Tag Archives: Mia Freedman

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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Jenny Craig & Jackie O

28 Mar

The Alliance of Girls Schools recently invited the CEO of weight loss company Jenny Craig to speak to hundreds of teachers at their upcoming conference. Amy Smith plans to speak on women and leadership, not body image, however the invitation has caused outrage among some health professionals, who have organised an online petition with over a thousand signatures so far, claiming that by inviting Ms Smith the Alliance is endorsing unhealthy dieting practices.

I was initially confused, and thought Ms Smith was speaking to girls about Jenny Craig. Fair enough to question that I thought. But no, she’s speaking to teachers about women and leadership.

It seems to me that if health experts are enraged by Ms Smith speaking, they’re going to have to protest if any woman who has anything to do with the fashion industry, women’s magazines, the cosmetic industry, and cosmetic surgery, all of which promote an unhealthy obsession with physical appearance that ought not to be encouraged in girls, is invited to address any conference that has anything to do with people who are employed in girls’ education.  Otherwise they will appear inconsistent and lacking in credibility.

I’d engage anyone in a debate as to whether Jenny Craig or Cosmopolitan is more damaging to girls’ notions of how they should look. I’d also take on the magazines that contain pages of fashion and slimming advice, followed by an orgy of food porn, followed by scorn for celebrity cellulite and muffin tops. Mixed messages, anyone?

Body Matters eating disorder specialist Lydia Jane Turner says “…the idea of this person [Amy Smith] actually speaking about inequality of girls and the economic standing of women I find incredibly hypocritical.” Ms Turner justifies her feelings by pointing out that Jenny Craig has sponsored the Kyle Sandilands show, and that Vile Kyle has a history of “fat shaming.”

I may be on shaky ground here, as I recently called Clive Palmer a “fat shit” on Twitter. However, in my own defence, the mental image that term of abuse conjures for me is literal: a great big stinky brown log that won’t go down no matter how much you flush.

To me, there is something abhorrent in demanding that anyone not be allowed to speak. For example, I was highly offended when Tony Blair last visited this country, was fawned over by the media, and addressed university students in his usual messianic fashion, justifying his part in the invasion of Iraq because he felt it was “morally right.”  In my opinion, Blair is a war criminal and I don’t like the idea of a war criminal let loose to influence our young. However, petitioning to have him silenced is more offensive to me than allowing him to speak. As with Ms Smith, everyone knows where he’s coming from. Adults can make up their own minds about his message. Not everyone shares my perceptions of him, and why should I claim the right to impose my beliefs on others?

It isn’t Ms Smith’s stated intention to “fat shame” anyone. She’s a woman who’s done well in the business world, and she plans to talk about her experiences. Yes, she’s part of an industry that has a dark side. Is there any industry that doesn’t? And do we silence all representatives because of that? Cardinal George Pell had better give up public speaking for a start. There are few industries more dangerous to children than his has proved to be.

 

Speaking of Kyle Sandilands, this spray against his on-air partner Jackie O appeared on the mamamia website the other day. Jackie O apparently declined to describe herself as a feminist, incurring the wrath of Mia Freedman, who feels that we should all call ourselves feminists a) because we’ve benefited from the efforts of our predecessors, and b) because if we believe in equality we are feminists. This generous definition doesn’t take into account the furious public debates between feminists as to who is and is not deserving of the title, debates that caused confusion and resentment, and quite likely prompted more than one woman to vow she did not want the title anyway.

Prue Goward by publik15 via flickr

I first became aware of Jackie O when she was on the receiving end of a gratuitous attack by the NSW Minister for Middle Class Morality, Prue Goward. At the time I wrote this:

Prue Goward, recently appointed NSW Minister for Families, whatever that is, has taken a nasty swipe at radio personality Jackie O for the manner in which she fed her baby.

Apparently Jackie O gave the child a bottle while simultaneously walking across a pedestrian crossing, an action Goward likened to the famous Michael Jackson moment when he dangled his little son over a balcony in Germany and subsequently earned global contempt for his fathering skills.

Why this is a concern for the Minister for Families remains a mystery to me. An over-zealous commitment to her new portfolio? Is she going to focus on perceived child abuse by the rich and famous? If the mother had been a working class woman would Goward have even blinked?

I’m glad she wasn’t in the nursery when once, in a sleep deprived state similar to those experienced by former PM Kevin Rudd, I accidentally stuck my fingers in the wrong jar and pasted my baby boy’s bits with Vicks Vapour Rub instead of nappy rash cream.

