Tag Archives: Feminism

#As a mother

19 Jul

motherknowsbest_web

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No, Beyonce’s sportswear does not empower me

16 May
This is an ironic photo from 1970's not Beyonce's sportswear LOL

This is an ironic (iconic as well) photo from 1970’s not Beyonce’s sportswear LOL

 

I do a fair bit of exercise. I go to Pilates, Feldenkrais, dance class, aquarobics, and in between I walk, run & swim, largely unsupervised.

With the exception of the water-focused exercise I wear the same clothing to every activity: leggings, comfy bra, tee-shirt, bare feet or runners. I’ve yet to enter a sportswear store in search of empowering work out gear.

The idea that the clothing I choose to wear when I put my body to work empowers me is, to be honest, elephant shite. What empowers me is using my body, and as long as I haven’t clothed it in something likely to result in strangulation or a bone-shattering fall, what I’m wearing while I work my sweet ass off is of no effin consequence at all.

True fact. We do not have to wear any particular garment in order to be empowered by exercise. Empowerment is to be found in becoming familiar with our bodies and what they can (and in some instances cannot) do. Empowerment is to be found in the enjoyment, the satisfaction, the gratification of using our bodies to the best of our ability. When my Feldenkrais teacher instructs me to “open those knees, Jennifer, wider, wider” I’m giving the finger to all those years the nuns told me to keep them closed.

Do not be tricked into outsourcing your empowerment: it can never come from an external source such as celebrity leggings, & Beyoncé is only after your money.

Neither does Beyoncé’s sports line empower the women who manufacture it: …a seamstress employed to make the clothes in Sri Lanka told The Sun newspaper: “When they talk about women and empowerment this is just for the foreigners.

The disempowered seamstress is paid just $8.50 a day in her sweatshop to produce for foreign women garments described as “empowering.” Oh, the feckin, the heartbreaking irony.

In my experience, the process of self-empowerment is a long and gruelling one. It requires a woman to deconstruct all the disempowering shite she’s been told about herself, and replace it with the wondrous adventure of discovering who she can actually be and what she can actually do, without the toxic dictates of societal expectation that all too often require us to shrink our potential, rather than expand it.

Claiming we can get all this from wearing a designer sweatshirt and leggings  is actually adding to the burden of crippling shite most of us haul about every day. We can’t. We don’t. Telling us it’s even possible is an anti feminist act, and yet another example of capitalism’s co-option of women for profit.

Nobody is winning here, except Beyoncé. Not the women in sweatshops, not the women shelling out for promises of empowerment. It doesn’t matter what a woman wear while she empowers herself.  It only matters that she does it.

 

 

 

 

Down among the women

22 Mar

Raising sons like daughters

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why the Knox piece fails in every way.

10 Jan

Parody

 

It’s difficult to read respected Fairfax sports journalist Malcolm Knox’s “parody” piece criticising Chris Gayle’s sexist on-air comments to journalist Mel McLaughlin, as anything other than racist.

Dominated by Knox’s use of patois, a dialect infused with racist cultural and political history, its tone leans, for mine, rather more towards a taunt than a parody, and were I to hazard a guess at Knox’s state of mind during the composing of the piece I’d say, red- hot angry.

A keen follower of sport and Knox gave me some background on the relations between Gayle and other West Indian cricketers, and the largely white male media who are knowledgable insiders. It was suggested that there’s a general fed-upness at the perceived latitude enjoyed by Gayle and his colleagues in the matter of their public behaviours: words such as antics, and they can get away with anything because they’re charismatic, were used. Being completely ignorant of just about everything to do with cricket I can offer no opinion, but Knox’s piece does read as if he’s reacting to the straw that broke the camel’s back, rather than the singular McLaughlin incident.

If Knox wanted to make the point that sexist behaviour resembles racist behaviour in the capacity of both to dehumanise their targets, he surely could have achieved this in one sentence of patois. How do you feel, Chris Gayle, he might have asked, when someone speaks to you thus. Angry? Humiliated? Demeaned? Well, that’s exactly how women feel when you speak to them as you did to Mel. Or something along those lines.

A good parody will achieve its goal with the minimum and very subtle use of how do you like it when. Persist in the lesson for an entire article and you sound like an enraged bully.

For mine, I do not need white knights coming to my rescue by attacking misogynists on the basis of their race. The most awful experiences I’ve had with sexism have involved white males, and quite what race has to do with misogyny I don’t know. Privileged white males seem equally capable of behaving badly towards women as do males of any other skin colour.  Misogyny is about power, entitlement, ignorance and infantility, not the colour of a man’s skin.

The Knox article fails to meet any of its objectives. It doesn’t work at all as parody. It doesn’t address the issue of male sexism in sport. It doesn’t address the specific incident that inspired it. It reads like a great big dummy spit that benefits nobody, and in fact deflects attention from the issues onto itself. Like those advertisements that are so distracting the viewer can never remember the product the ads were pushing.

