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On cultural appropriation

15 May

 

I spent a considerable amount of time today arguing that cultural appropriation is not necessarily the same thing as fiction writers creating characters, and that it’s a disservice to everyone for the two to be conflated. Good arguments on this topic are explored here and here:

It is no longer enough to say that you merely disagree with something. Rather, the author must be stigmatized as a sort of dangerous thought criminal.

That being said, there are writers who use stereotypes. This is offensive, hurtful and likely harmful. It is also bad writing.

However, all fiction writing cannot be dismissed or forbidden because of bad writing. The task of the fiction writer is to walk a mile in another’s shoes. Indeed, fully realised fiction is an act of humanity: it demonstrates the all-too-often forgotten human capacity to empathically inhabit, and then convey difference. There is nothing, in my view, that can possibly save us as a species other than the ability to walk a mile in another’s shoes and then share the experience.

Cultural appropriation is the antithesis of this act of humanity. It is dehumanising. I’m pretty angry when defending the writer’s empathic imagination is framed as enabling cultural appropriation. In fact, I call bullshit.

I don’t care that I’m a white woman making these statements. I don’t care if they are interpreted as racist. If that’s the best argument you’ve got against the right of fiction writers to empathically explore other subjectivities, knock yourself out.

You can always fuck off, as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Damned

17 Apr

 

This morning I read this tweet from Fairfax journo Ross Gittins:

My first thought was, a new kind of human being has emerged. One without empathy. This is why we don’t care anymore. Our species is devolving.

For someone who only yesterday re-watched Luchino Visconti’s The Damned, my first thought rather remarkably disregarded  history. Visconti’s film charts the moral and physical decline of a wealthy German steel manufacturing family between 1933 and 1934, contiguous with the Nazi party’s rise to power. It is an unrelievedly dark work that plumbs the deeps of most depravities, and it left me needing an afternoon ocean swim for the cleansing properties of sea water and sunlight.

Visconti’s film is hailed as an outstanding examination of moral decadence, sexual neurosis, narcissistic self-centredness and political opportunism, a string of descriptors that can be well applied to the US President and his Republican Party, and to not a few of our own politicians.

(If you don’t think the desire to control women’s reproductive health is symptomatic of sexual neurosis, think again.)

The movie put me in mind of the Trumps, and the current White House battles for power and position, the best analysis of which (so far) is to be found here at Vanity Fair. The immediate difference is at the moment we can still sneer in mocking disbelief at the Trump tribe’s incompetence and stupidity, whereas nobody in their right mind would sneer at the Von Essenbecks and the Nazi party. It is, however, perfectly imaginable that at the time, such people were regarded as idiots by those who would later suffer immeasurably at their hands.

Trump is still largely seen as a buffoon rather than something far more sinister, however, he is a buffoon with the ability to unleash nuclear weapons, and he appears to have willingly conceded unfettered power to his military hawks. They don’t have to ask him before they blow stuff up.

Thinking of the differences and similarities between the Von Essenbeck family and the Trumps leads me to speculate that as well as having lost much of our ability to appreciate the beauty of compassion and concern (that human talent being derogated by the neo-fascists as “elitist”) we have also become diminished in our capacity to identify and acknowledge the corroding powers on the human spirit of darkness and terminal decay.  It’s likely impossible to become desensitised to horror without incurring an equal desensitisation to the sublime.

I think my reaction to Mr Gittens’ tweet was wrong. A new kind of human being has not emerged. The human being without empathy has always existed. The narcissistic, self- centred, sexually neurotic, morally decadent political opportunist has been in existence for as long as human civilisation. To think otherwise is to disregard history, and to disregard history is to ensure its repetition.

It is true that we used to care if people were starving, and now perhaps we do not care as much. It’s also true that before we cared there were periods when we didn’t care, and this periodic lack of care for others is nothing new. That doesn’t excuse it. There is no excusing it. However, it’s worth remembering this cyclical nature of compassion because we have, more than once, got ourselves out of not caring and back into caring again, and we probably need to remember how we did that, so we can have some hope of doing it again before it’s too late.

The most alarming difference between the Nazi Party and present day Republicans is nuclear weapons, from which there is, for most victims including the planet, no coming back. Once they are unleashed, we are most of us damned.

By the way, I note that the Trump family portrait bears an uncanny resemblance to the Von Essenbecks’ excesses of style.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump isn’t ironic about women, & neither is Turnbull

2 Apr

 

 

 

The announcement by US President Donald Trump that the month of April is national sexual assault awareness and prevention month was greeted with hollow mirth by many, and described by some as “ironic.”

