Archive | March, 2016

Abbott can’t take rejection. Hide your onions.

28 Mar

 

Abbott Onion Meme

 

In what can only be inspirational news for the ALP, failed Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced his intention to embark on a DIY election tour of marginal seats. This piece by Paula Matthewson spells out the possible consequences of this decision, none of which are especially enticing from the LNP point of view.

Abbott, it appears, is incapable of dealing with rejection by his party. He simply cannot accept their decision to lose him as leader. He’s lately taken to informing the public that of course he supports the Turnbull government because it’s built on Abbott policies. This claim led in turn to Turnbull’s bizarre plagiarising of a line from the US television series Veep, to the effect that what he signifies as Prime Minister is “continuity with change.” Julia Louis Dreyfus, star of the show, is reportedly “dumfounded” at Turnbull’s appropriation of a slogan writers decided upon solely because of its utter meaninglessness.

Obviously, the continuity with change to which Turnbull refers is his appropriation of Abbott’s policies (continuity) delivered to the people by the new PM whilst wearing a better suit (change).

If the Veep people are ever short of material they could do worse than check out the LNP: Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce threatening to slaughter Johnny Depp’s dogs, Bronwyn Bishop’s penchant for helicopter rides, Tony Abbott’s strange compulsion to publicly consume raw onions, George Brandis and his electrifying description of meta data, please, somebody stop me.

Few would disagree with Abbott’s belief that Turnbull’s government has retained his policies. However, the most relevant question Abbott apparently declines to ask himself is, why did his party get rid of him if it wasn’t about his policies? There had to be a sound reason for them to resort to the trouble and embarrassment of chucking him out, and in the chucking risk the ridicule of being perceived as just like the ALP with its Gillard/Rudd musical chairs.

The LNP is a gift that keeps on giving. Abbott is a gift that keeps on giving. His inability to deal with rejection is a godsend for the ALP. Have you all got your popcorn?

 

Down among the women

22 Mar

Raising sons like daughters

 

Our family’s four-year-old had his tonsils removed last week. We didn’t have much notice, there was an opening in the operating schedule and by Friday the wretched body parts that have plagued him for most of his short life were gone.

His dad had a long-standing arrangement to be away for the weekend. There’s a three-year-old, and six month-old Mabel Jane. So Mrs Chook and I went to the mountain to help out.

It’s quite some years since I’ve been in a women and young children only situation such as that one. I don’t want to start a gender war but the reality is, there’s a different vibe. For a start, everybody knew what to do without being asked. If there was washing, it got folded. If there was shopping someone went to the supermarket when a child was sleeping. When food was needed, somebody got it together. There was one woman for each child, a perfect ratio especially when a child is as sore and sorrowful as Archie.  I don’t know where I am, Giddy, he wept, as I lifted him out of the car when he came home.

There was always a hip available for Mabel Jane if she got fractious. There was someone to distract Ted when he claimed to be poorly and needing the doctor like his brother. The sick child spent the nights in his mother’s bed, while I slept in Ted’s room with the baby and Mrs Chook next door, and the broken sleep was shared around.

I don’t want to claim that only women can manage these things, or that all women can or want to manage these things. Neither am I claiming that men can’t do this kind of caring. What I am saying is that there was a particular connection between us that I’ve never experienced between women when a man is present. What I’m also saying is that this is a powerful and significant connection, and I don’t want us to ever lose our capacity for making it with each other.

I remember this connection from the time when my children were little. Hardly anyone in my female peer group had family available to help, so we assisted each other with reciprocal child care, and time out just to be alone. We got through long days with babies and toddlers by spending them together, women and children, at somebody’s home, in a park, at the local swimming pool. This is where I first learned to bond with women, and at the heart of our bonding was our love for our infants and our shared anxieties about being good mothers.

For me, these times down among the women were and are profoundly feminist experiences. I remain appalled at any feminism that denigrates or dismisses these experiences.

The problem is not the experience itself, but that society demands women carry most of the responsibility for childcare and domestic affairs, without remuneration, without relief and at unacceptable cost to the rest of our lives.  The burden these demands impose on us erodes our capacity for pleasurable connectivity, while denying men the opportunity to enjoy similar experiences.

