Tag Archives: Law

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.”

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Linda Burney’s punitive stand on surrogacy.

6 Feb
Dibujo del perfil de Nicole Kidman

Image via Wikipedia

If Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban had hired an overseas surrogate to carry baby Faith Margaret while living in any of their NSW homes, and then returned with their baby,they would be subject to fines and jail sentences, under the terms of  the amendment to surrogacy legislation introduced by NSW Minister for Community Services, Linda Burney.

On March 1 2011 NSW legislation on surrogacy will pass into law, making commercial surrogacy illegal in the State.

Linda Burney has added an extra territorial amendment to the original surrogacy bill, extending the criminalisation of commercial surrogacy to those who employ overseas surrogates.

The penalties for using an overseas surrogate will be a fine of some $110,000, and/or two years jail.

As well, the child parents bring home will have no legal rights and protection, as do all other children in NSW, regardless of the method of their conception.

Parents may apply for parentage orders for their children, however in doing so will run the risk of criminal prosecution, with fines and possible jail terms.

This would seem a powerful disincentive to applying for appropriate orders, leaving the children in a right-less and unprotected limbo.

As well, Burney’s amendment assumes that all those seeking overseas surrogacy arrangements will look for underprivileged women who need the money.

There are many commercial surrogates overseas who are middle class women, and who make an informed choice to carry a child for another woman.

The Minister’s justifications

Minister Burney’s justification for the extra territorial clause is that she wishes to, in her language, punish those who “take advantage of women who hire out their bodies because they are poor.” Criminalizing those who have been unable to find altruistic surrogates in NSW and turn instead to women overseas is the realisation of Burney’s desire to punish.

It is unrealistic in the extreme to expect this criminalizing of a minority group of NSW citizens will make any dent at all in the exploitation of women in countries where commercial surrogacy is legal. One might as well criminalize everyone who buys a t-shirt made in a Bangkok sweatshop by six year old children who are paid 20 cents a day for their labours.

Or what about the Australian citizens who travel overseas for say, a kidney transplant to a country where the traffic in human organs is unregulated and people sell the parts they can live without for an income? Are we going to criminalize those citizens and prosecute them when they come home with their new illegal part on board?

A divisive issue

Commercial surrogacy is a morally divisive issue. Those against it argue that it results in the depersonalisation of pregnancy and childbirth, and that it treats both women and children as commodities. Wealthy couples can “rent a womb” from financially vulnerable women, and this, in the eyes of some, is exploitation of the worst kind.

Commercial surrogacy is felt by some to be degrading to both women and children. It is perceived as morally offensive, and as treating other human beings merely as a means to an end.

There are potential emotional difficulties on all sides, including that of the child.

The argument for (briefly)

Those who argue for commercial surrogacy point out that it is a matter of personal autonomy for all the adults involved. If a woman wishes to act as a surrogate that is her business, they argue, and she is entitled to remuneration for her time and work.

If commercial surrogacy is permitted and regulated in NSW, then it will lessen the need for couples to go overseas and into situations of possible exploitation, they claim.

To proscribe commercial surrogacy on the grounds that it’s harmful to those undertaking it is interference by the State in personal matters that are not the State’s business, and that belong in the realm of the private conscience, some argue. It is not acceptable, this argument continues, for the State to impose and enforce one moral aspect against private actions that do not harm others.

What is Burney’s amendment good for?

It seems highly unlikely that Burney’s amendment will prevent couples seeking commercial surrogacy overseas. What it will most certainly achieve is the legal alienation of the resulting children in this State. It will cause parents to conceal their activities, perhaps even from their own families, for fear of prosecution.

It will cast an unacceptable and permanent cloud over such families and their children. It will drive those having no option but commercial surrogacy, underground.

And for what?

To satisfy Burney’s need to take a moral stand against the laws of other countries.

Moral stands are often good and necessary things, but only when they’re realistically weighed up against their usefulness, and their consequences. In this case the usefulness of such a moral stand would seem to be minimal. The consequences, on the other hand, are horrible and permanent for the families concerned.

The reality is that couples needing the services of a surrogate are going to find one, somehow, somewhere.  Those of us, who like Ms Burney have not needed to take this drastic action in order to create our families, need to be especially careful when prescribing for and judging those less fortunate in that respect.

It is an especially weighty responsibility for Burney, as she is in a privileged position. She has the power to create a situation in which those less fortunate than herself are criminalized, and their children cast into a legal limbo.

Burney’s extra territorial amendment could well be seen by some as an abuse of her power. Perhaps it isn’t a politician’s role to punish those he or she disagrees with, on moral grounds that are far from unanimous in the community.

Perhaps it is especially distasteful when a politician acts on a personal desire to punish constituents who are already struggling with the fraught issue of creating their family.

Surrogacy in NSW Law Reform Commission Discussion paper

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