Tag Archives: Delta Goodrem

Privilege and imagination

17 May

Yesterday the word “privilege” was used a great deal in social media, mostly with regard to this post by Mia Freedman, in which she defends Delta Goodrem against charges of racism following an incident involving a white man dressing up as Seal by painting himself black.

I used the word myself in my last blog, though it isn’t one of my favourites. It has a good deal of currency at the moment, with people requesting other people to first consider their privilege before expressing opinions, making judgements, behaving in certain ways, prescribing and proscribing. It’s not a bad idea, but many of those amongst us who are most privileged find it tedious, silly, and that crowning insult, it’s political correctness, usually “gone mad.”

So if I were to say, as did Mia Freedman, that using blackface in this instance is not racist, not intended to be racist, and people who are offended need to get a sense of humour, I’d do well to consider the privileged position from which I am speaking before I open my mouth. As a middle class white woman who has never experienced racism, I am the least equipped to judge whether or not blackface is a racial insult. If I then tell brown people to get a sense of humour about it, I’m skating on very thin ice indeed.

It seems to me that the easiest way to avoid offence is to first exercise the imagination.  How would I feel…

If, as Clementine Ford acknowledged in her article on violence and sexual violence against women, the situation one is about to discuss is beyond one’s imagining, then one might do well to refrain from expressing opinions about it. I haven’t yet understood how it is possible to hold an informed opinion about something one cannot begin to imagine, or refuses to imagine, beyond the initial opinion that one finds it unimaginable.

Of course it’s possible to observe how awful a situation is, but that is not particularly insightful or helpful. With imagination the complexities and nuances become evident, and in situations as complex as racism, and domestic violence, the devil is in the detail.

For example, as I’ve noted many times, the simplistic gendering of domestic violence by some feminists and governments has done nothing to prevent any of it, and obfuscates the complexities of intimate relationships that turn very bad. I don’t know how it’s in the least helpful to frame this violence and our attempts at management in terms of gender, and until someone writes policy with a bit more imagination and a lot less ideology, nothing is going to improve.

I think that our primary responsibility to others is to use our imaginations about their circumstances. If we (and I mean anyone) are unwilling or unable to do this, the problem is ours, not theirs.

“Examining your privilege” might be better thought of as “using your imagination.” This latter opens up the possibility of stepping into the other’s shoes for a while, and seeing how it feels.  This is probably one of the most powerful expressions of respect one human being can offer to another. It acknowledges our common humanity, and the vulnerability we all share in our embodiment. It is impossible to perform this respectful act without engaging the imagination.

When individuals and groups fail to use their imagination about the circumstances of those who are in some way different from themselves, bad things start to happen, such as excising the entire country from the Migration Act and incarcerating others for indefinite periods in far from acceptable circumstances. If we (and by we I mean everybody) don’t imagine others as human beings with whom we have much in common, and perhaps add, there but for the grace of the gods we might be, then we can’t feel as badly as we should about how we treat them.

If we don’t use our imaginations about another’s suffering, we end up feeling little more than pity, although we might call it compassion and empathy. Without imagination, it is only pity. Pity allows us to distance ourselves from the other, while compassion and empathy demand we walk with her or him, figuratively speaking.

The most compassionate people I’ve known have not suffered in ways I have, yet have never made me feel different, less than them, or pitied. I doubt any one of them ever “examined their privilege.” They are all, however, possessed of powerful imaginations. They have no difficulty putting themselves in another’s place. They may not understand some things, but they accept and respect another’s right to her or his subjective experience. They don’t “take your voice and leave you howling at the moon.”

Imagination. That is all.

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This is not Tu Quoque, it is not, it is not

10 Mar

The ad hominem argument known as “tu qouque” or “you too” goes like this:

She cannot sue me for libel because she was just successfully sued for libel.

It’s clear this is fallacious: the fact that she has been found guilty of libel doesn’t mean she can’t claim she’s also been libeled. While we can exclaim at the hypocrisy we may see in such a situation, hypocrisy in no way negates claims that are deserving of attention whether she has committed the same offense or not.

My post of January 10 that caused Melinda Tankard Reist to threaten defamation action has understandably been subjected to a great deal of scrutiny and commentary. A consistent criticism is that I didn’t have the “facts” on which I based my allegations about Reist’s religious influences, that I made knowledge claims without the knowledge. I’ve pointed out that I used information available uncontested in the public domain for a long time, that I watched and read interviews with Reist by journalists, and that I have sources dating back to 2006 questioning Reist’s religious motivations.

