Tag Archives: Feminism

The debate that told us all about about sexism. In case we weren’t sure.

11 Oct



It’s difficult to imagine a man finding himself in the same position as did Hillary Clinton in the second debate yesterday.

When did you last hear of a man being held responsible for his wife’s alleged sexual crimes?

When did you last hear of a man centre stage in a political  forum, with his wife’s alleged sexual victims as invited audience members?

Aside from Bill Clinton’s alleged sexual crimes, and aside from Donald Trump’s lascivious objectification of women including his own daughter, yesterday’s debate in itself could not have more clearly enacted the sexism endemic in western culture.

When challenged about his attitudes to women Trump reacted by arguing that Bill Clinton is worse, and then went on to list all the things he believes are more important than sexually assaulting women, managing  to further demean us in that tacky investigation into the relativity of suffering.

What Trump unsurprisingly fails to appreciate (and many others male and female share his lack of perception) is that the objectification and sexual assault of women and girls originates in a collective mindset that is so accustomed to dehumanisation it can justify any destructive action against anyone, should it be judged necessary.  If you are part of a dominant group that treats some 50% of your country’s population as lesser beings because they have vaginas, it’s not going to be difficult for you to do the same to anyone else who threatens your fragile sense of who you are, such as people of religions and ethnicities that vary from your own.

Yes, I know Trump seems far from fragile in his sense of self, however, there’s a psychological theory of over-compensation for fears of inadequacy that might be applicable here.

There was a point in the debate when Trump appeared to stalk Clinton, moving in very close behind her as she answered a question, looming, as if to remind her of his hostile presence. It was nasty, almost as nasty as the video tape of Trump leaving his bus ten years ago to meet a young woman he’d only just finished crudely sexually assessing. He asked her for a hug. In those few seconds we saw sexism, intimidation and violation played out: the young woman couldn’t refuse Trump if she valued her career, and so obliged him in his effort to vindicate his boastful claims of sexual irresistibility. She did this in complete ignorance of the crass conversation about her that had just taken place.

If you’ve ever been groped that vision would have caused you to shudder.

I don’t think HRC did very well in the second debate. How much of this is down to Trump’s psychological tactic of ensuring women linked in the worst possible way with her and her husband were present, and his focus on both Bill and Hillary Clinton’s alleged treatment of them and other women, I don’t know. I’m inclined to think quite a bit, as there is simply no other area in which Trump can outdo HRC. It seems she’s got the presidency in the bag, unless something inconceivably catastrophic occurs.

A woman who stands by her philandering man isn’t necessarily admired for that: some see it as more a demonstration of strength if she kicks the cheater out. Whatever your position on this, it’s a fraught topic for women. Hillary is entrapped in Bill’s mess, as women are so frequently trapped in the messes made by men in their lives. Trump is making the most of it, because at this point there’s really little else he can use to cause HRC public discomfort.

How interesting, then, that both candidates have to deal with sexual scandals. And what a comment on women’s place in the world that Trump’s scandals are his own, while HRC’s are those allegedly perpetrated by her husband.

Says it all, really.










Controlling women’s bodies. Trump & Pence.

9 Oct



It neither shocked nor surprised me to yesterday hear a recording of US presidential candidate Donald Trump, made some ten years ago, boasting that his wealth and fame entitle him to grab women by the genitals, and kiss them without consent, because he finds female beauty irresistible:

I’ve gotta use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.

Men using their power to gain sexual access to women is nothing new. Bill Clinton has been accused of rape, sexual harassment, exposing himself to a woman who didn’t want to see the presidential penis, and of numerous affairs, the most famous of which involved White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and the most lengthy of which was, it’s said, conducted over some twenty-two years.

These matters are relevant a) because Trump repeatedly points to Clinton as being just as bad: Well, look over there, I’m not the only one who does it and b) because Trump has threatened several times to raise Clinton’s sexual history during debates with Democrat opponent Hillary Clinton, on the somewhat bizarre grounds that any woman married to an unfaithful man isn’t fit to be president of the United States.

HRC, goes Trump’s argument, has enabled her husband to sexually exploit women, therefore is as responsible for harm as is Clinton. This harmful enabling disqualifies HRC from challenging Trump on his attitudes to women because hers aren’t much better, particularly, Trump argues, as Secretary Clinton has allegedly pursued and intimidated some of the women with whom her husband enjoyed intimacy in an effort to ensure their silence.

