because, eaten.

This goes the other way, usually with chocolate. I only feel like chocolate sometimes, while she likes it all the time. So when I finally get around to thinking I’ll have chocolate, I go to the cupboard and it’s all gone. I keep meaning to hide some, but I always forget.

Yesterday she “accidentally” wore my blue Speedos (the same colour as hers, we bought them at the same time in the sale at the Speedo shop) even though there are two sizes difference between her and me. She swears she didn’t take them out of my swim bag and that I left them on the washing line but whatever, I got to the pool later with no cossies, and the pool is 30 minutes drive away.

The week before she got around all day in my bra, same situation, bought together cos sale, again, two sizes difference between her bra and mine, but did that stop her? She didn’t even notice. I had no other clean bras and she’d gone to work.

Some winters ago she put my favourite blue jumper in the washing machine and shrank it beyond all redemption. That still hurts.

A few days ago I completely forgot I was boiling eggs, until I heard something that sounded like gunfire, ran upstairs to see what was happening, and found four eggs exploded all over the kitchen walls and ceiling, and a saucepan that went into the tip pile. Mrs Chook did not remonstrate with me for my carelessness. She even helped me clean up, though this is not the first time I’ve done that.

One day last year, she didn’t turn the gas off properly & when I lit it there was this explosion and all the hairs on my arms were singed. She then put up an enormous notice on the kitchen wall that read “TURN OFF THE GAS.” I added “FUCKING”, twice.

She says I don’t listen. She says I look as if I’m listening but she can tell my head is somewhere else altogether and sometimes, to test me, she asks me half an hour later what she’s said. I usually make something up. She says she has to make an appointment with me to discuss domestic matters because I’m always too engrossed in something. She says I am very difficult to live with at times, and that she gets sick of me never paying attention.

On the occasions when we go shopping together, we almost always get into a fight. I loathe shopping. My idea of shopping is to throw everything I think we might need into the trolley times two, so I don’t have to come back anytime soon. Mrs Chook, on the other hand, likes to read the labels and see where everything is coming from and what’s in it. This shits me to tears.

We have successfully bickered our way through every one of our differences, even big ones, every time they arise. There have been tears, and occasionally someone throws something, but it has always been negotiated down to bickering, if at times with tissues.

The best bickering always ends in Shut up. You shut up. No you shut up. I said it first. You fucking didn’t, I did. Well I’m saying it now. I don’t care. Shut up. You shut up. Don’t tell me to shut up…until The Dog bites somebody. There is much to be said for allowing the inner child out at such times.

Three of my dearest male friends have also successfully shared living arrangements for over two decades. Some years ago the five of us took an apartment together in Barcelona for a few weeks. Three of us were giving papers at the Universitat de Barcelona, & the others came for support and the fun.

We’d never stayed together for longer than a night or two. We had no idea how it would work out, but the apartment was just off Las Ramblas, a ten minute walk from the Universitat, cheap, and we had enough faith in our good natures to feel reasonably certain we could pull it off.

Mrs Chook and I thought we would have to curb our bickering, given we were all in close quarters for several weeks and not everybody understands our method of loving one another. For the first few days we took it outside, and bickered away happily while we gazed at Gaudi’s architectural feats, and ate tapas at various bars. Then we gradually became aware that our friends were tossing good-natured abuse at one another, going much further than we had yet dared, and we were amazed. At dinner one night, we brought the subject up. We admitted we’d been afraid they’d find our manners unseemly. They admitted they’d feared the same. They said most people didn’t understand how they talk to one another, and they had to be careful. They said they felt they’d taken a great risk, shacking up with us for all this time, and worried that at the end of it we might not like them anymore.

On the contrary, we assured them, we were learning so many new ways of bickering, and it was wonderful! By the end of our stay we were just one big happy bickering family, hell, we even learned to bicker in Spanish.

It’s such a cliché, to claim that there are many kinds of love. If one is open to the experience, it seems often to come from the most unexpected quarters, inconvenient, disturbing the settled, demanding acknowledgement and expression, dangerous and confronting, as well as offering  happiness, safety and refuge.

There as many kinds of families as there are kinds of love, in my experience. I love the family my friends have made. I love the family Mrs Chook and I have made. In neither situation has marriage or children played a part in the creation, but in both instances the original units have expanded until they contain many more sentient beings.

Next Wednesday, our family’s latest baby will be born. Mrs Chook and I will be there, as will her or his two other grandmothers. The baby’s grandfather and me, divorced now for more years than I care to consider, will drink champagne together and congratulate one another on the family we made. He will get a little drunk, and as usual hug me too hard for too long when no one is watching. He, his second wife, Mrs Chook and me, will be sharing the care of  our grandchild Archie, while his parents have a few days in peace with the new baby.

Never in my wildest dreams could I have foreseen this kind of life.

Love, actually.

Dance me to the end of love

25 Mar

 

 

Some months ago I wrote here about going to my husband, from whom I’d been separated for some time, after he’d suffered a massive stroke.

With a bizarre assortment of clothes flung distractedly into a bag and no toothbrush, I took the train because all the flights from my part of the world were full.

I had no idea what to expect. He won’t know you, they told me. He doesn’t know anybody. He can’t speak. His right side is paralysed. I’ll come with you, a friend offered, so you don’t have to deal with the shock by yourself.

I accepted her offer. Once I never accepted anybody’s offers of help. I had no idea how to. I knew from early in life how to get through things on my own when there wasn’t any choice. I knew how to trust me, when I couldn’t trust anybody else.