For some two years now, I’ve been contesting what I consider outrageous claims made by Reist (and others, but so far nobody else has threatened to sue me), and outrageous attacks on public figures that are supported by nothing other than Reist’s opinion. Why nobody has threatened her with defamation action I don’t know. I do know from correspondence with some of these people that they’ve considered, and in a couple of cases are still considering taking action against her. The cost of such action is a major obstacle for many who might otherwise resort to it, however this does not seem to be a consideration for Tankard Reist.

What’s remarkable is that those who have developed an intense interest in my post of January 10 have shown absolutely no interest at all in the injustices perpetrated by Reist in her savage personal attacks on men and women whose lifestyles and opinions she does not care for.

For example, this crusade against a singer whose song she finds objectionable doesn’t stop with him: Reist attacks his girlfriend for failing to prevent him writing it. This is what I wrote at the time:

MTR also holds Delta Goodrem partially responsible. Why didn’t Delta check the lyrics before allowing Brian to record them, she asks. Is Delta so inured to sexual violence that she didn’t even notice what Brian was on about?

This would be unfortunate, MTR suggests, as Delta is a spokeswoman for Avon Voices, a group that raises awareness of violence against women.

I guess the sexual conservatives also hold women responsible for what the men they live with do.

Personally, I think that’s a pretty low and unnecessarily malicious swipe.

Indeed on ABC’s The Drum the article title is: “New song from Delta’s man feeds rape myth.” Delta’s man?

Then we have this attack on Tasmanian DPP Tim Ellis. Reist continued to post this article on her website when other sites such as On Line Opinion took it down, after being advised by the DPP that it contained references to a case currently underway, and risked incurring charges of contempt. The article and Reist’s commentary make no reference to the extraordinary decision by the DPP to publish his reasons for not proceeding with prosecutions in the Hobart Mercury. They simply attack him personally and professionally.

Then we have this gem, Reist’s interpretation of a video she doesn’t like:

Women are slaves and bitches who can service a man’s sexual needs, even in death. Men are brutal and dominant, and have no empathy for women. Men enjoy dead women as sex and entertainment. The female body is to be devoured, reduced to the same status as meat. Female bodies should be displayed before men as a great feast for their consumption.

Beside which my allegedly lurid interpretation of the virgin birth looks quite inadequate.

Then we have this vicious tirade, directed against Shaune Metcalf seven, yes seven years after he committed an appalling crime, had been found guilty, and punished. Reist also attacks a defense of Metcalfe by Celia Lashlie. I’ll post in full the observations of commenter Bruce Thombo Jefferson on Reist’s article, because it’s worth it:

Bruce Thombo Jefferson :

15 Apr 2011 12:43:05pm

Scott 
I think the point of this article as I read it is that Ms Tankard Reist feels betrayed because Ms Lashlie has allowed a balanced and educated approach to dealing with a criminal who commissioned a crime when he was a 16 year old several years ago. My guess is the actual assault is a secondary matter being used a vehicle by Ms Tankard Reist to go to war with those ostensibly of her faction that do not tow her party line. 

The theme seems to be the righteousness of her anger and her right to indulge it freely when that sort of approach is being questioned by Ms Lashlie. It appears, from the little I have managed to find out, that Ms Lashlie is a person who worked with male prisoners as a warden in the NZ system and she seems to dedicate herself to the notion of rehabilitation and the possibility of positive outcomes. Ms Tankard Reist seems to enjoy more punitive approach. 

Now the punishment after the fact orientated sort of republican Southern Baptist style of rhetoric so fashionable in the USA is a good vote catcher over there but we have to ask ourselves if it is really effective in making a better society? Clearly they have been a total failure in lowering the number of abortions, one of Ms Tankard Reists pet projects, sex crimes or even teenage pregnancy. The reason for this is that is outed by Ms Tankard Reist herself. The object is not rehabilitation , its not prevention, it is the revelling in the feeling of righteous anger and self justification. 

Is this type of self indulgence worth supporting? I would argue not. These people may like to keep their kids as their play dolls by hiding any hint of human sexuality from them They may resurrect the lynch mobs of the fifties but they can even establish repressive, even in extreme cases genocidal regimes lasting decades but they wont actually achieve a better society.

Ms Lashlie appears to represent the other side. One is reminded of Victor Frankl who after years of incarceration in German Concentration camps felt it was his duty upon release to work with ex guards and other Nazis to help them come to terms with what they had done and move on. I always like the notion that the aim of life was to heal a fractured world rather than drive a wedge deeper in but that’s just me.

I notice that most of Ms Tankard Reists supporter entourage here are concentrating on the side issue of the horror of the crime rather than on Ms Tankard Reists theme of her right to tantrum. Perhaps that is because even to them its hard to see the point of it. 