The piece also racialises misogyny, and suggests that black men ought to know how sexism feels because racism, so logically white women ought to know how racism feels because sexism. White men, on the other hand, don’t suffer either so don’t have to know anything except how to position themselves  as superior to both.

 

We need to talk about what Jamie did.

1 Jan

 

Brigg's Family Xmas card

Brigg’s Family Xmas card

Jamie Briggs resigned this week from his ministerial portfolio in the Turnbull government because of “inappropriate” behaviour towards a female public servant late one night in a Hong Kong bar, when he found himself apparently disinhibited by alcohol and the lateness of the hour.

Briggs was rapidly supported on Twitter by at least two of his colleagues, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and Queensland MP Ewen Jones, both of whom describe Briggs as a good, decent man and a better bloke having a bad day. The Australian journalist Chris Kenny also came to Brigg’s defence on Twitter in a desperate attempt to frame the incident as being all about alcohol and staying up late in bars, with no reference to the alleged sexual harassment.

The public servant, it should be noted, did not complain that Briggs was drunk or up late, but that he had sexually harassed her, according to one report telling her she had such “piercing eyes,” before falling upon her neck. Mrs Estee Briggs, (who, like her husband, also worked for John Howard) is standing by her man, and has declared Prime Minister Turnbull’s sacking of her husband from the ministry an “exaggerated over-reaction” unwarranted by the triviality of the incident.

Some of us women set the bar low for ourselves, but perhaps we shouldn’t expect that the rest of the community will hold similar standards. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard women defend partners who act “inappropriately” towards them and other women, and what astonishes me every time is their expectation, indeed demand, that the rest of us hold the same minimal expectations.  Stand by your man by all means, but don’t tell others we’re “over-reacting” when we refuse to embrace your low standards.

It’s interesting that if a woman is drunk, and sexually harassed or assaulted, society’s default position is still that she shouldn’t have been drinking. On the other hand, the Briggs incident reaffirms for us that there are people in positions of considerable influence and power who still believe that if a man sexually harasses woman when he’s drunk it isn’t his fault: he’s really a decent bloke who’s had a hard day, and he can blame it on the drink. The woman, on the other hand, is a moll and a slut for getting out there and getting pissed and assaulted, and nobody even asks if she’s had a hard day.

I mean, really. When are we going to get past this? Ever?

I don’t know what Briggs’ defenders mean by “decent.” For mine, if you’re married and cheating on your spouse, you aren’t “decent.” You’re duplicitous, deceitful and probably more concerned with your own needs than those of your wife, family and lover. Infidelity demands a strong sense of entitlement, bordering on narcissism. It’s all about what the cheater thinks he/she needs, not the people he/she will damage. I mean, if you aren’t getting what you need in your partnership, have the courage to do something about it that doesn’t require duplicity and betrayal, or accept your lot. Deceiving the people who trust you is no way to address your needs.

As a man bent on betrayal once told me: I know I am behaving abominably to my wife and family, but you are so good for me. 

Says it all, really.

The point of this is that if a man (or woman) can justify the betrayal of those he/she cares most about, why would he/she think twice about betraying anybody else? We may know little else about the cheating spouse, but we do know with absolute certainty that he/she is a liar.

Ministerial standards are high, as they should be if governments are determined to give individual ministers the kind of power over others granted to Immigration Minister Dutton, for example. Why on earth should such power be in the hands of a man who has proved himself a liar, capable of intentionally deceiving his own wife? He’s demonstrated what he is willing to do to achieve his own ends: are we to be so naive as to think he’d only do this to his wife, and not the country?

The incident may not have been “illegal,” as Briggs hastens to assure us, though quite what he means by that I don’t know. It certainly highlights yet again that women are still seen by some societal groups as irrelevant in comparison to the needs and ambitions of men. Briggs was daft for getting drunk and staying up late, but hey, he’s human and works hard. Let’s not mention the predatory sexual behaviour: it was only a woman.

I don’t know the extent of Briggs’ harassment of the woman involved, what I do know is that until men like Briggs stop believing they are entitled to our attention and our bodies we have to call them on every incident, no matter how “trivial” it might seem to someone else. We are not comfort women for when such men are having a difficult time. We aren’t cuddly things for such men to grab and grope. Such men as Briggs are not inherently entitled to our bodies, our emotions, our attention and our time.

The “trivial” nature or otherwise of the sexual harassment is irrelevant here: what matters is the belief men such as Briggs hold that they are entitled to us whenever they feel the need of us. Nothing will substantially change for women until such men are disabused of this sense of entitlement, and until women who support these men demand higher standards from them instead of enabling them. We’re not “over-reacting” in thinking your husband should be fired, Mrs Briggs. It’s bad enough that men such as Jamie Briggs harass and assault us in the first place, we don’t have to lower our standards to yours as well.

Please note: I very rarely delete comments and even more rarely block people. However, I’ve just deleted an abusive comment from a poster called “Simon,” and will continue to delete and block abuse. This is a courtesy notification, so if abuse is on your mind you don’t waste your time.

 

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