Monthly Archives: November 2014

Write what you need to write!

P.D. James on writing:
Screen shot 2014-11-28 at 4.39.11 PM“Write what you need to write, not what is currently popular or what you think will sell.” Continue reading

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I am feminist: Hear me roar!

2014 MTV Video Music Awards - Show

 If you hear that word one more time, you will definitely cringe. You may exhale pointedly. And you might even seek out the nearest the pair of chopsticks and thrust them through your own eardrums like straws through plastic lids. What word is this? You tell us, Katy Steinmetz wrote, urging readers of Time Magazine to vote in the 2015 annual word banishment poll.

‘Feminist’ along with words such  as ‘disrupt’ and ‘kale’ and internet slang words such as ‘yaaasssss’, and ‘turnt ‘ is on Time Magazine’s list for banning.

Julie Bishop, Australia’s only female cabinet minister also has a problem with the word feminist. Bishop doesn’t describe herself as such, saying she doesn’t find the term useful today. “I’m a female politician, I’m a female foreign minister … get over it.”

feminism_is_evilJulie Bishop’s a very successful woman. She’s the Foreign Minister and the only woman in Cabinet. She was class captain, school captain, managing partner, completer of a short course at Harvard Business School, deputy leader of the opposition under Brendan Nelson. Bishop may not call herself a feminist but much of her success must surely come as a result of the work of feminists who fought for women’s rights to study and work, for suffrage, and the opportunity to be elected to political office. Bishop has also been fortunate to have been born at a time when marriage and motherhood were not crucial to a woman’s survival- again the work of feminists who fought for women to have independent incomes and lives.

So how do we account for Julie Bishop’s stance on feminism? Raewyn Connell, now a professor emerita but for decades a professor of sociology at the University of Sydney explains Bishop this way: She is the product of fifty years of neoliberalism . . . and in this environment, there is a much more insistent individualism than there was even in the same class, a generation or two ago. Jenna Price suggests there are other reasons not to call yourself a feminist  such as: the fear your male colleagues already feel when your ambition is just like theirs. The word feminist might further terrify the strikingly incompetent.

While Julie Bishop and Michaelia Cash, the Minister assisting the Prime Minister Tony Abbott on women’s affairs are unwilling to embrace their inner feminist, it is reassuring to read that Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek  is proud to be a feminist and understands how fortunate she’s been. Plibersek points out the many pertinent reasons for believing in the relevance of feminism today such as: The existence of the 18 per cent gender pay gap and the fact that there are many older women who will retire on much less superannuation than men. Then there’s the truly deplorable fact that one in every five Australian women will experience sexual assault and one in every three Australian women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. It is also important to the deputy opposition leader that her sons get to experience a truly equal relationship with their life partner, and the satisfaction of being a hands-on father along with the rejection of unhealthy stereotypes.

I_Hate_Feminists!_300_450_90Fear and hatred toward feminists exists. On December 6, 1989, a man walked into the engineering school École Polytechnique de Montréal, armed with a semi-automatic rifle. Declaring I hate feminists! Marc Lépine killed fourteen young women.

And in February this year, in the Melbourne suburb of Tyabb, Greg Anderson,  killed his 11-year-old son after cricket training, in front of dozens of other parents and children. At the recent inquest into her son’s murder Rosie Batty began the conversation when she said: “It was to get at you… someone wants to make you suffer the rest of your life.” Similarly in his suicide letter Marc Lépine wrote “I have decided to send the feminists, who have always ruined my life, to their Maker. For seven years life has brought me no joy…I have decided to put an end to those viragos.”

Male violence towards women persists . All the more reason that Time Magazine‘s call for banning of the word Feminist is surely premature.

 

 

 

 

 

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The women roar

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Last Woman Hanged written by journalist and author Caroline Overington is the story of Louisa Collins. Twice married, Collins endured not just one, but four trials for the murder of her second husband and was finally convicted of his murder and hanged. It’s also story of how the courageous women of New South Wales and beyond rallied to fight for the life of this unfortunate woman and in the process women’s rights and suffrage were won.

It’s an engaging book! This Australian story takes place in the latter half of the nineteenth century where life was extremely hard for women. It concerns Louisa Collins, a young woman who had been forced into an early marriage to a man she didn’t love, and to whom she bore nine children. Her youthful days were spent feeding, washing and caring for her family. When hardship struck and the young couple found it difficult to make ends meet, Louisa and her husband Charles Andrews took in borders and very soon one of these, Michael Collins became Louisa’s lover. It was just a few months later that Louisa’s husband suddenly became sick and died. Friends and acquaintances noted and were appalled that Louisa failed to mourn the loss of her husband and all too soon became Michael Collins’ wife.

From what we read Louisa was in love with Collins even though it is suspected that Collins married her for the insurance money left to her on the death of her first husband. Collins soon gambled this away leaving the couple in debt with many mouths to feed. It wasn’t long before Louisa’s second husband Collins also became sick with ‘gastritis’ and despite medical attention succumbed. This time the sudden death of a relatively young man was noted and Louisa was accused of slowly poisoning Collins with arsenic.

The evidence gathered at the four trials into Collin’s death was circumstantial. No-one saw Louisa administer any arsenic neither was she seen to purchase the poison. Whereas the first three trials had failed to reach a guilty verdict the fourth trial saw her guilty of the crime of murdering her husband. Those involved were determined to find the woman guilty. Life in the 1880s was difficult for women who were often at the mercy of abusive husbands from whom they could not escape. Employment for women was rare and refuges even rarer. Therefore Louisa Collins must be seen to be punished for the murder of her husband – it wouldn’t do for her to escape punishment for other women suffering at the hands of her husband might get similar ideas.