I would argue that all round Ms Lashlie’s constructive engagement approach is better because it will lead to a better outcome for all parties, the ruby player , the mother and the child than Ms Tankards Reist’s approach which will lead to third parties having an indulgent anger fests but nothing else really.

It really is most interesting that my January 10 post should attract such attention when articles such as Reist’s (and there are many, many more that I haven’t noted) go entirely unremarked by my critics.  If one is honest about striving for a media in which knowledge claims are supported by knowledge, and in which people are not singled out for unfair criticism, the work of a writer such as Tankard Reist is a good place to start your critique and offers far more examples of what offends than does my insignificant post.

Which is not to claim that I should be left uncritiqued, or that Reist’s complaints and threats are invalid because she has also committed offenses. This is not tu quoque, it is not, it is not.

More like a question of balance.

Debating the religious right

9 Mar

First up, don’t, if you can help it.

by Medusa's Lover via flickr

One might as well get in a fight with a three year old about the existence and purpose of the tooth fairy. Rigidly faith based positions founded on moral absolutes are not debatable This is but one of the things inherently wrong with them.

The female face of the Australian religious right

Reluctant as I am to make any of this about Melinda Tankard Reist, she is undoubtedly the public face of the religious right in their attitudes to female sexuality, and the influences of popular culture on boys and men.

I don’t know of anyone else in this country commenting as loudly and as frequently on this topic, and topics related to it from that perspective. Having positioned herself thus, I have little choice but to acknowledge her primary role.

The religious right believe that to succeed, a society must operate within a framework of common assumptions. Dissent is divisive and must be smothered. It therefore makes sense that censorship through protest is a cornerstone of what some describe as a dominionist sexually and socially ultra conservative theocracy.

Tankard’s Reist’s practice is to resort first to censorship. In this she has adopted the tactics of the American religious right, and Tea Party luminaries such as Sarah Palin herself described as a dominionist, though this is contested.

Research confirming close ties between the Tea Party and the religious right is here

The narratives of propaganda

Religious campaigners are not required to provide any evidence that the object of their disapproval is what they say it is. They simply have to use florid rhetorical propaganda to inflame and frighten enough petitioners so that corporations will be equally frightened, and for the sake of peace and unwanted attention, pull the offending material.

If at all possible, they make at times extremely tenuous links to the welfare of children. The threat of being promoted as acting against the interests of children will cause just about anybody to fall to their knees, begging the Christian conservatives for mercy.

Again, they are not required to provide any evidence for their claims, though they do sometimes offer the opinions of a like-minded individual, preferably one with some experience in a relevant field. For example, this quote from sexual assault counsellor Alison Grundy quoted on MTR’s website:

“Now we have thirty years of research to show that the sexualized and violent messages of popular music, media and video games do shape and provoke male aggressive and sexualized violence. I wonder how long it will be before songs like this are seen as inciting crimes under the criminal code?

Any research that directly links any part of popular culture to the increased abuse of women’s and children’s human rights is important. MTR and her fellow travelers argue that popular culture causes an increase in violence and sexual offenses against women. Research supporting this claim, is, one would imagine, foundational to the religious right argument.

However, the reader isn’t told what the research is, who conducted it, when, and where, and how, and we are not provided with any links. This is not unusual, as those forum commenters who’ve attempted to find links to another survey quoted by Reist in her article New song from Delta’s man (Delta’s man? He has no name?) feeds rape myth, have discovered. Despite many requests, the sources have not been supplied.

On her website, Tankard Reist provides share buttons under the French Vogue photo shoot of sexualized five-year-old girls so that visitors can boost their circulation on the Internet. This on-going exploitation of the little girls is justified as raising awareness.

However, sourced research that supports serious claims against popular culture and female sexuality is entirely absent.

The Australian religious right don’t feel the need to interview males about their reactions to popular music and video clips before agitating for censorship on the grounds that they provoke violence of all kinds. Collecting and collating data, reaching informed conclusions as to the effects these things actually have on the demographic, well, why go to all that trouble when God is in the house telling you everything you need to know?

Fox News by Justin via flickr

The US neo cons, Tea Party supporters and the religious right long since perfected the art of moral panic by rhetorical floridity. They are enabled in their endeavours by such luminaries as Rupert Murdoch, and his Fox News media slaves Bill O’Reilly, the recent Mormon convert Glenn Beck, and Megyn Kelly. Fox News is apparently the trusted news source for a majority of Tea Party followers, more than twice as high as in the general population

It’s all relative, isn’t it?