There is some substance to the theory that tolerating deceptive behaviour is enabling that deceptive behaviour: the unfaithful spouse learns faithfulness is not a requirement for the relationship to continue, and there will be no catastrophic repercussions. I can only guess at HRC’s motives for choosing to remain in a marriage with Clinton, but I’m pretty certain that had they divorced she wouldn’t be running for President today, and she likely wouldn’t have been Secretary of State in the Obama administration either.

HRC is a pragmatist. Anyone running for presidential or other high office, male or female, must have that goal as their primary ambition and be willing to tailor his or her life to the demands of the race. Divorce and the failure it signifies in a country where religious beliefs about marriage and family hold great political sway, together with financial settlements that may reveal far too much about one’s circumstances are situations to be avoided, particularly if you are a politically ambitious woman.

It may well be that HRC long ago came to an understanding with herself that the anguish of betrayal was the price she’d have to pay for achieving her goals. She isn’t the first woman to come to this conclusion, and she won’t be the last.

There are women who find sharing life with a treacherous partner is more than they can bear and that they deserve better, as they do. The cycle of betrayal is a cycle of abuse. Married life with a man such as Clinton would be intolerable for me, but I’m not interested in political office and my priorities are living a life free from abuse and humiliation with a partner I can trust. HRC doesn’t appear to have been in a position (within the confines of the system she inhabits) to both achieve her political ambitions and live free from emotional and mental spousal abuse. She’s had to make choices.

HRC’s pragmatism does not in any way indicate an unsuitability for high office, quite the opposite I would have thought.

Trump’s attitude to women is vile, and it’s on the higher end of a vile continuum. He’s been caught on tape voicing his sordid desires and intentions: we know we’re dealing with a poster boy for sexism and exploitation. But think on this. Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, believes abortion to be “monstrous” and vows to do everything possible to prevent women accessing the procedure, including attempting to overturn Roe v Wade.  Should Trump win, Pence is next in line for the presidency in the event of some kind of Trump collapse.

Everywhere we turn, we find a man attempting to control women’s bodies, either through sexual exploitation and abuse, and/or control of our reproductive processes. Trump, Clinton, Pence are high-profile performers of a dominant culture that is still, despite its sophistication  and its claims to western superiority, profoundly contemptuous of women, and committed to denying our autonomy and our humanity.

I’m no fan of Hillary Rodham Clinton. There are, in my opinion, many concerns about her becoming the next president of the US. However, Bill Clinton’s sexual predation and the manner in which she’s chosen to deal with it are not among them. But hey, she’s a woman. On that fact alone she’s blameworthy, and Trump knows it.




Trump & Clinton. Clinton & Trump

6 Aug

Clinton, Trump


I recently read a characterisation of the US presidential battle as a struggle between a neofascist catastrophe and a neoliberal disaster. This latter description of Hillary Clinton will not please those among us who believe, some ardently, that a US female president will be a triumph simply because of her sex.

It surely is worth noting here that there have been (and still are) female presidents and prime ministers in countries other than the US for some time, including our own Julia Gillard. The US is breaking its own glass ceiling, not the world’s. I don’t know that women have done much better than men at the task, and it is probably slightly delusional to expect or demand that we will: after all, female leaders have to work within the same long-established systems as do males, and no one person of either sex is going to smash those corrupt systems and make the world a better place.

This is not to say women shouldn’t be equally represented in politics: of course we must. However, I sometimes wonder if we wouldn’t be better served fighting dysfunctional political orders, rather than pouring our considerable energies into the task of moulding women into the value systems of a hegemonic masculinity when once there, we can do little if our ambition is to keep our jobs.

On the question of entrenched and deadly systems of government, John Pilger argues in his Pilgeresque way that Hillary Clinton is a far more dangerous presidential prospect than is Donald Trump, partially on the grounds that Clinton is deeply embedded in a warmongering system whilst Trump is a maverick who condemns the Iraq invasion as a crime, and doesn’t want any trouble with Russia or China. Pilger continues:

Among Clinton’s biggest backers are the Israel lobby and the arms companies that fuel the violence in the Middle East. She and her husband have received a fortune from Wall Street. And yet, she is about to be ordained the women’s candidate, to see off the evil Trump, the official demon. Her supporters include distinguished feminists: the likes of Gloria Steinem in the US and Anne Summers in Australia.