For mine, sharing the care is fundamental to our species survival. Being down among the women is an experience that teaches almost everything humans need to know. It’s simple, but it isn’t easy.

You don’t have to be a biological parent. You do have to care. And of course you do have to imagine how things might be if sons were raised more like daughters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s talk about s*x

21 Mar
George Christensen MP

George Christensen MP

 

…how is it that in a society like ours, sexuality is not simply a means of reproducing the species, the family and the individual? Not simply a means to obtain pleasure and enjoyment? How has sexuality come to be considered the privileged place where our deepest “truth” is read and expressed? For that is the essential fact: Since Christianity, the Western world has never ceased saying: “To know who you are, know what your sexuality is. Sex has always been the forum where both the future of our species and our “truth” as human subjects is decided. Michel Foucault

If you cast a quick eye over the events of the last few weeks you will find a common denominator – sex. Whether it’s religious/political controversy and manipulation over the Safe Schools program, speculation over the relationship between failed Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Chief of Staff Peta Credlin, the outrageous proposed plebiscite on same-sex marriage, slurs used by a former NSW Liberal campaign manager against a rival ALP candidate, the attempts by his own party to smear Liberal candidate Tim Wilson’s sexuality, or star footballers shagging their best friends’ wives, sex, how it is performed, by whom it is performed on/with whom, and the perceived legitimacy or otherwise of its performance is at the heart of these superficially disparate events, a small selection from the plethora of examples available.

That this should be so seems to me breathtakingly and incomprehensibly stupid. How, indeed, has sexuality come to be considered the privileged place where our deepest “truth” is read and expressed?

Straight, white, conservative men and women are fighting to retain their privilege to define what is sexually “normal.” Anyone who fails this test of normality is pathologised, demonised, marginalised, ostracised, and othered, and because straight white conservative men and women have such a narrow definition of what constitutes “normality,” swathes of  humanity are inevitably excluded.

For people such as Queensland Nationals MP George Christensen to accept programs such as Safe Schools, they must first acknowledge the legitimacy of sexualities other than their own. Christensen, along with the rest of the conservative crowd, claims to attach a profound moral value to traditional sexual expression: anything other than hetero and preferably in a committed relationship is immoral, and so disturbing it must be stamped out. In this world view, any efforts to assist the young among us who are struggling with sexual identity will only encourage them away from the deepest truth of heterosexuality, and worse, will put ideas into the heads of children who were comfortably straight before they heard about the program.

In other words, if we don’t offer any assistance to LGBTQI kids, they’ll just get straight because.

Lyle Shelton, CEO of the Australian Christian Lobby, recently claimed on Twitter that same-sex marriage would deprive him of his primary signifier of normality: if same-sex couples are permitted to marry, went his argument, people wouldn’t know he wasn’t gay. This is a terrifying and likely unwanted insight into the self-obsessed mind of Lyle Shelton, but it does articulate a deep fear of conservatives about their heterosexuality, and how they use sex as a moral marker of privilege, creating a distance between us and them that allows conservatives the illusion of rightness and safety.

What is conspicuously absent from the claim of sex as a privileged place of deepest truth is the question of power. Conservatives currently hold the power to to determine an overall sexual “normalcy” in Australian society, and the repercussions for those who do not comply with their limitations is considerable.  Sexual difference is a useful conduit for the exercise of power, and this co-option of sex for the transmission of power is exactly what we are witnessing in the Turnbull government, as the right-wing faction brings the PM to his knees, and forces him to act against his own beliefs on the question of sexual difference in order to save his job.

The relationship between sex and power is complex and fraught, both in intimate relations and politically. The focus on sex and its expression  as the dominant concern obscures what is actually going on. If you manage to establish a discourse in which sexuality and its performance are markers of acceptance or rejection then you have power, whether you’re in politics, a cult, a football club, a school or a family. Our sexuality is perhaps our most vulnerable aspect: who controls our sexual expression by whatever means, overt and covert, has immense power over our self-regard and well-being.

It’s not about sex. It’s about power. But don’t expect the straight white moral conservative men and women to admit to that.