At first, accepting help felt like betraying myself. I confused it with weakness. It wasn’t until I found at the age of 40 that I had cervical cancer and was in serious trouble, that I began to tentatively say, please help me. And everybody did. I’ve not much to feel grateful to that cancer for, but it did cause me to change, and let people love me.

When I walked into A’s room, he was strapped into a wheelchair. I pulled up a chair beside him and took his hand, the one still in working order. He looked at me for a long time, balefully, I thought. I found this look reassuringly familiar. Although he stopped wanting me long before I stopped wanting him, he never seemed to keep that chronology in mind and on the occasions we met after our final separation, acted aggrieved, as if I’d been the one to leg it. Well, I had, but only because I finally understood his desire for me was gone, and how can you stay around for that?

I say desire, which is usually and wrongly understood to be primarily sexual, but I mean it in a much broader sense. He never stopped wanting me sexually, nor I him, but it got to the point where that was all he wanted of me, while I still trembled at the whole of him.

Sometimes I finally get to thinking of the past,
We swore to each other that our love would surely last
I kept right on loving, you went on a fast
Now you are too thin and my love is too vast…*

 

It was 2006, and I’d been in Mexico for months without him because, on the surface of it, timing. We exchanged dozens of acrimonious emails in which he berated me for going without him, and I hurled back heartbroken accusations to the effect that for more than twenty years he’d only been a tourist in my life when what I’d wanted was a dedicated traveller. He then wrote that he supposed I was fucking some rich Mexican with a hundred-dollar haircut, or maybe I’d gone back to my old ways and was enjoying a senorita in some lesbian resort on the Caribbean coast, to which I replied, too exhausted to try for wit or even something vaguely cutting, what’s it to you, anyway. Leave me alone. I’m not talking to you anymore. A lengthy, angry, miserable silence ensued.

Not long after I returned home A emailed me from Singapore. I’d no idea he’d planned to be in Singapore when I left him in Sydney, but I learned how to do geographicals from him so it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Meet me in Thailand, he wrote. My life is stupid without you. I’ve transferred the frequent flyer points to your account. Don’t argue, please. Don’t turn your face away from me. Meet me in Chang Mai. We’ll go down the Mekong to Luang Prabang, like we always said we would…

I didn’t want to go. I’d done a lot of hard work separating myself whilst in Mexico. I thought I was getting closer to being over it. I knew that if I was ever going to have the life that I wanted, I had to walk away. Twenty years are long enough to try to work things out.

But I went.

It was unspeakably horrible. There is little worse than travelling down the Mekong in a long-boat without seats, crouched on your backpack beside a man you’ve been married to for twenty years who made passionate love to you the night before but in the morning, can hardly bring himself to talk to you. I listened to music on my headphones. I listened to the Brahms & Mendelssohn cello concertos, over and over and over. I’m listening to them now, as I write this. To this day, I can’t hear a cello without a tempest of feeling starting up in me.

I have a photo A took of me standing on the desolate, windswept airstrip in Northern Laos that was used by the Russians during the Vietnam War to supply arms to the Viet Cong. In the background the denuded hills, stripped of their fecund jungle by US chemical warfare, and all these years later, still not healed. In the foreground, a woman, grimly enduring the worst loneliness of her adult life.

 

We kept going through the whole damn trip and I have no idea why I didn’t just catch the first plane home, except I was too crippled by misery to take any positive action on my own behalf. Every time we made love, and inexplicably, we continued to make something, I did so in an altered state of anguish so intense it acquired a kind of sublimity. Knowing that though it was so finished I was still unable to refuse his touch, indeed, I wanted it as badly as I ever had, made me feel as debased as any addict begging on the street for enough money to get me a fix.

When I left him at the airport in Bangkok I knew without doubt it had to be the end.

Grief expresses itself very physically in me. I have to howl. I have to wail. I have to curl in a foetal ball on some dirty floor somewhere. I can’t care about what I look like, or brushing my teeth, or changing my socks or washing my hair. I can’t eat. I can drink, which does not, in the long run, help at all.

Eventually, after a long, long time, I started on my new life without him in it. I achieved ambitions, enjoyed my family, and my friends. Yet sometimes, compelled and not understanding at all by what, except the most pathetic, abject longing, I wore my wedding ring. I met potential lovers, and quite soon realised that if I expected to be in circumstances in which that might happen, I put on my wedding ring to make sure it didn’t. Desire abandoned me, a lost cause. I threw myself into my celibate life and got so used to longing, I didn’t even notice I was feeling it anymore.

I even managed to conduct civil encounters with A, in places such as the Botanical Gardens and Bondi cafes, and when he touched me, kissed my lips or took my hand, I gently removed myself from him. I could have gone home with him, back into our bed, I felt the stirrings, I knew I wasn’t entirely dead to passion, that I could go there with him again, but I knew I’d likely die as a consequence, one way or another.

 

I spent many weeks at his side, after his stroke. He knew me straight away. I fed him, wiped the dribble from the side of his mouth that doesn’t work anymore, held his hand while he alternately raved and cried, licked up his tears with my tongue. One day, as I leaned over him to adjust his bed, his good hand found the buttons on my shirt and struggled to undo them. I realised what he wanted, and did it for him, releasing my breasts so he could touch them again. He closed his eyes and fondled me, moving his hand from one breast to the other, as if amazed there could be two of them. I felt no sexual desire, rather an overwhelming desire of another kind: to give him this pleasure, this comfort.

