Tag Archives: Eva Cox

Greer at the Opera House, Eva Cox, Julia Gillard and MTR. Feminism today. *Sigh*

7 Feb

There’s been a debate raging in the media for over three weeks now as to whether or not morals campaigner Melinda Tankard Reist’s claim to be a feminist is legitimate. Some of the arguments are addressed here and here.

This has come at a convenient time for the Sydney Opera House events management team, who have now co-opted the debate and the threats of defamation made against me by Tankard Reist as advertising material for their upcoming event starring Germaine Greer and Naomi Wolf. This event is titled “The F-Word,” and up until the legal threat the organisers were worried that nobody was interested in feminism anymore. The resulting internecine wars have gone a long way towards cheering them up.

Any woman who believes she has the right to tell any other woman she may not call herself a feminist is engaging in an act of bullying. A woman may self-identify in whatever way she chooses. Others may disagree with her choice but disagreement isn’t the same thing as attempting to deny her the right to define herself as she sees fit.

There were at least twenty-seven different factions of feminism last time I counted, many with oppositional points of view. Hegemonic attempts to impose just one definition of the ideology as the norm on all women who would thus identify themselves, is antithetical to feminist principles.

In a situation where the group calls itself “feminist” and is but one of many groups identifying as such, on what grounds does this group assume the entitlement and privilege that allows them to declare all others ineligible?

The ongoing fights about who is entitled to identify herself as a “feminist” are a sad indicator of an ideology that is rapidly disappearing up its own fundament. For example, presented with a choice between engaging in public debate about the other issues the Reist defamation threats have raised, such as free speech, our defamation laws, the rights of bloggers and social media users, all of which are or would once have been considered feminist issues, the public feminists decided to ignore all that.

Then we have the pro Tankard Reist argument that she is an “authentic” feminist as presented here. Whenever someone uses the word “authentic” in an argument such as this I wonder why. To cast other feminists as “inauthentic” perhaps? The article is written by women who describe themselves as “radical” feminists. Are they also authentic? Have I fallen down a rabbit hole?

The battle for and against is two sides of the same struggle for sole possession and domination of the feminist narrative. A struggle that is founded on exclusion, expulsion, entitlement, privilege, and an appalling lack of imagination.

If I wanted to define feminism for myself, I would turn to 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.

 At the risk of incurring the usual old anti feminist slurs, I’d suggest that any woman or group of women who seek to take possession of the term “feminist” are engaging in their own form of patriarchal domination, and one that we could all do well without.

I don’t know if Greer and Wolfe will be discussing any of this. But I am bemused as I watch a defamation threat made against me by a self-described feminist, turned into an advertisement for an Opera House event at which two of the planet’s most famous feminists will discuss the relevance of feminism. Irony, anyone?

Then there’s the furore about whether or not criticism leveled at Julia Gillard is sexist and misogynist. This is difficult. I’m of the opinion that there is a strong misogynist undercurrent, but I can’t prove it. It’s easy enough to find examples of male PM’s whose appearance is subject to mockery, and exaggerating physical appearance of politicians is the cartoonists’ stock in trade.

Gillard comes with baggage of the worst kind. Would the emotions surrounding that baggage have remained so powerfully alive had a man ousted Kevin Rudd? Is it worse when a woman does it? And if so, why? Is this a manifestation of unresolved mother issues from the time when many of us were under some woman’s thumb, and powerless? Does it hurt more when a woman does it because they aren’t supposed to?

Fascinating questions for an analyst of the collective psyche.

I do take issue with the argument that because she’s a woman Gillard has less authority. She has authority, and in my opinion that authority is both increasing and stabilising as she grows into her role.

Rather, there are those among us who resent a woman’s authority. We might like to reframe that as the woman’s regrettable lack of that quality, however I don’t believe that’s the case in this instance. Anyone who watched as Gillard calmly instructed her bodyguards to ensure Abbott’s safety on Australia Day can’t claim the woman has no authority. It’s innate.

The inability to accept and deal with a female authority figure  is often expressed in dismissive contempt.

In many ways turning the Gillard story into a gender argument is not helpful, even though misogyny is undoubtedly present and ought to be outed if possible. Nevertheless, a woman can’t win when gender becomes the focus of the debate, and Bob Brown didn’t do Gillard any favours by attempting to defend her. I doubt it’s a stoush the PM herself is eager to engage with.