LNP plays gutter politics with Safe Schools

17 Mar

Erotophobia

 

The Safe Schools program currently at the centre of right-wing LNP angst was functioning throughout failed Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s governance, yet not one voice was raised against it until Abbott was ousted, and Turnbull took his place.

After capitulating to his party’s right-wing faction and instigating an inquiry into the program, Turnbull is now faced with the refusal of that faction to accept the inquiry’s findings. Demands for suspension of funding to the program until there is a full parliamentary inquiry into its substance have now been made.

Failed Prime Minister Tony Abbott today signed a letter in support of a parliamentary inquiry. This is in spite of having maintained  complete silence on the Safe Schools program while he was the country’s leader, and in a perfect position, one would think, to take action against a program he considered detrimental to children.

Indeed, one can only accuse the failed PM of dereliction of his responsibilities to the children of this country if he allowed, on his watch, the unquestioning continuation of a program he now claims is extremely destructive.

The LNP is buoyed in its political co-option of children’s sexuality by fundamentalist religious groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby. This group, and those like them, are pathologically afraid of sexual feelings they consider “abnormal,” and sexual questions such as those addressed by the Safe Schools program. This demographic can confidently be labelled as erotophobes.

In a confluence of interests that will have disastrous consequences for young people exploring their sexuality, the LNP and the erotophobes have joined forces to bring about a mutually satisfying result: the withdrawal of Safe School programs and the undermining of the moderate LNP.

None of these men, and I believe the groups are largely male, have the slightest concern for young people who are questioning their sexuality. They are entirely concerned with the promulgation of their own ideology, and they will see others, even children, suffer and die in their deranged pursuit of ideological domination.

No use looking to Turnbull to save us from these forces. The man has all the courage of a dead cod.

 

 

 

Sisters

14 Mar
The Three Graces. Raphael

The Three Graces. Raphael

 

I have two sisters, well, half-sisters to be accurate: we share a mother and I have a different father.

There’s a considerable age difference between us: I’m fourteen years older than one, and ten years older than the other. Which means our mother was in different stages of her life when she birthed me from when she birthed them. Which means that the three of us have different mothers, and while two of us more or less agree on some of her characteristics, one of us describes her as significantly different from the mother two of us knew.

Interestingly, it is the middle daughter who denies the mother the eldest and the youngest describe.

This is one of the more intriguing aspects of family histories: how can people grow up with the same mother and have wildly conflicting stories? And whose narrative rules?

My youngest sister (who is also a writer ) and I have lately been exchanging emails on this topic of who *owns* family information. Everyone owns her subjective experience, we decided, and if a family member doesn’t agree they are at liberty to write or speak their subjective experience, but one thing that cannot be argued with is subjective experience.

Our mother died ten years ago, but still the disagreements about her character divide us. I live my daily life without much concern for matters about which I can do nothing, but now and again our differences erupt and I’m forced to acknowledge these family sorrows are far from settled.

My initial reaction to an eruption is to lose my temper with everyone because I don’t know how to not care about my sisters and it would be so much easier if I didn’t, and that makes me feel cornered.

But I changed their nappies. I was there when one tipped the other out of her pram and the baby was nearly strangled by the straps that held her in place. I took one on my first holiday with my first boyfriend. I don’t to this day understand how that happened.

One lived with me and my husband when living with our mother got too tricky. During that period, unknown to us, she nurtured weed in many pots hidden behind our garden shed.

I came home one day, eight and a half months pregnant with my second child, and found the house had been burgled. I rang the police who during their robbery investigation found the weed. I had no idea what to do, so while they sat in my kitchen questioning me I perched unsteadily on a stool, sneaking looks at the weed they’d brought in and making chocolate chip cookies.  Standing up was hard. The baby was ten pounds. It was a lot to lug around and at that point in my life I baked things to relieve stress.

We’ll wait till your husband gets here, the detectives said, obviously of the opinion that I was recklessly endangering my unborn child by smoking weed, and I suppose unused to pregnant suspects baking cookies during questioning but obliged by my girth to be tolerant.

Both sisters were present at the birth of this child, and one crouched between my legs and took the photos that are the most powerful images I own.

One of the sisters was then in a separatist feminist phase, and commiserated with me for having brought another male into the world while congratulating me on having eschewed the patriarchal domination of childbirth by giving birth at home.

The history. The love. The distance and the difference. Our subjective experiences with a mother who never wanted to be a mother. I don’t know how much our mothers’ lives determine our own, either in sympathy with or in reaction against. I can see both forces manifesting in our three lives, and I see that whether we fulfil our mothers’ dreams or react fiercely against them, in neither case are we free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Abbott’s sex life is my business

6 Mar
Mr & Mrs Abbott

Mr & Mrs Abbott

 

There’s only one circumstance in which I consider the sexual lives of politicians to be my business, and that’s when they legislate about what goes on in other citizens’ sexual lives.

Failed Prime Minister Tony Abbott operates from a platform that is largely based on his personal morality, drawn from Catholic dogma. This morality advocates traditional heterosexual monogamous marriage, and argues fiercely that this is the only circumstance in which children ought to be raised.

Abbott supports the current Marriage Act with the amendment added by John Howard specifically to deny same-sex couples the right to marry.

Same-sex marriage will, in Abbott’s view, destroy what he perceives as the “sanctity” of monogamous heterosexual marriage.

Abbott foisted the notion of a plebiscite on same-sex marriage on his party, a completely unnecessary, extremely expensive and likely barbaric exercise in which citizens vote on whether or not other citizens are permitted to legally commit themselves to each other in marriage.

As health minister in the Howard government, Abbott refused Australian women access to the non surgical abortion pill known as RU 486 because his personal morality is offended by abortion. RU 486 had been declared perfectly safe, and was widely used in many parts of the world. Abbott directly interfered in the sexual lives and futures of women who did not wish to have a child, by denying us access to this drug should we need to use it, thus restricting our options in the event of unplanned pregnancy.

Abbott has paraded his wife and his daughters as evidence of his personal morality: he is a traditional, heterosexual married male, and therefore we assume him to be upholding monogamy as a significant value in our society and in his personal life.

Tony Abbott has made it his business to comment on, criticise and exercise legislative control over the sexual practices and commitments of Australians. If he is not living up to the ideals he demands are enforced, if Abbott is himself desecrating the perceived sanctity of monogamous marriage by infidelity with a married woman, I have a right to know about that hypocrisy.

If Tony Abbott would care to lose his interest in controlling the sexual practices of adult citizens, I will be more than happy to lose my interest in his. Until then, everything Tony Abbott does that can be seen to affect the sanctity of the ideals he espouses and imposes is my business, and yours, and everyone else’s.

 

She fed him tenderly, as if he were a baby bird

5 Mar

dodos_by_willemsvdmerwe-

In Nikki Savva’s EXPLOSIVE NEW BOOK the author describes a dinner at which then Prime Minister Tony Abbott was observed being fed food from a fork by his then chief of staff, Peta Credlin. Ms Credlin, it’s reported, took the food from her own plate.

Obviously the two of them had a pretty interesting thing going, though it would be more interesting if she’d fed him with her fingers rather than a fork, and then let him suck them.

I’m not doing any in-depth blah de blah about this latest bit of culinary codswallop because I can’t be arsed.

In a week in which Donald Trump told the world he has a GREAT BIG WILLY BIGGER EVEN THAN HIS HAIR, it seems fitting that the next piece of news was Peta and Tony’s food sex, closely followed by the information that Rupert Murdoch married Jerry Hall in London. Let’s hope his wedding night taxes his strength, which will be the only form of taxing Rupert’s experienced in a while.

I’m imagining now a situation in which the LNP loses the coming election, dumps Malcolm, reinstates Tony and Peta and we have the deja vu thingy all over again.

Here is some gratuitous advice for the failed Prime Minister’s wife, Mrs Margaret Abbott, as gleaned from Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry:

When my husband had an affair with someone else I watched his eyes glaze over when we ate dinner together and I heard him singing to himself without me, and when he tended the garden it was not for me. 

I considered my choices.

I could stay and be unhappy and humiliated.

I could leave and be unhappy and dignified.

I could beg him to touch me again.

I could live in hope and die in bitterness

I took some things and left. It wasn’t easy, it was my home too. 

There’s a lesson in that for all of us.

 

 

 

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