For a couple of weeks, he would signal for me to give him my breasts at every visit. I wore clothes that made this easy, and discreet in case we were interrupted. And then he grew too tired. He began to slip away into another place where I couldn’t be. He still knew me. He just didn’t have the strength to care anymore.

I said goodbye to him, as I knew I must. I sat with him for a long time on our last day. He slept through much of it. Once he woke enough to stroke my face.

I won’t go back. There’s nothing left for me to do there. I always wanted him to die in my arms, or me to die in his, but that was never one of his desires.

I’ve put my wedding ring away now. For such a long, long while I couldn’t contemplate desire. I had to keep it far away from me, I had to hold up the palms of my hands to keep it at bay, because desire only meant him, and saying its name reminded me only of the loss of him.

As I finish this, I realise I have listened to the Brahms & and the Mendelssohn concertos over and over again this morning, and it has been all right. This morning, a momentous one in my life, I’m looking at the time we had together, A and me, and wish I could have learned sooner how bad it was for me. I wish I hadn’t lost so much of my life to something that was never going to be what I wanted. I wish I hadn’t squandered so much love, and so much effort, trying to make something that simply could not be.

Although it was never his intention, the man who showed me how to be a scholar, thrilling me with his intellect; the man who guided me into sexual desire, thrilling me with what he showed me I could feel, that man also, quite inadvertently, taught me how to I want to love, and be loved. Though that love was never to be realised with us, I see today, at long last through clear eyes, that it is A’s greatest gift to me.


Dance me to the children who are asking to be born
Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn
Raise a tent of shelter now, though every thread is torn
Dance me to the end of love *

*Leonard Cohen, Tonight will be fine

*Leonard Cohen, Dance me to the end of love

The Happy Place

23 Mar

There seems to be some interest in having a special happy place to go to and leave comments and have conversations about whatever.

So, here it is. Enjoy.

PS: Same rules still apply: Robust debate. No trashing each other.

Happy Place

This does not feature female nipples, or, go ahead, suck my toes…

21 Mar

I know momentous non-events have occurred in our country in the last 24 hours that I probably ought to be writing about but I’m not because I need some frivolity, and this tweet from Damon Young this morning re-ignited my furies and I can’t rest until I DEAL WITH HIM:

Runner up for most popular post: ‘A tale of two trips’ (featuring male nipples): http://goo.gl/ZvByk 

As you may recall, ’twas the blatantly hard-nippled philosopher who inspired the post Breasts Nipples Breasts etc, in which I rail aginst the inequality that allows men to confidently post images of themselves naked from the waist up on the interwebs, when women can’t expect to do the same without CONSEQUENCES.

So when Damon’s tweet entered my feed this morning I took it as a  “haha look what I can do that you can’t” moment.

I might also add that Damon and his friends have sent me more naked from the waist up pictures on Twitter recently, taunting me with their privilege when I was unable to adequately respond because I was in Canberra and thinking about something else.

Imagine if I tweeted this post with the teaser: featuring female nipples. I mean I just wouldn’t would I, unless this was a porn site, which it may very well become before I’ve finished. 

As I swam my laps after reading this latest tweet, I smouldered afresh over the ignominy of this blatant discrimination. The pool was almost empty except for a bloke frolicking in the shallows, bare-chested of course. I find that water over bare skin, especially bare breasts, can give one a remarkably strong erotic charge, and he was likely having it. But was I ? No of course I wasn’t. My upper erogenous zones had to be covered in blue Speedos, because otherwise I’d be featuring female nipples and not thinking of the children.

If you know what it’s like to take your flippers off after half an hour or so, and let your feet feel the water and the water feel your feet, you can imagine what it’s like to roll down your cossies and let your breasts do the same. It’s very nice, and I don’t see why Damon Young can enjoy it when I can’t.

Actually, it’s probably even nicer for breasts than it is for feet, depending on your interests, of course. Nobody has ever sucked my toes, so my feet are a sexually innocent zone. Indeed, my virginal toes are my precious gift to a lover, rather like Tony Abbott says my hymen should have been.

I admit that any attempts to arouse me by stroking my feet have always ended in me screaming and running out of the room, a mood spoiler is ever there was one, but sucking my toes,well, I’m game, just don’t expect me to necessarily return the favour.

Anyways, I was discussing all this with a bestie, and she offered up a whole other perspective on this showing our tits thing, one that I haven’t previously much considered. It is, she claims, highly erotic to only share such intimacies with your lover. It’s thrilling, she swears, to show your breasts only to the one with whom you have chosen to make love. If you put them on the interwebs for everyone to see, this thrill is gone.

Well, I know about the thrill of sharing my breasts with a lover, but I hadn’t thought about how that might be adversely affected by showing them to everybody. I owe my bestie. Just think, I could have totally stuffed up my sexual life for the sake of equality.

The thrill renews itself with every new partner, she assures me, rather like Aphrodite emerging from the waves a virgin every time she has a swim.As, of course, did I when I left the pool this morning.

This is an excellent example of a gift that keeps on giving. Abbott doesn’t get this. He thinks after the first time you give it, it’s all down hill.

I get my bestie’s point of view. And for a while I felt torn. I should be able to show my breasts anywhere I want, like men can. At the same time, I really don’t want to risk losing the thrill.

I need to understand what causes us to feel this way. Desire is constructed, and so is its performance. Judith Butler will help me with this, and I might have to go back to reading Foucault at bedtime, History of Sexuality: The uses of pleasure, or, when sleeping alone, The Care of the Self.