John Malkovich, in the character of hapless CIA operative Osbourne Cox in the Coen Brothers’ movie Burn after Reading (2008) is confronted about his drinking by an aggrieved co-worker.

“You’re a Mormon,” he snarls back, “everbody’s a f*cking alcoholic to you.”

In the same spirit, (acknowledging the blatant use of stereotypes) when your bottom line for the expression of female sexuality is that it should be confined to the marriage bed, everybody’s sexually licentious. If Victoria’s Secret underwear is pornographic to you, everybody’s a pornographer.

Incidentally, it’s likely that only in a wealthy Western liberal democracy could women’s underwear be co-opted as a symbol of the abuse of women’s human rights. Women in many other countries can’t afford it, are earning five cents a day making it, or are distracted by mass rapes, genital mutilation, hunger, and sexual slavery.

Even in this country we have our distractions. A report on the economics of Domestic violence released by researchers at UNSW on March 7 revealed it costs Australia 13 billion dollars a year. Abuse of children, and sexual assault continue at alarming rates but strangely, the most vocal advocate for women and girls in this country has selected underwear and bad songwriters as her symbols of injustice in her tilt against the abuse of women’s human rights.

To be fair, I notice there is a piece on the website about the bustling streets of Mumbai in honour of International Women’s Day.

Disclosure rocks

Here I need to take a personal moment. Another of the shared religious right/Tea Party/ neo con tactics (taken to new heights by Sarah Palin’s Got you in the cross hairs campaign against Democrats who voted for healthcare reform) is to discredit anyone who disagrees with them by launching a personal attack either on their private life and/or their knowledge base. This tactic is also used by feminists of all persuasions, including Christian.

I’ll disclose my credentials in the area of women’s human rights, in the vain hope of forestalling more “feminist” tirades against my ignorant “anti feminist” bent.

By the way, is anti feminist the same as un Australian, only specially for women?

I’ve just completed a chapter for a forthcoming book on human rights titled Intimate Violence as Human Rights Abuse: Re-Framing Intra-Familial Violence against Women and Children.

I’ve published nationally and internationally on this topic, as well as presenting at conferences around the world. I’ve also written extensively on the failure of prominent male human rights commentators to include intimate violence as human rights abuse in their publications and their thinking.

That’s enough trumpet blowing for one day. May it keep me safe from harm.

Truth claims, damned truth claims and statistics

In psychological terms, the interpretations put on the expressions and representations of female sexuality by many on the religious right are nothing more than their own projections, fed by, among other things, their faith-based beliefs about sexuality. These are then extrapolated into truth claims, and concerted efforts are made to impose them on the rest of humanity.

Truth claims such as these need to be taken out of the sphere of personal projections and religious imaginings, and backed up with hard evidence.

OMG by Skye Nicolas via Wikimedia

If Christian conservatives don’t provide evidence they should be ignored. We should learn from the US experience while we still can, that it’s not good enough for our cultural and social landscape to be determined by people who are offering nothing more than their own projections, based on their relations with imaginary friends.

If they are too lazy to get out and find hard evidence for their claims, there’s no reason why anybody should listen to them. Hard evidence is the first step on the road to addressing the problems.

Let’s trash the songwriter’s partner while we’re at it

Through laborious trawling I discovered innumerable Christian websites that instruct the Christian wife on her manifold responsibilities to her husband. Among them I found this one and a warning, turn off your sound unless you want your senses assailed by the most spectacularly awful piano rendition of Rock of Ages known to humankind, rivaled only by the pianist accompanying Elvis’s cover of Unchained Melody circa 1977. The quote is:

The wife is to reprove her husband privately and lovingly when he is in sin and point him back to the Lord.

As well as following that lead from US religious right, Tankard Reist also seems to be taking a lesson from political dictatorships in the matter of holding responsible the relatives of those who’ve offended you, as well as the original offender.

On her website you’ll find an attack on singer Delta Goodrem, songwriter Brian McFadden’s girlfriend. The Christian right apparently holds Goodrem partially responsible for the offending lyrics in his latest song, because she should have vetoed McFadden’s work. Reist suggests that Goodrem is perhaps inured to violence against women, and therefore didn’t notice it was present in the song.

She then reveals that Goodrem is a spokeswoman for Avon Voices, an organisation that works to raise awareness of violence against women. There’s also a video of Goodrem speaking on behalf of this group.

I cannot find any explanation for this flaming that is not born out of deep and incomprehensible malice. Goodrem bears no responsibility for her partner’s actions. She merely lives with the man against whom the Christian right has taken censorious action.