Soon to become a dad himself for the first time, he looked at me speechless, and quite judgmentally, I thought, when I recently confessed this transgression. Too late I realised my mistake. Now I probably won’t be allowed anywhere near the new baby, but at least we know the Vicks didn’t do its daddy any damage.

My sympathies at the time were firmly with Jackie O. I’ve since had cause to reflect that her relationship with Kyle Sandilands does remind me of a variation of an abusive situation, in which Jackie plays the role of enabler.  In spite of this I’ve never quite lost my impression of her as vulnerable, so when I read the criticism of her not identifying as a feminist I wanted to protect her.

The inimitable Helen Razer has her say on the matter here.

Refusing to call yourself a feminist is a crime for which there is apparently no adequate punishment, and from which there is no possibility of redemption. You just have to do as you’re told and say you are, even if you don’t feel it’s really you. Here, as with the attempts to dictate whom the Alliance of Girls’ Schools may and may not invite to address them, we see further efforts by ideologues and morality police to control our public and private discourse, to the degree that we are told we should call ourselves something we do not feel we are.

Life seems increasingly to be a battle to preserve one’s own integrity against the onslaught of busybodies who’s own life purpose seems to be telling everybody else who we should be, what we should do, who we should listen to (invariably them) and what we can see. Personally, I’m over it. The only obligation anyone has is to be upfront about where they are coming from if they want to have a public voice. Silencing people is not on, and neither is telling women how to describe ourselves. Haven’t we got enough of that already from the patriarchy and the beauty industry, and the religious people and and and and……

Abbott’s duplicity: Mamamia and the Mad Monk

28 Oct

Tony Abbott has found himself an unlikely defender and advocate in the form of Mia Freedman,former editor of Cosmopolitan, Cleo and Dolly magazines, and columnist for the Sun Herald and the Sunday Age. Freedman also has  a regular spot on the Today Show, and hosts Mamamia Live on Sky News. She is editor and publisher of the highly popular Mamamia website.

With a history like this, Freedman has a big voice among women, and Tony Abbott will no doubt be glad to have her on his side.

It wasn’t always thus. In this article on the Mamamia site, Freedman explains that she was shocked to read a quote by her used without permission on the jacket of Susan Mitchell‘s new book about Abbott. The quote reads:“If he’s elected as our PM in the future I would be very scared for women everywhere.” Freedman made this statement in a piece she wrote in 2009 when Abbott became Leader of the Opposition. She is not happy that Mitchell’s publisher’s used it on the book without consulting her as she has changed her mind about Abbott in the ensuing period and does not hold the same views.

Over a breakfast with Abbott, brokered by Women’s Weekly editor Helen McCabe, Freedman writes that she came to respect and genuinely like Abbott very much, and that she likes his vibe. “I don’t believe Tony Abbott is a direct threat to women” she notes and goes on:

He did talk about his frustration at being constantly portrayed as king of the Catholics and the assumption that his personal faith would affect his policies. He spelled out that he is not opposed to contraception or IVF and that his views on abortion were not nearly as black and white as many people thought.

I asked him how and why he thought he had this image if it was inaccurate and he talked me through his views on that which were rooted in the RU486 vote in 2006 when he was health minister.

If Abbott’s views on abortion aren’t black and white, this is a complete contradiction of his views as expressed on his website in a piece titled “Rate of abortion highlights our moral failings,”  in which he states: When it comes to lobbying local politicians, there seems to be far more interest in the treatment of boatpeople, which is not morally black and white, than in the question of abortion, which is.

It’s also worth reading the transcript of Abbott’s ABC radio interview on the RU-486 (morning-after-pill) issue, in which he fails to explain why he’s ignored the AMA’s recommendations for the release of this drug for use by Australian women, in the face of overwhelming international research proving its safety.

Until Tony Abbott makes public statements to the contrary, women would be most unwise to accept any assurances that he’s changed his mind on women’s reproductive rights, especially as they are so clearly set out on his website. There is no mistaking his position.

We need hard facts from Abbott and we need them soon. If Mr Abbott no longer sees abortion as a “black and white issue”, if Mr Abbott no longer views abortion as “a convenience for the mother”  as he states on his website, then he needs to let us know.

In the meantime one has to wonder if  Ms Freedman has read the piece on Abbott’s website, because the dissonance between what he has written there and what he has said to her is great. It’s a measure of the man’s profound and sickening duplicity that he uses Ms Freedman in an attempt to persuade women he has revised his views on abortion, while making no attempt to correct the quite contrary views expressed on his website.

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