So, you bare-chested, hard-nippled blokes, knock yourselves out. I don’t care.  I’m saving myself for better thrills. You can’t do that. “Nah nah nah nah nah.” Pink: So What? I’m Still a Rock Star

GO AHEAD, SUCK MY TOES

suck my virgin toes

 

Dear Kevin

20 Mar

First up, I hate what they did to you. I really do. Even if you were totally hopeless in the job, you didn’t deserve what they dished out. There were other ways they could have used to address their problems with you, but they were too unimaginative, ignorant, ambitious, short-sighted, and just plain nasty  to do anything other than what they did. So I don’t blame you if you still want to kick their miserable, rat-fucking arses.

But Kevin, we’re all in seriously deep doo doo now. We’re looking at Prime Minister Abbott. This prospect casts an unimaginable blight on all our lives, Kevin, and I’m sorry if I sound harsh, but all our lives together are bigger than your one. You know this in your heart. I know you do, you are a decent chap. You are struggling with the clamourings of your ego and the demands of the greater good. That’s understandable, I would be too.

But Kevin, if there was ever a time for a man to force himself to move on from the self-interested concerns of his seriously affronted pride, mate, this is it.

I know you were gutted when they chucked you out. I watched you cry and mate, I cried with you. I’ve never fully recovered, so I can see how hard it’s been for you.

It will take a real man to do this but if you do, everybody will be gobsmacked with gratitude, Kevin. Stand up, and tell the world in a great big voice that under no circumstances, and no matter what transpires, you will never, ever, ever agree to lead the ALP again during the term of this government. Take yourself right out of the contest, mate. Leave no possibility open. Let us all know, unequivocally, that you are out of the race. End it, Kevin, I’m begging you. End it now while there’s still a glimmer of hope for us.

Kev, they are a bunch of chunts, there’s no denying it. And they are reaping what they sowed. Anybody with an ounce of psychological insight could have told them that it could only ever end in tears, and it has, mate, it has. But Kev, all of us are crying, and we are (in the main) innocent bystanders.

So Kev, while you have a right to be a destabilising influence for as long as you want, I’m begging you, for the sake of my unborn grandchild, due in April, think of the bigger picture. Think of us under an Abbott government. Think of what you can do towards helping us avoid that fate. Think like a hero, Kev. Think like a hero, and walk away from any possibility of resuming the leadership.

Because if they do change leadership you, Kevin, are the absolutely very last person who should step into the breach. This is no time for revenge, mate. I know you want it, and it’s probably due, but Prime Minister Abbott? None of us deserve that fate.

Yours sincerely,

Jennifer

Dear Blog Regulars

Would you like me to set up a permanent space where you can talk about whatever you want?

Feminism. Feminists.

15 Mar

 feminist-doormat

The recent public stoush between Helen Razer and Jenna Price is of a kind that quite regularly erupts in feminist circles. Such eruptions are not peculiar to feminism: they occur in any ideological movement, but for some reason seem to be treated as more of a spectacle when women are involved. I’m reminded of the Seinfeld episode in which Kramer, George and Jerry reach a state of ironic hysterical excitability at the prospect of a “Cat fight! Cat fight!”

Briefly, Razer accuses Price’s Destroy the Joint movement of overly concerning itself with “everyday sexism” and likens this concern to a “cultural studies tute from 1991.” Price responds by pointing out that Destroy the Joint is involved in practically assisting women, as well as calling out media sexism. One immediate practical achievement that seems to me amazing, is that of persuading Telstra to agree to provide silent phone numbers at no cost to women who are in hiding from abusers.

Price also objects to Razer’s  instruction on what feminism is, or should be. The overall impression I gained from reading both women is that they are coming from different perspectives that can, to my mind, be complementary.

Thinking about difference and complementarity put me in mind of my doctoral thesis. I wrote what’s known as a composite thesis, that is, it’s comprised of a creative work, and an exegesis. A short extract from the introduction by way of explanation:

The Practice of Goodness is a work of creative non-fiction, a memoir of some of the significant events in the protagonist’s life, written in reaction to a diagnosis of terminal illness. In the theoretical perspective offered here I discuss the central themes of the memoir. These are those of violence, both domestic and political; the role of language in cultural constructions of death and dying; and the possibility of a secular ethics centred round responsibility, forgiveness and respect for our common vulnerability.

The overarching argument of the thesis is for the embodiment of theory in practice, an argument that is symbolised both by its composite form, and the decision to theoretically interrogate the themes of the creative piece. In the creative piece, these themes are explored experientially. The actual effects of violence, of cultural representations of death and dying through the use of figurative language, and of acts of forgiveness on human life, are noted in their practice. In the exegesis, I engage with various theoretical perspectives on these practices with the goal of demonstrating that extraordinary events may be more fully understood, and finally come to terms with, if the experiential is supported and informed by a theory that lends itself to practical application in life.

To suggest that either Razer or Price confines herself to such a sharply defined position, one theoretical, one practical, would be to insultingly reduce both women. It is never that clear. Reading Price’s account of her life’s activities, I’m left with the impression of a very hands-on feminist practice, of the kind from which I have benefited enormously at times in my life, when women have offered me assistance and support without which I think I might have died.

Reading Razer, I’m delighted and nourished by her wit, and her intellectual passion, a passion expressed by many feminist thinkers and writers over decades, without which I would also have died, in this instance an intellectual death. Razer’s hilarious account of Anne Summer’s ill-informed  “misogyny” call in the matter of the mouth-shaped urinals is a cautionary tale: it’s easy when seeking out sexism in media to think, based on a cursory inspection, that you’ve found it, so always check the context and the facts.