And so to the second feminist Australian Legend to be honoured by Australia Post, Eva Cox.

After referring to me as a nit-picking blogger in her article for New Matilda on whether Tankard Reist is a feminist or not, Cox later apologised for the insult.

However, as she then went ahead and published the same article again here I’ve come to the conclusion that her apology meant less than nothing.

It’s interesting being silenced from both ends of the feminist spectrum. Tankard Reist uses the law in an effort to control me. Cox chooses the arguably more subtle method of refusing to name me and dismissing my arguments at the same time. A man would be pilloried for using the same negating tactics against a woman writer.

Cox apparently has no objections to the law being employed to silence female dissent, which surprises me somewhat, but there you go. Tankard Reist has positively seized upon the law as an instrument of personal control, and has now resorted to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights as well.

Then there’s this description of me and my kind made by Cathy Sherry, in her article defending Tankard Reist. I am, she writes, an  “unaccountable blogger sneering and abusing from the safety of [my] bedroom.” According to Ms Sherry, I’m not even worthy of an office simply because I blog. In a later comment elsewhere Ms Sherry refers to me as “faceless” as well, while Anne Summers refers to me simply as “a blogger”. Summers also apologised later.

How to explain this feminist contempt for female bloggers? One would think that blogging and feminism were made for each other. The blog offers an ordinary woman a voice where once there was a deep silence that has been broken only by a select few.

At the end of  three weeks of remarkable encounters with a variety of self-described feminists I have to conclude that because I’m unknown, a blogger, and entirely without influence I don’t count as a feminist or as a woman, and am to be shut up one way or another by a feminist who has more of a public presence than me.

I’m not unduly upset by all this, but I am very puzzled, as well as a little aggravated. I fear it says a great deal about where feminism is today, and it isn’t pretty. I fear it suggests that feminism has sold itself out to some of the values it once despised and resisted. I fear it’s going to be all down hill from here, if we aren’t very careful.

The f word, the virgin birth and the sword of Damocles

24 Jan

I love feminism in the way I love some of the insights and opinions attributed to Jesus. I love it in a bell hooks kind of way:

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.

So it was with increasing outrage that I watched the story of Melinda Tankard Reist’s legal threats against me hijacked by one high-profile feminist after another in an unedifying brawl about who can and can’t be called a feminist. Debates about feminism: yes. Debates about who is allowed to be called a feminist: why?

One of feminism’s struggles has been about giving women a voice. So it was initially with amusement and later indignation that I saw two of Australia’s most public feminists, Eva Cox and Anne Summers, describe me in their articles as a blogger  being threatened by Tankard Reist. Not even a female blogger, thank you very much, and Cox says I’m a nit picker to boot. She doesn’t name me, but she says I’m nit-picking. Any man who did that to a woman writer would be flayed.

I objected loudly to this, not as some might have it because I’m especially egotistical, though I could well be, but because this denial of my voice seems to me to exemplify a steady watering down of feminist principles, and perhaps, according to hooks’ analysis of contemporary feminism, a co-option by capitalism that has virtually disempowered it as a force for change.

Thus we are reduced to brawling in national newspapers about who can and cannot be a feminist, while the big issues raised by Tankard Reist’s action, such as freedom of speech, the politics of the economic power of one woman being used against another to silence her, are left to brilliant bloggers such as Scepticlawyer to unpack.

Interestingly, every other account of the stoush I’ve read in blogs and the MSM has named me. I become anonymous and stereotyped only in the leading feminists’ pieces. I am not well-known, therefore it isn’t necessary to name me in an MSM argument about feminists who are well-known. Yes. Capitalism has co-opted.

While I don’t believe that either Summers or Cox was being malicious, their failure to use a woman’s name in an article about feminism indicates a troubling forgetfulness as to what feminism is about.

Both women have since apologised for the oversight.

I’m receiving a steady flow of demands that I “get [my] facts straight” about the virgin birth. There are no facts about the virgin birth. There is no evidence. It’s a story. I’m as entitled as anyone else to interpret the story and comment on it. There’s a long feminist tradition of commenting on these stories and analysing them through a feminist lens. It’s but one of many options for analysis and it’s as valid as any of the others.  Contest my analysis by all means, but not by demanding “facts” that simply don’t exist.

It appears that Melinda Tankard Reist can legally hold her threat of defamation action over my head for the next twelve months without doing anything more than she has already done. If she so chooses, she can continue bullying, threatening and intimidating me for the next year, and theoretically curtailing my freedom to speak for that time, as anything I write can be co-opted into her list of grievances against me to be subjected to threats of legal action.

While I don’t care if Tankard Reist is called a feminist or not, I do find it interesting that she has chosen to employ patriarchy’s most oppressive and repressive tool, the law, against me. But what is even more interesting is that neither Summers nor Cox   has even remarked on this attempt to silence a woman with patriarchy’s weapons.

The last word by bell hooks:

I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.

This in the Age today: “Tankard Reist explain yourself.” A very informative piece about Tankard Reist’s background. I’m very, very glad this got up in the msm.

The editor, not the author called me “a blogger.”

The godification of children; the bizarre marriage of anti raunch feminism with the religious right.

10 Oct

Evangelical Christian children’s pastor Becky Fischer takes several hundred children aged from around six to early teenage, and some of their parents, to a fundamentalist boot camp at Devil’s Lake, North Dakota for a weekend of indoctrination into the principles of  evangelical Christianity (ABC 2, Sunday October 9, “Jesus Camp”)

One of these principles is founded on the belief that there’s a dire need for the merging of church and state in the USA, to be achieved through what she describes as a war to reclaim America for Jesus. This war is a just war, founded in the truth because they know The Truth,the pastor claims, and everyone else is lost to God.

Pastor Becky is taking a leaf out of the Muslims’ book, she reveals. If they can train kids to be suicide bombers for the sake of their God, why can’t she train kids to give their lives for the one true God, albeit metaphorically. She just needs them before they turn seven, she adds.

One extremely articulate and intelligent little girl tells us that some people do die for God and they are MARTYRS. Like, wow!

There’s a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush, role model for the successful integration of the two powers. There’s emotion-driven prayer meetings where little kids fall sobbing, wailing and shaking on the floor. The poor little buggers, by now in a state of frightening emotional extremity, cry out their sinfulness, thrash their arms and legs about, and beg Jesus to forgive them. The adults howl praise the Lord as the little ones noisily repent.

Once cleansed by a few drops of water out of a plastic bottle administered by Pastor Becky, the kids are declared born again, welcomed into the Lord’s army, and instruction on their mission as soldiers in the fight to get America back on the path of righteousness begins.

One of the most important battles they’ll face, they’re told, is the battle to stop abortion. They must pray to God to end all abortive procedures, a very creepy man in blue jeans and scarlet tee-shirt with “Life” printed on it in large black letters, tells them. The future of millions of unborn babies is in their young hands. They have the opportunity to make the difference between unborn babies living, or dying before they even get a chance to breathe. Jesus wants them to save the babies.

There’s not a dry eye in the house. The children are whipped up into a state of febrile fanaticism. The adults have no apparent compunction about involving young children in abortion issues, a form of child sexualization that is truly disgraceful, and never mentioned by activists as harmful.

The man in the red shirt  shows the kids little plastic models of a foetus through the stages of gestation. Kids start screaming, swaying, and speaking in tongues. Heavy metal Christian rock music gets them and keeps them in the zone. “We’re kickin’ it for Christ!” the children scream.

The man in the red shirt tapes tiny plastic babies to the palms of the kids’ hands with red duct tape. He next places the red duct tape across the children’s mouths, silencing them. Written on the tape is the word “Life.”

Then he takes the children to Washington to demonstrate against abortion on Capitol Hill.

Meantime, Pastor Becky tells them they must not read Harry Potter, for Potter is a warlock and God hates warlocks and witchcraft. Harry Potter would have been put to death in the Old Testament, she tells them. One child is bewildered and a little unnerved when later at lunch, other kids at his table tell him he looks a lot like Harry. Will he be metaphorically put to death? Maybe he needs to change his glasses?

In their ordinary lives the kids make no moves without first asking if God would like what they’re considering doing. They have no life outside of their religion. Many of them are home-schooled in creationism, and taught that global warming is irrelevant, given that we are on earth for such a short time before ascending to heaven so why worry? In fact some 75 per cent of home-schooled children in the US come from evangelical families, of which there are some 80 million.

In Australia, right-wing Christian conservative and pro lifer Melinda Tankard Reist, editor of the recently released Big Porn Inc, a collection of anti pornography writings, is also an anti free choice advocate. This is a link to an article Tankard Reist wrote for the Canberra Times in 1997, that has recently been posted on anti abortion website  “Abortion Concern.”

In the article Tankard Reist argues that the pro-choice rhetoric ignores the situations of women who’ve had bad abortion experiences.  She calls for the re-examination of the “pro-choice orthodoxy”, citing testimonials she’s collected for her book on the reactions some women suffer after an abortion.

Tankard Reist’s conclusion is that because there are women who suffer as a consequence of abortion, the procedure ought not to be allowed. Which is a little like arguing that because some women suffer adverse reactions as a consequence of marriage, all marriage should be banned. It’s the all or nothing, you’re with us or against us, George Bush fundamentalist mentality that is the hallmark of politically right-wing evangelical Christianity, and Tankard Reist is right in that zone.

Tankard Reist’s lesser known co-editor, academic Abigail Bray, is reputedly a left-wing feminist whom one would expect to be soundly pro-choice, ideologically, emotionally and intellectually opposed to Tankard Reist’s entrenched anti choice and right-wing religious position. Nevertheless the two women have managed to overcome their differences in the production of Big Porn Inc. This union of left wing and sometimes radical feminism, and right-wing Christian evangelical conservatism is an uneasy marriage, one would think, in which both parties are called upon to seriously compromise core beliefs in order to achieve a supposedly greater good, that of preventing pornography and what both parties perceive as the pornification and sexualisation of the young.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Big Porn Inc has received a good deal of promotion from the ABC, and indeed, will be launched in Brisbane later this week by the ABC’s online Religion and Ethics editor, Scott Stephens.

Tankard Reist has been described by UNSW academic Zora Simic in her 2011 paper Anti-raunch Feminism: An Australian Case Study, which can be found on her website and is a very good read for anyone interested in feminism in Australia today, as Australia’s most public feminist voice, dethroning such long time luminaries as Eva Cox of the Women’s Electoral Lobby.

Anti-raunch feminism is a feminist protest against what is perceived as a dominant cultural hypersexualization of women and girls, in which so-called “raunchy” behaviour (pole dancing, for example) clothing, make up, music etc is thought to dehumanize, “pornify” and “sexualize”  women and girls, creating a false sense of empowerment from behaviour that in reality, the protesters believe, is degrading and objectifying.

Zimic informatively unpacks Tankard Reist’s evolution from Senator Brian Harradine’s bioethics advisor during the period when Harradine managed to prevent Australian aid to developing countries from including reproductive education, and also managed to ban Australian women’s access to the “morning after” pill, RU-486.

Tankard Reist went on to found the conservative pro-life Women’s Forum Australia, an organisation supported by then Prime Minister John Howard, Pentecostal Family First Senator Stephen Fielding, and Catholic Opposition Leader and former Coalition Health Minister Tony Abbott. In 2004, Abbott called for a debate on what he termed the “epidemic of abortion” in Australia. Kevin Rudd also endorsed WFA when he was ever so briefly PM and favoured doorstop interviews on Sundays as he came out of church.

As Simic writes, it appears that Tankard Reist, with the assistance of feminists such as Bray and Nina Funnell, has managed to blend an anti-abortion platform with the anti raunch culture some feminists despise and see as a backward step for women. Both parties have apparently decoupled from their traditional women’s reproductive concerns, and neither side is at present anyway, making any reference to the other’s opposing views on abortion, or pursuing their own.

Tankard Reist is currently keeping very quiet about her pro-life beliefs and her connections to the conservative Christian Right. For example on her website where she publishes testimonials from organisations who’ve hired her as a speaker, the Australian Christian Lobby is conspicuously absent, though she has been engaged by them several times.

The marriage of convenience between anti raunch feminism and right-wing religious conservatism is to say the least bizarre. When you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas is a maxim that could be employed by either party about the other. Have the anti raunch feminists turned their backs on pro-choice, sacrificing it to some perceived greater good? Have the Christian conservatives temporarily agreed to silence their rabid anti choice rhetoric in pursuit of more mainstream and easily attained goals, such as whipping up outrage about the sexualization of children?  How long can their differences be papered over, given the great big elephants in both their rooms? Is it possible to trust any of them? Do they all have hidden agendas? Are any of them what they seem?

At least with Pastor Becky Fischer, what you see is what you get.

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