Then there is the analysis of Trump as a self-saboteur, an outstanding example of someone who sets high goals while simultaneously working to undermine himself. Nobody in this narrative, not even Trump, envisaged his campaign coming this far, and the candidate’s increasingly successful alienation of significant supporters can be interpreted as the behaviour of a man who wanted the attention and publicity of the competition, but never really believed he could win it and is now in the process of finding a way out. Trump’s way, the author argues, is to behave so badly everyone rejects him, then complain that the electoral system is rigged and he is its victim. On the other hand, the author admits, Trump could simply be unhinged.

I’m grateful I don’t have to vote in the US election: it’s bad enough coping with our own. What I take from both situations is a sense that the old political order is in its death throes, a new one not yet born or perhaps not even yet conceived. What we have to work with are the dregs of democracy.

In the western world we’re desperately casting about for something better or at the very least, different. I can’t see Hillary Clinton as the answer, even though she has a vagina. She is solidly of the old order. Trump, like some of our maverick politicians, is different and difference is his appeal, even though he, like our mavericks, may be no better and could be worse.

I confess myself astounded at feminist support for Clinton. I have no desire to live under hegemonic matriarchy, anymore than I enjoy living under the constraints of hegemonic patriarchy. Neither improve the lot of women nor many men, other than those of the ruling class. I can only conclude we are living with the dregs of feminism as well as the dregs of democracy, and nobody seems to have any idea what might possibly come next.




Sexualise this

5 Aug

leopard print cardigan


I’ve just read a piece in The Conversation titled: Sexualised girls are seen as less intelligent and less worthy of help than their peers.

Who defines what constitutes sexualisation, and using what criteria?

Examples from the article: Highly sexualised clothing (a short dress and a leopard print cardigan) or a girl in a black bikini.

To the authors of this article a short dress combined with a leopard print cardigan is a signifier of a sexually easy female, and thus highly inappropriate when worn by a young girl.

I would not view any young girl wearing these garments (or any other garments for that matter) as a sexualised object. Would you?

If your answer is yes I think there might be something slightly askew in your perceptions, and you might like to ask yourself not why the young girl is wearing those outfits, but why you see her as a sex object because of them.

If as a consequence of perceiving that young girl as “sexualised” you decide she is less morally worthy and of lesser intelligence, you probably should ask yourself why, in your moral universe, a “sexualised” female (young or mature) is less worthy of moral consideration and inevitably of lesser intelligence, than a female you perceive as free from sexualisation.

In other words, why do you hold those views, and where do they come from? Are they any different from the views held by, say, racists? Are they even, perhaps, a tad misogynist?

The sexualisation debate as represented in The Conversation article is warped. Research criteria are based on the assumed authority of a male-centered gaze, introjected by women, that continues to define female sexuality in terms of how much flesh we display and the manner in which we choose to display it or clothe it. This bias remains unacknowledged and unquestioned, and ought itself to be the subject of investigation.

Somewhere in our history there developed the notion that women who are open about our sexual desire and the expression of our sexuality are correspondingly brain-dead, and undeserving of moral consideration. It’s from these notions the concepts of sexualisation and objectification evolve, not from anything women do or wear.

Obviously the signifiers of objectification and sexualisation vary with fashion and culture: a modest 2016 swimsuit would have caused its wearer to be objectified as less than morally human in 1816. The point surely must be that we have not evolved beyond our need to define ourselves as moral beings against women and girls identified as less worthy, because they are pejoratively perceived as overtly sexual, sexualised or objectified.

Concepts of sexualisation and objectification are constructed concepts and as such fluid, always open to interrogation and contestation. They are not a given, and they do not come from any transcendental exteriority. Because Collective Shout or anyone else declares a garment objectifying does not make it so.

Nothing can make a child a sexualised object other than the warped perception of an adult. As we know to our cost, warped adult perceptions of children as sex objects are rampant, and to be found in our most esteemed institutions.  If you choose to view children through that warped perception there is, in my opinion, something unexamined in your thinking.

The fact that some adults care less about the welfare of women and girls they consider sexualised and objectified seems to my mind a much more urgent topic for investigation than chain stores selling pole dancing kits and Playboy stationery. To draw an equivalence between female sexuality and worthiness is warped reasoning, and that so many people in our society do this is cause for serious alarm.