I share Razer’s passion for theory. I’m invigorated by the challenge of doing a close reading of really difficult stuff, and have been ridiculed many times for selecting something of Foucault’s as my bedtime book.  At one point my passion for Michel was so great that my students trawled the Internet trying to find me a Foucault doll.

But I don’t care what anyone thinks. I’ve learned much from Butler, Kristeva, Derrida, Levinas and so many more from whom I’ve borrowed a framework, or a lens, through which to consider my life and the culture in which I find myself. Not everybody shares this passion, and why should they?

I share Price’s passion for educating women to recognise sexism wherever it appears. I know there are many women who have not undertaken cultural studies, women’s studies, or gender studies, or who do not have the tools of high feminist theory with which to decode the world around us. There are women who do not have the time to equip themselves thus, and there are women who do not have the interest. The immediate success of a movement such as Destroy the Joint indicates to me that there are women hungry for an accessible feminism that has application to the lives they lead, and offers the possibility of naming and articulating the sexism and misogyny that surrounds us.  Are they middle class women? Quite likely, but so what? Middle class women are also subjected to domestic violence, rape and childhood abuse, though it is often extremely difficult for them to reveal this. The imperative to conceal such things is strong in the middle class. Who can say that beginning with “everyday sexism” won’t pave the way for the harder discussions?

I also share Price’s passion for the hands-on feminism to which I owe so much, the practical expression of the ideology Razer defines thus: “Feminism is the struggle against masculinised violence and feminised poverty.”

Although my definition inclines more towards that espoused by 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. Love cannot exist in any relationship that is based on domination and coercion. Males cannot love themselves in patriarchal culture if their very self-definition relies on submission to patriarchal rules. When men embrace feminist thinking and practice, which emphasizes the value of mutual growth and self-actualization in all relationships, their emotional well-being will be enhanced. A genuine feminist politics always brings us from bondage to freedom, from lovelessness to loving.

I have very little interest in the number of female CEOs in Australia. I find the outrage at so-called “sexualisation” dangerously silly. But I do think it’s important that women continue to learn to read the signals sent to us about us, by the society in which we live. I know it all so well by now that I don’t even have to think about it. However, I wasn’t born knowing. I didn’t know how to read the signs until feminists taught me. They didn’t teach me initially through high feminist theory. That came later for me. I needed something far more accessible to get me started.

Destroy the Joint can fulfill this educative role for women, and much more.

At the same time, I frequently feel a frustration of the kind that emerges in Razer’s critique. Why are we concerning ourselves with this banal twaddle when women are still subjected to appalling violence, and unforgivable poverty? Who cares if there’s a sexist ad somewhere while at the same time a woman is being brutalised or murdered, or thrown out onto the streets? What is feminism for, if not primarily to address these most grave matters?

I don’t know the answers. I do know that not every woman can undertake the hard yards in refuges and rape crisis centres, or is in any way less for not doing so. I couldn’t do it, because it’s far too close to my bones and I would be useless in those environments. I worked for years with women who wanted to address the aftermath of their abused and lost childhoods. I think I was useful, and I know I learned much from the encounters we shared. I’ve taught feminist theory, I think usefully, but I do know that not every woman can or wants to undertake those hard intellectual yards, and I can see no reason to expect that every woman should, or is in any way less for not doing so.

I’m pleased when young women I know remark on the everyday sexism they’ve learned to identify. I consider it part of my feminist task to remember the days when I too knew nothing, was avid to learn, and sought and found women who would teach me, taking me patiently through what they already knew so well.

It doesn’t surprise me when there are eruptions among feminists. As Razer points out, we are no nicer than any other human group and there’s no reason why we should be. It annoys me that all too often a dispute among women is taken as evidence that we are back biting bitches who can’t agree on anything, and that’s good enough reason to patronize and dismiss us. Last time I checked, it wasn’t women who were starting the majority of the world’s wars, for purposes far more deadly and self-interested than ideological spats.

I want women of Price and Razer’s calibre to continue to give voice to their interests and concerns. I don’t want a world in which either of them is silenced or disparaged.  Neither do I want a world in which feminist theory and practice are falsely framed as adversarial, and pitted against one another in a struggle for dominance and acclaim. When that happens, the patriarchy wins.

foucault-1

 

Housekeeping

12 Mar

UPDATE: Sorry for shouting but in my defence I’d just been in Question Time and was unduly influenced by Anna Burke. LOL.

 

 

SECOND WARNING. EITHER ABUSIVE COMMENTS CEASE IMMEDIATELY OR I WILL BRING BACK MODERATION AND YOU CAN ALL SIT IN A QUEUE WHILE I’M ON HOLIDAY. Seriously annoyed Jennifer. 

I turn my back for five minutes and there’s a break out.

Stop fighting. Robust argument only.

Oh, BTW this piece on feminism after Gillard expresses some of my feelings on the PM:

http://blogs.crikey.com.au/thestump/2013/03/08/after-julia-gillard-thoughts-on-international-womens-day/

“…there are no votes in decency.”

8 Mar

The full quote comes from Federal Liberal MP Russell Broadbent, in reference to fallen Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu, and reads:  “This is a man of great decency but obviously there are no votes in decency.”

I don’t have enough knowledge about Mr Baillieu and his situation to comment on his decency, and it is the observation “there are no votes in decency” that captured my attention.

It seems to me to sum up our current federal politics in relation to asylum seeker policies promoted by both major parties. I understand Pauline Hanson is looking to join them yet again, but as the ALP & LNP have stolen her thunder and more, it’s difficult to see why anybody needs her voice as they did back then, before John Howard plagiarised her instruction manual for xenophobes and racists and she found herself in gaol.