But the evidence that convicted her was circumstantial. The testimony obtained from May, Louisa’s young daughter claiming that she had seen a box of rat poison containing arsenic in the house and the evidence from the expert who doubted that the men would absorb enough poison from handling fleeces to cause them death was crucial and led to Louisa’s conviction.

But not before the women of the colony had their say. The women roared. For they had very few rights. A woman’s place was definitely in the home. Women could not vote, and they did not sit on juries. Women had no say on the question of capital punishment. Many women supported Louisa and wrote to the governor and newspapers declaring that while Louisa may have done a terrible thing and poisoned her husbands, she should not be hanged. This they considered was barbaric. The women would have their say and they did.

In January 1889 a committed group of women set about to try to save Louisa’s life. One of the most determined was Mrs Eliza Pottie, a fifty-year-old mother of ten who among her other activities was president of the Mission Home for Women at Glebe, established to help unmarried mothers. But most importantly Mrs Pottie was a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union which believed in controlling the supply of alcohol to protect women from violent husbands. They advocated for women to be able to work and vote. Together with ten other women, Pottie drew up a resolution arguing that it was abhorrent that a woman and a mother should be hung till she was dead. Other women such as Elizabeth Parsons was responsible for the so-called petition of the women of Victoria which was signed by more than 500 women who declared that although the crime was loathsome the punishment by hanging was barbaric and was anathema to the spirit of modern civilisation. Although the Governor Lord Carrington promised to consider the petition he did nothing and Louisa was hanged at Darlinghurst Gaol on Tuesday 8 January 1889.

As well as being a really absorbing  story about Louisa Collins, her life and crimes, throughout the latter pages of the book Caroline Overington tells the little known stories of the wonderful women who as a result of their involvement in Louisa’s awful plight, underwent consciousness raising leading to a better life for all women.

Louisa’s ordeal led Australian women to become aware of the injustices that confronted their sex and to work towards suffrage and the right for women to earn a decent living and the right not to lose their children after divorce.

Caroline Overington correctly labels Last Woman Hanged a terrible true story but it’s much more. It’s also a wonderful and inspiring story of women’s fight for justice and this needs to be told!

 

 

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It was to get at you

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Last week Rosie Batty took to the witness stand at the inquest being held for her son Luke’s death. In February this year her ex-partner Greg Anderson killed their 11-year-old son after training at the Tyabb cricket ground, in front of dozens of other parents and children.

How can anyone explain the murder of a child by his own father? How difficult it must be for a woman to believe that the man she once loved and shared a child with, could commit such an atrocity? But this is the reality and one that takes some time coming to terms with. It is also an important conversation that the community has not been encouraged to embrace.

Following Luke’s murder the media spent much valuable time discussing Greg Anderson’s mental health. After such cases of filicide it is common for the perpetrator’s state of mind to be rigorously examined and mighty effort made to explain why mental health treatment may have prevented the killing. And if a gun has been used as the murder weapon then the issue of gun control will also be a major focus of the media.

An ABC article featuring the story of Luke’s death told of Greg Anderson’s long history of mental illness with Batty stating: “He was in a homelessness situation for many years. His life was failing. Everything was becoming worse in his life and Luke was the only bright light in his life.” Excuses were made for his deplorable behaviour but still no-one asked why this man wanted to hurt the mother of his child so badly and make her suffer for the rest of her life by taking the life of her child. This is the issue that we should be discussing and I was pleased to hear Rosie began the discussion at the inquest into Luke’s death this week when she said: “It was to get at you… someone wants to make you suffer the rest of your life.” Forget about the mental illness and the homelessness – there is no excuse for this crime.

I_Hate_Feminists!_300_450_90

 

Similarly when on December 6, 1989, a man walked into the engineering school École Polytechnique de Montreal, armed with a semi-automatic rifle, declaring “I hate feminists,” killing fourteen young women, we take a look at how the media dealt with the issue. In I Hate Feminists, originally published in French in 2009, Melissa Blais examines the collective memory that emerged in the immediate aftermath and years following the massacre as Canadians struggled to make sense of this tragic event and understand the motivations of the killer. Blais explored the stories and editorials in Montreal and Toronto newspapers, texts distributed within anti-feminist “masculinist” networks, discourses about memorials in major Canadian cities and the film Polytechnique, which was released on the twentieth anniversary of the massacre. Mélissa Blais argues that feminist analyses and the killer’s own statements have been set aside in favour of interpretations that absolve the killer of responsibility or even shift that blame onto women and feminists. Blais concludes that the feminist analysis that views the massacre as a spectacular expression of everyday male violence towards women is dismissed with the emphasis on male suffering.

And once again the truth is less acceptable and even less discussed. In his suicide letter the gunman Marc Lepine  wrote that he was committing suicide “for political reasons.”He stated that he had decided “to send the feminists, who have always ruined my life, to meet their maker.” He had decided to “stop those viragos.”  He reiterated that “feminists have always enraged me. They want to keep the advantages of women (e.g., cheaper insurance, extended maternity leave preceded by a preventive leave, etc.) while seizing those of men.”

There are no excuses for the murders committed by Lepine and Anderson. Their actions were premeditated and were those of men who couldn’t abide women getting on with their lives. Marc Lepine hated feminists so he murdered 14  young students; Greg Anderson sought to punish Rosie Batty for making a good life without him.

 I Hate Feminists by Mélissa Blais will be published in Australia by Spinifex Press this month.

 

 

 

 

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