There’s nothing ironic about this announcement. It is a calculated display of contempt for women, particularly women who endure sexual assault. It’s the most powerful man in the western world demonstrating to the women of his country that he can toy with them, as and when he chooses, in case they haven’t already worked that out.

Contempt isn’t irony. It’s far more dangerous, and we’re seriously underestimating the danger if we misread it.

Trump’s announcement is similar to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s campaign aimed at encouraging men to “respect” women as a means of preventing sexual and other violences perpetrated upon us. However, Turnbull simultaneously ripped federal funding from community legal centres, and frontline services such as refuges and crisis counselling.

The “irony” of Turnbull’s scathing indictment of men who abuse women, and his own abuse of us by withdrawing resources we need when we are attacked, apparently escaped the PM. Except that it wasn’t irony: it was reckless disregard, born from contempt, for the safety of women and children under threat.

Turnbull acts from the same deep-seated contempt for women as does Trump: he is better at disguising it, or rather, Trump doesn’t care about disguising his contempt, while Turnbull needs to maintain at least the appearance of interest and concern to preserve both his self-image, and votes.

Yesterday I read this account of how Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee forced a prisoner to give birth while her hands were shackled. When during her labour she needed to go to the toilet, her ankles were also shackled. She was not permitted to move into positions that eased her pain or aided the delivery of her child. Her baby died at birth. It is customary in Clarke’s jail, for pregnant women to be shackled.

Last week I read many accounts of former politician Mark Latham’s attacks on women, enabled by much Australian media, up until he called a young man who spoke about feminism “gay.” For gay, in this instance read feminised, and therefore a suitable target for Latham’s misogyny.

It is no coincidence that misogyny and homophobia go hand in hand. For Latham, obviously a proponent of hydraulic male sexuality, the most toe-curling aspect of love between men is the assumption he makes that somebody has to be “the woman.”

There’s barely a day without attempted or successful attacks on women’s reproductive rights somewhere in the world. In Queensland and NSW abortion is still a crime for both women and doctors. Male politicians, such as former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and right wing senator Cory Bernardi, continue to imply that women who seek abortions are morally corrupt. Bernardi describes abortion as “an abhorrent form of birth control”

Just yesterday in Iowa, legislation that could force women to continue a pregnancy to term after the foetus has died, was passed.

Women’s access to contraception is continually under attack. 

There is no irony to be found in any of this.  There is unrelenting hatred and fear of women, expressed in… let me count the ways.

That our governments, state and federal will not, and it is will not, it isn’t cannot, provide adequate frontline services for women and children fleeing violence tells us everything we need to know about the contempt in which women are held in this country.

The contempt for us is so great that state and federal governments enable violence against us by refusing practical options that will give us an escape route, while at the same time launching ludicrous campaigns to “raise awareness” of that violence. This is not irony. This is full-fledged misogyny, and it is murderous.

So next time you think feminism is about female CEOs, or the choice to enlarge your breasts, or more women in parliament, remember that your governments hate you so much they will not provide a refuge for you and your children, they will not provide accessible legal assistance for you, they will not ensure you have housing if your home is too dangerous.

More female CEOs has not changed this. More women in parliament has not changed this. It’s difficult to see how becoming part of the system can ever change the system. Feminism’s ambition used to be to destroy an abusive system, not to be subsumed by it.

Where it actually matters and where it actually counts, governments have turned their backs on women, while engaging in expensive and useless campaigns to convince us otherwise.

Hatred of us is normalised. And now it’s so normal we’re calling it “irony.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How marriages based on mistrust hold back all women

31 Mar

 

I was intrigued yesterday to observe on Twitter a good deal of chatter from conservative religious types on the topic of husbands who refuse to eat alone with any woman other than their wife.

The not eating with anyone but your wife rule is based on the assumption that heterosexual marriage is the only possible partnership, being as the religious conservative crowd doesn’t believe LGBTQI people are fully human so don’t see the need for inclusion.

I tracked this odd behaviour down to a series of articles on US Vice President Mike Pence, who will not allow himself to be alone with women other than his wife, Karen, and who will not attend any functions at which alcohol is served unless Karen is by his side.The Pences are evangelical Christians.

Pence calls his wife “Mother.” He yells down the table at formal dinners: “Mother! Mother! Who cooked this meal?”

The Vice President of the US has sex with a woman he calls Mother.