But that’s another story.

There is nothing even approaching decency in the government or the opposition’s asylum seeker policies. There is much chatter about dog whistling, but as far as I can see, they barely bother to dog whistle. The xenophobia is overtly rampant. The asylum seekers and refugees are well scapegoated. The fears of Australians are well-played upon: foreigners are taking our jobs and the government will rescue us from that. Asylum seekers and refugees present such a danger to us that police must be informed when they are housed in our neighbourhoods. It isn’t necessary to go through the dismal litany of false and unnecessary fears aroused solely to give politicians the opportunity to offer to then save us from those fears. It is a masterly manipulation, begun by Howard, honed close to perfection by subsequent politicians of both major parties, who apparently will do anything to win the vote of frightened and aggrieved xenophobes and racists.

Of whom it would seem there are a great many in Australia, otherwise why would anyone bother fighting tooth and nail to gain their approval?

That there are good reasons for some, even many people to be discontent with their lot, is not at issue. That politicians have managed to educate such people to believe that asylum seekers and refugees are responsible for this discontent, and not the decisions of politicians themselves, is evidence of a hugely successful propaganda campaign.

There are no votes in decency in Australia. Decency died in asylum seeker and refugee politics when Pauline Hanson opened the floodgates, and other politicians, witnessing the raging white water of legitimised ignorance and hate roar through, decided that rather than contest the mindset, they’d exploit it for all it’s worth because, votes.

Bereft of decent leaders in this matter, we find ourselves treading water in a cesspool of  racism, and fear and hatred of the foreign. Instead of broadening our minds and hearts, political leaders have promoted a shameful mental and spiritual shrinking of our human possibilities. The few lone voices in federal parliament are drowned out by leaders too inadequate and power-hungry to decently address the plight of asylum seekers and refugees, instead dehumanising them until all that is left is vote fodder.

It is a sickening, heartbreaking state in which we find ourselves and our country. A pox on both their political houses. They have brought us shame, disgrace and dishonour. There are indeed, no votes in decency.

On a personal note, I’m embarking on a road trip to Canberra and surrounds tomorrow for ten days, so the blog may be neglected, on the other hand it may not!

I’ve also decided to fulfil a long-held ambition to do a law degree. Because I already have a few degrees I’m allowed to fast track, and will take only three years full-time to complete. So the blog may be neglected off and on from July this year.

One of the side effects of severe childhood abuse was an inability to learn whilst I was at school. When I started on my road to recovery as an adult, an insatiable hunger for learning emerged from the wreckage, a hunger that inspired me through two and a half degrees and a PhD. Well, it’s surfaced again. I can’t wait to hit the books, and writing 2000 word essays after a 100,000 word doctorate ought to be a breeze.

I still have treatment for my post traumatic stress disorder, and will for the rest of my life. It doesn’t go away, but my ability to manage the symptoms increases all the time. I told my therapist yesterday that I sometimes feel such fury that so much of my life has to be spent managing the aftermath of childhood abuse, and how if I hadn’t needed to do that, I could have done so many other things.

I think of the children in detention who have suffered so much, and how their adult lives will be affected by their trauma. For those who’ve fled life-threatening circumstances, it’s bad enough. But to think that here, in Australia, in 2013, our government incarcerates these children and subjects them to even more stress, makes my blood boil at the cruel and hideous self-interest that causes politicians to act towards asylum seekers in such ways.

Many, if not all of the detained children will be eventually granted refugee status. They will be living their adult lives in this country. Instead of damaging them further, can we not treat them well, and kindly, and help them to be competent, productive and useful citizens?  Surely it’s in our own interests to do this?

Decency. Is it too much to ask? Yes, I fear it is.

If you see a child as “sexualised” there’s something wrong with your vision

4 Mar

On morals campaigner Melinda Tankard Reist’s website you’ll find this breakdown of a survey conducted by Girlfriend magazine on the sexual habits of their young readers. The magazine’s demographic is girls aged between twelve and seventeen.

The survey found that 75% of Girlfriend readers are not sexually active. The reasons given:

  • Waiting to be in love (56%)
  • Not wanting to have sex (37%)
  • Feeling too young (31%)
  • No particular reason (26%)
  • Waiting to be married (17%)
  • Waiting to be the legal age of consent (14%)
  • Waiting for their boyfriend/girlfriend to be ready (8%)
  • Not being interest in ever having sex (1%)

These reasons don’t appear to differ from reasons given by young women over the last few decades. It’s also possible, though unverifiable I imagine, that over the last few decades 25% of young women have engaged in some kind of sexual activity for a variety of reasons, just as they do today.

The Girlfriend survey appears to contest anecdotes such as those in the article “Stealing the innocence of children” published yesterday in the Fairfax Press. Using language such as onslaught, obsession, bombardment, and phrases such as “placing the child in a sexualised space,” “increasingly sexual and sexualised culture,” “hyenas circling” our young, and “people conditioned to see themselves as ‘product,'” the article paints an alarming picture of an apocalyptically sexualised society, controlled by a terrifyingly nebulous “them.”  The closest I can come to identifying “them” are as the manufacturers, producers, distributors  and marketers of a perceived “sexualised” and “pornified” popular culture.

They are further identified in the article as  “the seamier side of humanity” which has persuaded K-Mart, Target and other retailers to provide children’s clothing modelled on the imagined uniform of sex workers.

Children’s primary carers are obliged to buy  this inappropriate clothing and give it to kids to wear, causing them to look “hot” and “sexy.”