The problem lies not with the sexualisation or objectification of young girls and women. It lies with unexamined attitudes to female sexuality, fear of female sexuality, and the ongoing desire to control female sexuality. If you are seeing children as sexualised and objectified have a good look at your beliefs about female sexuality, because you are likely part of the problem, not of the solution.





#As a mother

19 Jul



Look. If I see/hear one more woman claim privileged insight because she’s a mother I will puke, spectacularly, in technicolour, over everything because WTAF?

On the proviso that you and your partner’s parts are in working order, all you need to become a mother is a root at the right time. It doesn’t even have to be a good one. In the matter of becoming mothers we are animals. It’s biological. It doesn’t qualify women for anything: it doesn’t make us better prime ministers, and it doesn’t give us exceptional insight into race relations. It can bring out the best and the worst in us, as can very many other situations encountered by the human female during the course of her life on earth.

Motherhood teaches us above all how to survive drudgery. Unless you’ve got nannies who do that for you, of course. There’s nappies and reeking shit; there’s three-year-olds whose every sentence begins with why, twelve hours a day. There’s broken nights, oh my god the broken nights. There’s kids creeping into your bed at 2am only to wake you up at three to inform you they just dreamed they were on the toilet and have accidentally peed. There’s days of exhaustion, running into one another till you don’t know what you did and when, let alone why. None of this makes a woman any better equipped to run a country than does, say, Malcolm Turnbull’s ability to turn a modest dot-com investment into millions, or Sonia Kruger’s ability to host Dancing with the Stars equips her to comment intelligently on immigration policy.

I’m a mother. I’ll never underestimate the importance of my influence on my children, for better and for worse. But #as a woman, I believe we need to recognise that attempting to privilege our motherhood works against us far more than it ever works for us. Motherhood isn’t a sacred calling. It isn’t the pinnacle of female achievement. Personally, I don’t feel greatly improved as a human being because I spent years of my life wrangling the obstinate young, and didn’t sell them to the circus.

Women who aren’t mothers can care just as much about the future as women who are, and it’s disgraceful to imply otherwise. Women who aren’t mothers can weep for the slaughtered children of others just as keenly as women who are.

The worst aspect of this motherhood rot is its divisiveness. There’s an entirely unwarranted moral acclaim blindly attributed to motherhood that divides those of us who are from those of us who aren’t. It’s lovely if you want children and have them. It’s just as lovely if you don’t want children and don’t have them. It’s another situation if you want them and can’t realise that desire.  None of us should be valued according to whether or not we reproduce ourselves. Indeed, there may well be an argument for refraining from reproduction, given the future we face.


The Senator, the camper vans & The Chaser

30 Jun

fiat car ad


Some of you may remember back in May this year there was a swell of outrage against Wicked Campers, the organisation that spray paints its vehicles with slogans such as: A wife: an attachment you screw on the bed to get the housework done; Inside every princess there’s a slut waiting to get out; The best thing about a blow job is five minutes of silence, and so on.

The slogans are usually accompanied by cartoonish illustrations of disembodied breasts, Snow White sucking a penis… you get the picture.

Free speech advocate and libertarian Senator David Leyonhjelm was scathing in his criticism of those who protested the vans:

“If you want to take offense that’s your choice and you’ve got to remember it’s a choice and other people make different choices. 

Most of the statements I’ve read from the vans are able to be interpreted in a couple of ways and they require a degree of sophistication to know what they’re getting at.”

Leyonhjelm told the ABC Wicked made funny statements, “which obviously have sexual connotations.”

“But surprise, surprise sexual connotations are part of life. You need to be a particularly wowserish type of person to not find them funny,” he said.

But surprise, surprise ABC TV’s The Chaser recently parked a van outside Leyonhjelm’s residence that bore the slogan The best thing about oral sex from David Leyonhjelm – 5 mins of silence, and the Senator has gone ballistic.

When called on his perceived hypocrisy by Melinda Tankard Reist, an anti-Wicked advocate, Leyonhjelm tweeted to her: If you don’t understand free speech STFU. This a problematic prescriptive if ever there was one: the right to free speech isn’t supposed to be contingent on whether or not you fully understand what you are saying about free speech, or anything else, for that matter.

It is true that the Senator didn’t call for the Chaser to be silenced, he merely complained vociferously about their intrusion into his street. He also claimed the slogan was “homophobic,” a complaint I find quite baffling unless of course he doesn’t know about men orally pleasuring women.