In what feminist universe is a woman subjected to this kind of malevolent public harassment, solely because another woman doesn’t approve of something her male partner has done?

Answer: in the co-opted feminist universe inhabited by Christian conservatives.

As L. Cohen puts it about another kind of prison:

I don’t believe you’d like it
No, you wouldn’t like it here
There’s not much entertainment
And the judgments are severe…

The conservative sexual crusader wants kilos of McFadden’s flesh

3 Mar

At Melinda Tankard Reist’s website today there’s a list of tweets from the hapless Brian McFadden, promising to donate money to rape crisis centres, and saying he’s sorry that his lyrics have been misunderstood.

He reiterates that he intended them as an intimate song for fiancee Delta Goodrem, and not as triggers for women who’ve been sexually assaulted while drunk.

I’m inclined to believe the bloke. I don’t think for  minute he wrote that song with the intention of glorifying or encouraging the rape of senselessly drunk women.

But his apologies and donations are not enough for Melinda Tankard Reist. Not a truckload of money, she writes, will make up for the damage he has done to women.

Even in a court of law, intention counts when you’re passing sentence. But not in the courts of Christian sexual conservatism.

MTR also holds Delta Goodrem partially responsible. Why didn’t Delta check the lyrics before allowing Brian to record them, she asks. Is Delta so inured to sexual violence that she didn’t even notice what Brian was on about?

This would be unfortunate, MTR implies, as Delta is a spokeswoman for Avon Voices, a group that raises awareness of violence against women.

I guess the sexual conservatives also hold women responsible for what the men they live with do.

Personally, I think that’s a pretty low and unnecessarily malicious swipe.

Then there’s a letter from a victim of sexual assault whilst she was drunk, telling how McFadden’s song has brought it all back and is severely distressing her.

Nina Funnell then writes a long reassuring response to the victim, and I hope the woman follows this up with counselling.

There are triggers that cause memories of sexual assault, and many other traumatic experiences to flood back into consciousness, often without any warning.  This is very hard for the survivor to deal with.

Triggers can be almost anything. I once worked with someone whose flashbacks were caused by pieces of green soap with a particular smell. Triggers are impossible to predict, extremely individual, and powerfully connected to the original trauma.

As much as the survivor would like never to have encounter these triggers, it is literally impossible to clear the world of them.

In some instances they may be so particular as to rarely emerge. Sometimes they aren’t known until the moment they strike. In many instances the triggers are all too common, and people have to deal with them on a daily basis.

It would be a foolish therapist indeed who recommended total avoidance of anything likely to act as a trigger. That would be condemning the survivor to a miserable life.

What we can do is teach cognitive behavioural techniques that can be used to manage the distressing flashbacks. This has the added advantage of empowering the survivor, both with the skills to handle bad times, and with the sense that she or he has some control over circumstances that can feel uncontrollable.

Given the proliferation of sexual topics in popular culture, it’s unrealistic to blame any artist for triggering a survivor’s flashbacks. As the triggers are so individual, its impossible to know what they might be.

As stupid as you might think McFadden’s song is, blaming him for activating post traumatic stress disorder is wrong. You might as well blame the manufacturer of green soap, and I believe McFadden, in his intentions, is as  undeserving of blame.

The world is not an easy place to live in when you’re suffering post traumatic stress disorder. Many people don’t understand it, and have a low tolerance of sufferers who can seem difficult, withdrawn, moody, angry, weepy, and generally not interested in much. It’s tough, having first to withstand the trauma, and then to spend your time dealing with the aftermath.

The most difficult part is working with people towards an acceptance of their experiences, in the sense that they cannot be changed and must be lived with, as must the aftermath. The survivor has to take responsibility for learning to do this. This is the cornerstone of recovery. It can take many years, and nobody can do it for them.

I don’t think it helps survivors to be encouraged to look for someone to blame in the world around them. Nobody deliberately triggers someone’s flashbacks, unless they are entirely sadistic and know the survivor well enough to be able to do it.

If a creator of any kind must first consider if something in their work will cause distress to someone somewhere, and then abandon it in case it does, then nothing will be created.

I think Tankard Reist’s crusade against McFadden, and now Goodrem as well, is bordering on the vicious. She wants what she wants, which is an abject confession that they’ve caused immeasurable distress to women everywhere by recording the song. If she doesn’t get that, she will hound them, of that I’m certain.

She is displaying all the signs of the outraged self-righteous good Christian woman bent on vengeance, not only on him but on the woman he loves, and that is not a pretty sight.

And let’s remember, he isn’t a rapist. He wrote a song.

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