It takes a particular kind of perverted vision to see a child as “sexy” or “hot,” no matter what the child is wearing. I do not see children dressed in “sexy” clothing as “hot.”A child dressed like an adult looks to me like a child dressed like an adult. If the child is perceived as “sexualised” or “pornified” it must be the gaze of the adult viewer defining her as such, not the clothing and certainly not the child. It is impossible to “sexualise” and “pornify” a child by dressing her or him in any kind of clothing. Only a sexualising and pornifying gaze can impose that interpretation.

Further, I’d suggest that those currently most responsible for “sexualising” and “pornifying” children’s appearance are the very campaigners who complain most loudly about it. These people are demanding that we all adopt the pedophile gaze, and interpret a child’s appearance as “hot” and “sexy” rather than seeing it for what it is: children imitating adults. There is no innocence lost in the imitation. The innocence is destroyed by the adult’s sexualising gaze.

To others less inclined to make moral judgements based on bits of cloth, children are neither sexualised nor pornified. They are children in bits of cloth, funny, silly, imitating their elders, remarkable or unremarkable, but they are children. If you think they are sexually objectified, the problem is with you.

Is there any space more sexualised than that of an institution such as church or family, in which the child is raped? Is there anymore devastatingly sexualised, objectified and “pornified” child than the child raped in the home, church or other institution outwardly dedicated to her or his welfare? When a child’s body is used to gratify adult desire, that child’s innocence has indeed been destroyed. That child has indeed been sexualised and pornified. And the number of children whose innocence has been thus stolen is incalculable.

Yet is any of this mentioned, even in passing, in an article titled “Stealing the innocence of children?” No. It is not. It is far easier to blame a nebulous “them” for the  crime of clothing and music videos.

This is bandaid stuff. What actually demands our attention is the numbers of adults only too willing to see, to describe, and to use children as sexual objects, even those who perceive themselves as being on the side of the good. Campaigners such as Tankard Reist, Steve Biddulph, Emma Rush and Steve Hambleton unwittingly reproduce the pedophile gaze with their own determinedly sexualised readings of popular culture.  The pedophile claims in his defence that  “she looked like she wanted it,” even if she was only three. The campaigners are in great danger of saying something very similar, albeit for very different reasons.

If you want to protect the innocence of children, don’t impose your sexualising vision on them. If you want to let kids be kids just do it, by recognising that they cannot be sexualised by the clothing they wear, but only by your interpretation of what that clothing signifies.

The campaigners are railing against a particular sexual aesthetic, one that given their reference to sex workers and aspects of popular culture may well be class-based. It’s not so long ago that girls who dressed in a certain way were described as “cheap.” That meant sexually easy, and the girls thus described were not middle class. Today “cheap” garments and attitudes are increasingly infiltrating the middle class, blurring class distinctions and causing what can only be described as a moral panic as those who are well used to controlling an orthodox conservative sexual discourse find themselves challenged as never before.

In another article titled “Save your daughter from the wild-child syndrome,” Steve Biddulph states ” If a girl is going to go wrong, it will be at 14.”  If a girl is going to go wrong? This binary of good and bad girls, right and wrong girls, is at the heart of the sexualisation and pornification panic. “Good and right” girls are increasingly indistinguishable from “bad and wrong girls” in their clothing choices. Hell, these days everyone’s looking like hookers and pole dancers! Clothes, once a primary signifier of middle class status and morality, now make  “good” girls look like they’re “bad.”

The conservative middle class, whether secular or religious, prescribes a morality that condemns the perceived sexually “easy” girl or woman. There remains, even among the non religious, a code of sexual manners that frowns upon any perceived flaunting of female sexuality.

The morals campaigners are of course never going to question their dogma about how girls and women should express our sexuality. In feminism’s second wave, we learned the folly of unquestioningly accepting the authority of the orthodoxy, and the unnecessary suffering involved in attempting to adjust ourselves to its man-made rules. We need a similar revolution in which we vigorously contest the domination of conservative sexual morality on our culture. Indeed, perhaps such a revolution is already underway, and the current moral panic is the outraged and fearful reaction.

Confusion: just because a girl wears a short skirt doesn’t mean she’s asking for it. On the other hand, the short skirt sexualises, pornifies and objectifies you so if you wear it, you look like a girl going wrong, and asking for it.

The bizarre marriage of radical feminism and right wing religious activism, occasioned to contest that other bogeyman, pornography, is an example of how the desire to censor and control is not confined to the religious. Russell Blackford considers this in his piece on Iceland’s recent initiative to ban certain types of pornography. “You can’t assume that secularism in a country’s population will solve all problems of moralism, anti-sex attitudes, and a general wish by governments and electorates to interfere with people’s lives” Blackford observes. While we know Melinda Tankard Reist comes from a Christian fundamentalist background, and Steve Hambleton is a devout Catholic, their conservative sexual politics are shared and promoted by the non religious as well.

When religious beliefs can’t be invoked to substantiate moralities, psychology, psychiatry and regurgitation of received knowledge is often as, if not more, effective. All of these traditionally accept an initial cultural premise: that there are particular ways of behaving and expressing sexuality that are unquestionably right, and veering from them is wrong. The stranglehold this perspective has on society is currently under great pressure, nowhere as evidenced in the rebellion of the young,who’s collective determination to clothe themselves like porn stars, as the horrified adults would have it, is breaking all the rules of sexual propriety and class.