They’re spoiled for choice in the US, aren’t they? A pussy grabber or a man with unresolved Oedipal conflicts who can only be prevented from grabbing pussy by having his mother wife beside him the entire time. Ladies, I give you the current leader of the Western world, and the one who’ll take his place in the event of unfortunate circumstances.

The most serious consequence of these bizarre restrictions is that women are immediately disadvantaged in terms of job opportunities, because there are men apparently unable to control their sexual impulses. Or there are wives with so little trust in husbands, they cannot cope with their man meeting alone with any woman who is not them.

It’s astounding that women can be refused job and career opportunities in order to safeguard somebody else’s deluded notion of heterosexual partnership. It’s astounding that woman are still seen first as opportunities for sex, over and above all other qualities, talents and capabilities.

It’s astounding that there are women who choose to spend their lives with men they think so little of they must infantilise them, and never let them out on their own, and men who enforce the same restrictions on their wives. I believe this is a form of domestic violence, an excess of jealousy and suspicion that has become normalised in some circles, to the degree that both parties submit to it and call it “respect.”

Most of us wouldn’t have friendships with people we can’t trust, yet it’s fine to be married to someone you don’t trust?

Very low bar some people set for marriage.

It isn’t only in job and career opportunities that heterosexual insecurities work to restrict the lives of women. Friendships, intellectual engagements, the pleasure of shared interests can also be difficult, if not impossible, when someone is in an insecure relationship that is threatened by a partner’s perfectly legitimate connections with another party.

Does marriage have to mean the end of every possibility of significant connection with anybody other than your spouse? Because if it does, it’s a dead-end that stunts humanity.

Many a single woman has a story of how she’s been treated with suspicion by friends, even good friends, who suddenly become uncomfortable with her when their husbands are around. I’ve heard of female friendships being ruined in such situations, and women left wondering what on earth they’d done to offend.

Unfortunately, some insecure wives tend to blame their inability to trust their husbands, or their husband’s actual untrustworthiness, on their female friends, rather than addressing the frightening challenges mistrust throws up in the marriage, and to them as individuals. The same goes for insecure husbands.

I mean, look. We’re still at the stage of blame the woman. No matter which way you look at it, it’s always let the men off the hook because they’re too infantile to take responsibility for themselves, and blame the woman. On the face of it, the Pence rule is bizarre and extreme, however, to settle for that explanation is to deny its far-reaching and damaging implications. Marriages built on mistrust are detrimental to women, whether it’s the US Vice President’s or those in your own social circle. And they couldn’t be a worse partnership model for the young.

We really have not come such a long way. Baby.

 

 

 

 

Liberal senator admits 18C changes are designed to win back PHON voters

22 Mar

Brandis bigotry cartoon for 25 3 14 by Cathy Wilcox
“Bigot Pride March”

 

In case you did not suspect that Malcolm Turnbull’s explosion of piss and wind on Section 18C yesterday was entirely self-serving, this morning on Radio National Breakfast news, Liberal Senator James Paterson confirmed that the exercise was part of a suite of measures designed to win back votes from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.

Oh look! A Liberal can speak the truth!

It was as well another of Turnbull’s abject efforts to hold onto his rickety leadership by placating his simmeringly mutinous right-wing.  I hesitate to call them colleagues: that implies a co-operative relationship and this lot are snapping at their leader’s heels like a pack of rabid ferrets. Assuaging these furies is the motivation behind some 99.99% of Turnbull’s worryingly unhinged thought bubbles.

What yesterday’s exercise most certainly was not, is an expression of concern for the groups 18C is designed to protect, though Turnbull did his barrister best to spin it as such, declaring with silk-like arrogance that of course these changes would be of benefit, why else would his government so strongly support them?

The proposed change to the wording of 18C from insult, offend and humiliate to harass, is highly unlikely to pass the Senate, so Turnbull is on a hiding to nothing in that respect, however, he has silenced his critics’ savagery for a nano second (his nemesis, former PM Tony Abbott went so far as to congratulate him) and he has demonstrated to the pig ignorant that he won’t be enslaved by “political correctness.”

Aside: I have yet to fathom what political correctness actually is. Can anybody help me? Please be civil.

And so we have (on Harmony Day, nice touch lads) the spectacle of comfortably privileged white men demanding the right to insult, offend and humiliate others solely on the basis of difference. Comfortably privileged white men are inherently entitled to engage in these behaviours (we women know this all too well) and anyone attempting to interfere with their entitlement is guilty of “political correctness.”  Political Correctness is, apparently, a far greater crime than insulting, offending and humiliating others solely because they are different in some way from you.