My Twitter friend Kate Galloway recently wrote this post on sexist language in public discourse in response to Eddie McGuire’s expressed desire to drown journalist Caroline Wilson. What is it with some men and their desire to drown us? Alan Jones wanting to send Julia Gillard in a chaff bag out to sea, and of course that legendary test to see if we’re witches, perhaps from which this obsession with drowning us stems: tie us to a stool and drop us in the river and if we drown we’re witches and if we survive we’re witches, so burn us. Yeah.

I think I’m a woman with a sophisticated sense of humour. I can also laugh myself silly with a four-year-old. But I find absolutely nothing humorous in the Wicked van slogans, or in Eddie McGuire and his mates cackling hideously over the possibility of drowning Caroline Wilson. Nor  do I accept the apparently unassailable belief amongst some men and women that it is fine to say things about women that if said about any other human group would be thought crass, unacceptable, and even illegal.

There’s no right not to be offended, but there is the right to speak about what offends. A frequent response to expressed offence is an accusation of political correctness (gone mad, for added emphasis), or a judgement that one has “over-reacted.” These are  attempts to derail any discussion of the offensive nature of the commentary, and focus instead on the offended person’s alleged weakness and lack of humour. Such attempts at derailing should be treated with the contempt they deserve. As a general rule, people who make sexist comments don’t take kindly to being challenged and their first line of defence is attack.

Leyonhjelm is outraged that The Chaser’s stunt upset his wife, yet he was seemingly oblivious to the upset caused to women, girls, and men who had to attempt to explain to their children the slogans on the van next to their tent. One grandfather round these parts took to every van he saw with a can of black spray paint, so fed up was he with having to see the denigrating and misogynist garbage every time he went on the highway with his grandchildren. But according to the Senator, this man is an unsophisticated wowser with no sense of humour who has chosen to be offended.

Well, Senator, if the tiara fits…




This is not a rape.

25 May


Monsters under the bed

Monsters under the bed

The representation and simulation of rape has existed in many cultures, from the time humans first learned to make art. Sadly, none of these thousands of years of representation and simulation have done anything at all to prevent sexual assault.

So it is with some cynicism that I read artist Sophia Hewson’s explanation of her latest work as an attempt to bring the rape of women to our attention in the hope of subverting patriarchal notions of female victimisation and self-sacrifice, thus turning the trauma of rape into the liberation of empowerment.

While it is true that a raped woman need not remain forever a victim, and that the recovery of empowerment post trauma is indeed a real possibility, I’m at a loss as to how a video of a simulated “rape” scene will in any way assist the difficult progression from victim to empowered survivor.

Titled Untitled (“are you ok bob?”), the work is a video Hewson “arranged and choreographed” featuring herself and a male stranger she invited to her home to “rape” her on camera.

Immediately we note the absence of rape criteria: this is a pre-arranged consensual act, not a sexual assault.

All that is seen of the “perpetrator” are his hands and arms: the camera remains focused on Hewson’s face throughout the act. In itself this focus is, according to Hewson, a transgressive act: raped women are frequently depicted with eyes downcast, in what is presumed to be avoidance, and learned shame. (It is also an effort to protect oneself from being further violated by the gaze of others at a time of great vulnerability, among other things). Hewson claims she is instead “looking back at us from the experience” and indeed she is. However, the experience from which she is looking back is one of consensual sex, not rape.

Hewson did not enjoy making the video, she states. Not enjoying consensual sex with a stranger you’ve choreographed to “rape” you differs considerably from experiencing an act of sexual assault.

I confess myself entirely dumbfounded by this latest feminist effort to expose the damage done to raped women through a depiction of not-rape that effaces reality. I think I ought to be angry, but I’m too baffled for anger. Who is the consumer for whom this work is created? Is it intended for the titillation of the safe? Is it rape porn? Is it as ethically bereft as poverty porn or disaster porn?

Is it co-opting suffering for personal gain? For the delicious thrill of not being one of the violated, for the guilty pleasure of being privileged enough to only pretend it’s happening, like children frighten themselves by imagining monsters under the bed, just for the euphoric sensation of discovering there are none?

For mine, this work marks an alarming low in the discourse of sexual assault. It is bereft of context. Its raison d’être is as a simulation of rape, entirely gratuitous. It will be viewed with appalled fascination, no doubt by many, but what it will do for women and our unenviable position in the patriarchy is not apparent to me.












%d bloggers like this: