Monthly Archives: January 2015

So much more than good cooks!

This week, The Australian published an obituary for beloved and best-selling Australian author, Colleen McCullough. Her obituary opened with:

Screen shot 2015-01-31 at 1.37.42 PMCOLLEEN McCullough, Australia’s best-selling author, was a charmer. Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth. In one interview, she said: “I’ve never been into clothes or figure and the interesting thing is I never had any trouble attracting men.”

Readers responded angrily to McCullough’s obituary, labelling it sexist. McCullough, who died on Thursday at the age of 77, worked as a neuroscientist in the United States before turning to writing full-time and yet her obituary began by describing her as “plain of feature” and “overweight”.  ABC journalist Joanna McCarthy tweeted the article along with the words: “Award for worst opening lines of an obituary goes to …#everydaysexism.

But sadly it’s not unusual for women to spoken about in terms of beauty and sex appeal, rather than with respect for intelligence and a lifetime of achievement. Effie Mann writing in The Age recalls The New York Times’ obituary for rocket scientist Yvonne Brill, whose professional achievements were listed below her cooking prowess  and success as a dedicated wife and mother. The first paragraph of her obit described her as a woman who “made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. 

I recall being at my mother’s funeral where I overheard a remark made by one of her former acquaintances who’d been surprised by the stories she’d heard of the richness of our mother’s life before she became ill. ‘I didn’t know Marion did all that,’ she said quietly to her companion. What this person didn’t know was that mum was very talented in dressmaking, gardening and crafts. She had left school early to care for her large family after her mother had died at the age of 47 years, so although she hadn’t had the career chances that her daughters have had, she made the very best of her situation.

Many of those attending her funeral service only knew Marion as our father’s wife and our mother. Father was the successful Managing Director and the local church elder. He sang in the church choir and helped elderly ladies with their finances. It was mostly all about Morrie.

So when friends and relations listened to the many splendid speeches devoted to Marion they heard about a woman in her own right: Talented in crafts, always quick to knit or sew or bake what was required for the village fete. She was a keen and skilful gardener, devoted to her beautiful garden, loved playing lawn bowls, and she enjoyed the company of her many women friends. This personal testimony to our mother preceded any mention of her role as a dutiful wife and mother.

Whereas my mother’s singular life was respected, the same cannot be said of the funerals of my aunts. Sadly, I can only recall the lives of these women being remembered in terms of how well they cooked. Speech after speech spoken by loving daughters, sons and grandchildren remembered my aunts, Jean, Marge and Betty as great cooks, willing babysitters and little else. I’m so glad that Marion was remembered as a woman who was very talented in the crafts, was great at sport and a keen and fruitful gardener. Mum and her sisters weren’t career women – their lives were largely spent caring for us and supporting their men. But mum sought an outlet in her very many interests even so.

I understand why our mother was remembered as a woman first and mother and wife second. My sisters and I had grown up in the 1950s with a very controlling father. We had married early but divorced and were at the time living as single mothers. My sister’s speech and respect for our mother emanated from the changes in society wrought by feminists.

But as Colleen McCullough’s sexist obituary revealed this week we still have a long way to go yet before due respect is shown for the complexity of the lives women lead.

 

 

 

 

 

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The mainstreaming of domestic violence

Screen shot 2015-01-28 at 2.15.15 PMOn Australia Day 2015, domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty was named Australian of the Year. Rosie’s 11 year-old son Luke was murdered by his father in February 2014 and since then the bereaved mother has made many media and public speaking appearances shining the attention on the issue of domestic violence and calling for systemic changes.

Male violence against women and children in the home is not new of course. However it appears to me that the media, the government and the police have only recently caught up with the fact that this ‘epidemic’ exists. Until recently domestic violence was largely the concern of the women and children who were being abused, the women’s movement and the women’s refuges that are now being dismantled. Take the example of Elsie, Australia’s first women’s refuge which opened in 1974. Screen shot 2015-01-28 at 2.14.53 PM

Elsie Women’s Refuge is currently under threat from State Government reforms which mean that government funding could be put out for tender which may allow religious groups to bid and potentially put female-run refuges under threat.

Handing over the running of women’s refuges to groups such as The Salvation Army puts at risk the original feminist ideology of female-run refuges, according to feminist Anne Summers . Such changes mean “that men would not only be allowed to stay at the refuge, they could also be running it,” she said.

Julia who had endured four years of violence and threats at the hands of her de facto partner before escaping to Elsie Women’s Refuge with her two young children explains what Elsie meant to her: “Elsie was a lot more than just accommodation. They really helped me understand and grasp what I had gone through.”

Sadly the refuge as a place of protection and consciousness-raising seems destined to go. We are also in danger of finally losing the feminist analysis of the women’s liberation movement now that the various state governments, police entities, and men’s groups are speaking out publicly and organising royal commissions. The feminist analysis that is sorely needed and is no longer popular views domestic violence, and all male violence against women, as about male domination and power.

Congratulations must go to Rosie Batty for her wonderful award but we must be careful that in the mainstreaming of domestic violence feminist analysis continues to be heard. Late last year when Rosie Batty took to the witness stand at the inquest being held for her son Luke’s death she said: “It was to get at you… someone wants to make you suffer the rest of your life.” And of course this someone was her former partner and father of her only child. A man who had lost control and possession of Rosie and his child and couldn’t take it. So he killed her child to make her suffer. It is this male violence and power over women and children that must be stopped.

Male violence is the leading cause of death and disability in Victorian women under 45. Every week in Australia, a woman is killed by her current or former partner. In response to this crisis the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced that there will be a Royal Commission into Family Violence. But what does family violence mean? Who is being violent and who is the victim. The correct phrase should be ‘male violence against women and children’.

As for this commission-surely this is largely a waste of money for as a letter writer to The Age has written: Women’s services and survivors of family violence have been saying for years exactly what is needed to tackle the issue. They want more resources for refuges, affordable housing for women escaping violence, the proper administration of intervention orders and school programs stressing the importance of respectful relationships. The question is whether after this royal commission, which will tell us what we already knew, there will be funding to carry out the programs that women’s services have been asking for years?

– Sue Leigh, Fitzroy North

After the Royal Commission at the cost of $40 million there may be little money left for women’s services. And although the federal government is putting aside funds for a national action plan on tackling violence against women, the domestic and sexual violence peak bodies are calling for funds recently cut from service providers to be reinstated. The convenor of the national family violence prevention legal services, Antoinette Braybrook, said the government was giving with one hand and taking away with the other.“At the same time as making these supposed commitments, the commonwealth government has defunded critical services, including the NFVPLS program, which delivers vital legal services that ensure the safety of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children,” she said.

Today refuges such as Elsie are being defunded and the feminist analyses of the refuge movement that viewed domestic violence, and all male violence against women, as about male domination and power are not heard. The mainstreaming of domestic violence which includes the appointment of Rosie Batty as Australian of the Year can not be regarded as a progressive step for women.

 

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Fair Speech

Screen shot 2015-01-14 at 7.14.46 PMThe free speech debate rages in Australia and worldwide in the light of the terrorist attacks in France last week where 17 people lost their lives. In the aftermath of the attacks world leaders joined two million people who marched through Paris in support of peace and freedom of expression.

In the New StatesmanMehdi Hassan writes that as a Muslim, he is fed up with the hypocrisy of the free speech fundamentalists and ponders how we are expected to denounce a handful of extremists as an existential threat to free speech while turning a blind eye to the much bigger threat to it, posed by our elected leaders. For among the world leaders in Paris this week was Barack Obama and it was he who demanded that Yemen keep the anti-drone journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye behind bars, after he was convicted on “terrorism-related charges” in a kangaroo court. Also attending the “unity rally” was Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of a country that was responsible for the killing of seven journalists in Gaza in 2014.

Screen shot 2015-01-14 at 7.23.14 PMIn Unspeakable : A Feminist Ethic of Speech, feminist activist, ethicist, and author Betty McLellan writes that for free speech to have any credibility as one of the important principles underpinning democracy, free speech must be for all. But free speech historically was never intended to be for all. It was meant for the elite, for men, men of the dominant race, men who were educated, men who enjoyed some standing in the community. Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons are described by Hassan as ‘lampooning racism by reproducing brazenly racist imagery’. He is scathing of the magazine’s ‘crude caricatures of bulbous-nosed Arabs that he states must make Edward Said turn in his grave’.

Jordan Weissmann reminds us that this takes place in a country where Muslims are a poor and harassed minority, maligned by a growing nationalist movement that has used liberal values like secularism and free speech to cloak garden-variety xenophobia. France is where the concept of free expression has failed to stop politicians from banning headscarves and burqas. Charlie Hebdo may claim to be a satirical, equal-opportunity offender. But there’s good reason critics have compared it to “a white power mag.” As Jacob Canfield wrote in an eloquent post at the Hooded Utilitarian, “White men punching down is not a recipe for good satire.”

In Unspeakable, Betty McLellan writes: In this neoliberal, capitalist, globalised, male-dominated, violent world, speech is free only to those who enjoy the privilege and safety of economic and political power. Men at the top of multinational corporations, media corporations and powerful political administrations have ears only for each other’s speech.

Calls for ‘bolstering’ free speech in Australia are disturbing: Key government and crossbench senators have renewed demands that the government fulfil its abandoned pre-election promise to wind back protections in the Racial Discrimination Act. It was reassuring to hear Opposition Leader Bill Shorten calling on Senator Bernardi to stop using the Paris attacks to “justify divisive debates in Australia”. We need to challenge the power of these dominant white men for as Betty McLellan says: The freedom of speech guaranteed in statements of equal rights in countries like the United States and Australia was meant only for those belonging to the dominant group. 

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Free speech – not on vaccination it seems!

A SOCIAL media campaign is in progress to stop an American anti-vaccination campaigner running a series of lectures in Australia in March. Following on from the success of a campaign which resulted in the cancellation of the misogynist Julien Blanc’s visa, pro-vaccination activists are calling on the immigration department to have Dr Sherri Tenpenny’s visa cancelled because she speaks about the harms associated with vaccines.

Screen shot 2015-01-11 at 11.44.26 AMDr Sherri Tenpenny has planned to deliver six seminars around Australia in March and to be joined by Norma Erickson who runs Sanevax an organisation which promotes only Safe, Affordable, Necessary & Effective vaccines and vaccination practices through education and information. A homoeopathic practitioner from Victoria, Isaac Golden, who promotes the use of natural medicines to prevent disease is also scheduled to speak at the seminars. Unfortunately the seminars are now in jeopardy as most of the venues where her presentations were to be held have cancelled.

Tenpenny, who runs an alternative medicines clinic in Ohio, has written a book called Saying No To Vaccines and regularly lectures on the dangers of immunisation. Tenpenny says that she wrote her book because parents needed a tool that did their homework for them. She says that the evidence is there to support their decision to not vaccinate; you just have to do a little work to find it. ‘Everyone seems to be so afraid of “bugs” and their potential ability to make us sick. But the reality is that we swim in “bugs” every day and we are not dropping over like flies.. The only “bugs” we seem to obsess over are associated with vaccines. Only two generations ago, measles, mumps and chickenpox were normal experiences of childhood. Why we have complete fear of these infections is media and money driven and unfounded.’

And the Australian mainstream media perpetuates this fear and supports the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the vaccines when it fails to support Dr Tenpenny’s tour.  Her ideas are so sensible:

If the focus of Public Health was on sleep, exercise, clean water and safe, non-GMO food, we would have a healthy society without vaccines but we would not have billion dollar industries employing millions of people to keep us “healthy.” The fact is, we are a very UNhealthy society with vaccines, so the Public health and argument that we must vaccinate ‘for greater good’ is a failure.

Our hospitals are full of unhealthy adults and children despite all the vaccines, antibiotics and other medical interventions. Many people are living longer yet more debilitated lives, needing expensive medical management. Sherri Tenpenny and her fellow speakers just might be able to teach us how to live healthier lives and they should be given their right to speak.

 

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