The extreme manifestation of this propriety is manifested in remarks such as those made by Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, who famously declared that the virginity of his three daughters was the greatest gift they could offer anyone and he hopes they’ll wait till they marry to bestow it.

I recall a sex talk given to us fourteen year olds by the Mother Superior, in which she advised us that we should not be like cream buns in the bakery window. Who, she asked rhetorically, wants to buy a cream bun from which someone else has already taken a lick? It’s only in retrospect I can see the bawdiness of that analogy, and I’m sure Mother Dorothea had no inkling. However, her advice does indicate there were enough girls being cream buns, even several decades ago, for us good girls to be warned of the perils that entailed.

There are, of course, real causes for concern. Five year old girls ought not to be so obsessed about their weight and appearance that their mental and physical health is threatened. I suggest that’s a separate issue from the “sexualisation and pornification”   claims, but it is a habit of these campaigners to conflate all the issues (as is exemplified in the Fairfax article)  into an “ain’t it awful” catastrophic expectation, won’t somebody think of our children who will save our girls meme.

I can’t watch shows like “Biggest Loser” because of their cruelty,and their commitment to fat-shaming, treacherously disguised as concern. No wonder little girls are scared to death of gaining any weight. They’ve got the message: everyone will hate and shame them if they aren’t reed thin. Many of them have close adult females who angst over their weight, teaching little girls that their lives will be good or bad depending on how much they weigh. I suggest this is far more insidious than any piece of sparkly skimpy cloth K-Mart has on its shelves.

Likewise, the idea of someone dressing a baby in a shirt bearing the slogan “All Daddy wanted was a blow job” is my idea of over-sharing. I’ve never seen such a shirt, though I don’t doubt they exist.

Children have always been born into a “sexualised space.” Planet Earth is a sexualised space, sex is a powerful human drive that everyone encounters, one way or another. Children are sexual beings, and understand from an early age that there is something profoundly mysterious in the adult world that is forbidden to them. Naturally, they want entry into that world, and one of the ways they achieve a semblance of belonging is by imitating adult appearance and behaviour. What kind of a mind construes this imitation as reality, and demands that the rest of us do the same?

What we need to do is really see the children, and not take flight into a moral panic that they cannot understand. There is a child at play inside the “hot” “sexy” clothes. That child shouldn’t have to choose between being a good girl or a bad girl, between going wrong or going right. Adults are responsible for the paucity of role models on offer for children to emulate. If we really care about the children, this is what we’ll address. But that’s going to be a lot harder than blaming K-mart.

innocence

Now is not the time to have a pity party for the PM

2 Mar

Considering the kind of lives many women are living on planet Earth at this time, Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s is up there in the very top level of privilege.

So it comes as something of a shock to read leading feminist Anne Summer’s piece today, in which she frames Ms Gillard as a victim. Victim of bastardry and misogyny, cruelly mocked, scoffed at, subjected to vile commentary including pornographic representation; criticised whichever way she turns, frequently on the basis of her sex, and shown “not the slightest drop of mercy or respect.”

Not only is Ms Gillard deprived of respect, Summers writes, but as a consequence of  personal disdain for her, the office of Prime Minister is also inevitably disrespected.

It’s a bit rich to expect the public to respect the office of Prime Minister given the complete contempt the ALP itself showed towards this office when it was inhabited by Kevin Rudd. This disrespect was compounded when the ALP gave us no warning of their intention to topple the man who had so triumphantly defeated John Howard, and instead acted as if they were governing a nation of mushrooms.

Be that as it may…

While there is much truth in Summer’s assessment of the situation, one has to wonder if it is wise to paint the Prime Minister in such catastrophically underdog terms at this time. There will be plenty of opportunity to dissect the sexism Ms Gillard has endured after the election. If she leads her party to victory she can be portrayed as a glorious survivor of vile misogyny. If she leads them to failure, books can be written about the cruel and unfair treatment of our first female Prime Minister. But right now, nobody wants a victim in charge of a government that is already hurtling down the road to ignominy.

No matter what your opinion of Ms Gillard, I don’t think you could deny that she is a woman of extraordinary strength and tenacity, and a damn good fighter.  Indeed some, perhaps all of her best speeches have been made when she’s been on the back foot, and defending herself against personal attacks. Think the globally acclaimed misogyny speech, for example, as well as the press conference she gave to settle the matter of her alleged involvement in dodgy dealings whilst working at Slater and Gordon. These are not the actions of a woman with a victim mentality. They are the actions of a survivor.

What Ms Gillard endures is sadly no different from what many women endure on a daily basis. That any of us have to put up with misogyny is an outrage, and there are many among us who live with a great deal more of it than Ms Gillard, without any of the compensations she enjoys. In view of this, while it is appropriate to point out misogyny when it so publicly manifests against  a high-profile woman, it isn’t appropriate to cast that woman as a helpless victim. In the hierarchy of female suffering at the hands of the patriarchy, Ms Gillard is luckily on a low level.

I find it difficult to imagine that the Prime Minister herself would appreciate the gender card being played in this way at this time. I see no indication that she considers herself in any way an underdog, and her reaction to sexism and misogyny has been anything but that of a woman looking for mercy.

“Is mockery the new misogyny?” Summers asks.

Mockery may well be yet another form of expressing misogyny in this situation. But the sad fact is that we can’t afford to focus on that right now. Gillard is facing the fight of her political life. Far more importantly, the ALP is facing the same. Do we really want to offer the nation the picture of a victimised, bullied, vilely mocked woman as our next PM? Or should we be wise enough to keep our peace on the misogyny angle, and leave the pity party for another time?

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