The world is collapsing under the unsustainable weight of the entitlements of comfortably privileged white men and their female consorts. Like miserably greedy children who fear their parents don’t love them they must have control of everything, otherwise it’s not fair.

Section 18C is intended to curb speech that will cause harm on the very specific grounds of race, ethnicity, nationality, and colour. I want Turnbull to explain why comfortably privileged white men and women need so desperately to be assured that they can legally insult, offend and humiliate others on the grounds of their race, ethnicity, nationality, or colour?

There is no upside to such commentary. It can only ever be derogatory, damaging and ill-intentioned. So why do the privileged need it? Why single out this particular aspect of free speech from the many others, including defamation law, that could more usefully be addressed?

Of course defamation law is what comfortably privileged white men use to destroy the freedom of others to speak about them in ways they find insulting, offensive and humiliating. Funny, that.

Changing the wording to harass almost certainly would have protected both Andrew Bolt and Bill Leak from complaints made against them to the Human Rights Commission. Harassment implies a sustained and personal attack, not a handful of cartoons or articles in a newspaper. A substantial body of work would need to be accrued before harassment could be alleged.

The bar would be set high so as to discourage complainants. The added recommendation that costs be awarded against complainants who lose their case is a powerful deterrent to making complaints in the first place.

The Murdoch press, on the other hand, has deep pockets and neither Bolt nor Leak would have faced personal financial distress, as would the majority of complainants. This does not, as Turnbull so deceitfully claimed, “strengthen the law” unless you are a perpetrator.

The proposed law is entirely political, and favours comfortably privileged white men over those they would insult, offend and humiliate, just because they can and by god, free speech!

One could almost claim that the LNP has struck (another) blow for Rupert.

What a happy Harmony Day we had in Australia. The day our government soothed the furrowed brows of ignorant bigots and promised to let them have all the freedoms they want, whenever they want.  Now all that remains is for Turnbull to name the proposed change “The Leak Amendment.”

As this piece by Jennifer Hewitt in the AFR proclaims, the spirit of Leak lives on in the 18C amendment. Oh yes, indeed it does, but not for the reasons Hewitt suggests.  It lives on in the cynical exploitation of difference for personal and political gain, normalised and legitimised by a very little, very frightened and very cowardly man, desperately clinging to his job and willing to exploit any circumstance that might help him stay in it for one more day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dutton stigmatises CEOs as no better than women. Wow.

20 Mar

 

 

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton inexplicably stepped out of his portfolio last week to make commentary on CEOs with an opinion on marriage equality that does not coincide with his own.

Dutton singled out Qantas CEO Alan Joyce for particular attention, presumably because Mr Joyce is gay.

In a final flourish, Dutton advised CEOs to “stick with their knitting” and in so doing revealed the putrid depths of his masculinist contempt not only for gay men and marriage equality advocates, but also for women.

Knitting is largely (though not entirely) a female occupation. It has long been the practice of hegemonic masculinity to “feminise” and therefore devalue gay men through the conflation of homosexuality with effeminacy.

Heterosexual masculinists such as Dutton work to denigrate homosexuals and their CEO supporters as undesirably  “female” by suggesting that their expertise is not in the world of business, opinion and commentary, but rather in a confined domestic environment where they are powerless, voiceless, and, knitting.

The denigration works only if Dutton (and heterosexual masculinists of both genders who agree with his point of view) believes women are inferior, and uses the recommendation to “stick to your knitting” as a profoundly unpleasant, homophobic and sexist insult.

The Minister is actually saying: you have no place and no power in the world of “real” men like me, because if you are a man who supports marriage equality you are inevitably effeminate.

Dutton devalues the male CEOs by attributing to them the “feminine” activity of knitting, and simultaneously devalues women. Our real place is not, in his opinion, in the public space advocating marriage equality, but in a domestic life removed from concerns best left to masculinist politicians.

In Dutton’s view, gay men and male supporters lack masculinity, evidenced by their subversive refusal to unquestioningly support the hegemonic masculinity Dutton represents.

Indeed, Dutton’s masculinity is, like the Australian Christian Lobby’s Lyle Shelton, defined by his heterosexuality. I recall Shelton’s plaintive tweet that if we allow marriage equality, no one will know he is straight.

Feminising gay men and supporters, stigmatising them as no better and no more relevant in the world than women, is an abject attempt to differentiate the heterosexual masculinist from his greatest perceived threat: a man who loves another man and in so doing becomes, oh dear god no, feminised.

In the world of heterosexual masculinists opposites attract, therefore, if you’re a man who loves a man, you must be a woman.

That this is employed as an insult by Dutton should give us significant pause.

Knitting is generally regarded as a harmless occupation, however, Dutton should note that knitters are not necessarily quite so bland. Madame Defarge, for example, knits contentedly on through the Revolution as the despised ruling heads of France fall one by one into the basket under the guillotine, their names stitched into her patterns.

Dutton has managed, in one short phrase, to cast a thoroughly offensive slur upon gay men and all women. Actually, there aren’t many human beings Dutton likes. This nasty piece of work does not belong in our government. Let’s hope his electorate see it that way.

 

 

How has Centrelink come to normalise contempt?

13 Mar

 

In The Saturday Paper this weekend there’s an editorial addressing the recent Centrelink scandals that, among other extreme dysfunctions, have seen the private data of two clients released to that publication, The Guardian, and The Canberra Times.

What you might not know is that The Saturday Paper declined to publish unsolicited private data sent to them by Centrelink, and that those private details belonged to a young man, Rhys Cauzzo, who died by suicide after receiving automated debt notices and subsequent harassment by Centrelink, and debt collectors Dun and Bradstreet:

Recently, private information about welfare recipients has been leaked to the media in the hope of discrediting critics. After The Saturday Paper published Rhys Cauzzo’s story, the department shared his personal data with our reporter in the hope of changing the piece.

The construction of citizens as enemies of Centrelink is engendered by the conservative ideology of Minister Alan Tudge, and senior departmental staff such as DHS secretary Kathryn Campbell, who use as their starting point the proposition that the majority of clients are criminals, or criminals-in-waiting.

(Sound unnervingly familiar?  The assumption by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton and his lackies that asylum seekers are criminals. I said a while back that what they do to asylum seekers they’ll do to Australians)

In her evidence before a Senate committee last week, Ms Campbell, who played a leading role in creating and presiding over the robo-debt system, refused to acknowledge that the system has any flaws, and remarked that clients have a responsibility to provide the department with correct information. Here you’ll find an excellent piece by Jack Waterford on Ms Campbell, and her “relentless suspicion of the poor.”

The ideologically-driven belief that Centrelink clients (or asylum seekers) are fraudsters is used to justify ill-treatment of them for political gain. The public does not like fraudsters.

Both DHS and DIBP are designed to deal with stereotypes, not human beings. The Ministers and senior staff in both departments are too lazy, too ignorant, too arrogant, too well-paid and too privileged to question their assumptions about those less comfortable in the world. Misfortune of any kind is perceived as a reprehensible moral failing, and as such, punishable by those with the power and authority to punish.

In the upper echelons of these departments you’ll find no broad view of context, of societal and cultural influences: the individual is entirely responsible for his or her own predicament. Society does not exist. There are individual men and women and there are families, but there is no society in the context of which the lives of individuals and families are played out.

Your part in destroying a country has nothing to do with its citizens subsequently seeking asylum in your country. Your ill-conceived policies have nothing to do with people becoming working poor, jobless, homeless, and needing assistance from the state. There’s bunch of rabid Thatcherites running DIBP and DHS.

Ministers such as Tudge, and senior public servants, treat welfare recipients as deviants. Welfare recipients embody what the ruling class fears most: loss of its power and its financial security. They must be punished for their carelessness, but more than that, they must be punished for reminding the comfortable just how close discomfort can be.

Ms Campbell may embrace the Thatcher ideology in her attitudes to citizens, however, it is easily unveiled as a comfortable and convenient delusion. Kathryn Campbell might reflect, if she has the capacity, that were it not for “clients” she’d be out of a job. Campbell’s $700,00 salary is entirely dependent on the misfortunes of millions. So much for the individual’s sole control over his or her circumstances.

The revelation that Centrelink authorities sent unsolicited private details of a dead man to the media, in the hope of changing the journalist’s story, ought to be beyond belief. Sadly, it isn’t. Sadly, we have in this country at least two bureaucracies whose leaders have modelled a pathological lack of humanity, and the dire weakness of all bullies. It’s time to get rid of the Tudges, the Campbells,  the Duttons and the Pelluzos. We’ve travelled far enough down the path of cruelty and unreason. It’s time for a change.

 

 

 

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