Category Archives: domestic violence

‘Bande de Filles’- Girlhood

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If you think your life is difficult, or that your future lacks promise, well check out Girlhood, a film by Celine Sciamma, released in France as Bande de filles, or Girl Gang.

Many reviewers have written that this film was about female empowerment but I fail to see how they have come to this conclusion. Instead, I think that Girlhood is a stark reminder of the struggle which continues for the needs and rights of women to education and a decent livelihood.

Protagonist Mariame lives in the poor suburbs of Paris in a high-rise apartment with her mother who we rarely see for she is the sole bread-winner; her abusive brother; and her two sisters for whom Mariame provides daily care. Girlhood shows us a view of Paris that we don’t usually see. Life is tough; there are street gangs and drug deals and for Mariame the chance of a better life seems unlikely for at sixteen she is unable to continue with high school due to her low grades. She leaves home knowing that if she stays she faces a life such as the one led by her mother who cleans hotel rooms for a living or married to her boyfriend and bearing his babies. Marianne knows this is not the life she wants.

But there are dangers in the real world and for a time Mariame teams up with a desperate girl gang even stealing for them and funding their entertainment, their drinking and drug taking. And the bleak realities of her life continue to surface as Mariame now known as ‘Vic’ starts selling drugs. Dressed in her small red dress, her short blonde wig and balancing awkwardly on her stillettos, the teenager from the African diaspora is most uncomfortable and at the end of the deals quickly retreats from her sexualised appearance to baggy jeans and sweatshirt – her hair cut short and her breasts bound tight.

Finding a way out of her dilemma is difficult. She has left the employ of the drug dealer and has nowhere left to go. We witness the young teenager seeking solace with her boyfriend but the wise young woman knows this will not work in the long-term. She hesitatingly knocks on the door of her family home but doesn’t go in. This is no solution. At the final scene we see her standing on a balcony contemplating her next move. There is silence, we wonder, and then she struts across the screen. There is some lightness in her final steps and we are left to hope.

Screen shot 2015-09-06 at 2.16.11 PMBefore the screening of Girlhood at the Nova Cinema last week we were shown a preview of a forthcoming film He named me Malala which Chronicles the amazing life thus far of the globally beloved education and children’s rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai. At the age of 15, Malala was famous only in her home region of Swat Valley in Pakistan, where she was an outspoken advocate of education for girls. This all changed when she was attacked by Taliban gunmen, who shot the teenager in the head. Miraculously she survived, and her story reverberated around the world in shock, outrage, and awed wonder at her bravery. Her passion for the rights of girls to education continues and as we saw so clearly evident in Girlhood in the plight of Mariame and her gang, for the young women who don’t have an education and a chance at a decent job, the road ahead and away from poverty and abuse is a really tough one.

 

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Our dangerous culture

Screen shot 2015-07-22 at 2.56.35 PMIn  A coach, his killing and our dangerous culture, long-time anti-violence campaigner, Phil Cleary writes that unlike mainstream Australia, he didn’t respond with disbelief when he heard the news that Adelaide coach Phil Walsh had been killed, allegedly by his own son, for since the murder of his sister at the hands of an ex-boyfriend nearly 28 years ago, Cleary has long ceased being shocked by “domestic murders”. He reminds us that in Australia each year around 60 women are murdered by partners or ex-partners.

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Frailty is a feminist issue

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Germaine Greer has once again started a conversation that we need to have. The Australian feminist, author and academic declared that ‘Feminism is ageist and that the Abbott governments’ “attacks” on pensioners make aged care one of the most pressing feminist issues facing Australia today.’ Germaine Greer was speaking at the All About Women festival which was marking international women’s day at the Sydney Opera House in March. ‘Feminism,’ she added, ‘was like the media, ageist and focused on young women of reproductive age in relationships to the exclusion of children and the elderly.’ Continue reading

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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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I am feminist: Hear me roar!

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 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.

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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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54 women killed by partners so far this year – but have we counted the children?

I posted a story of yet another murder of a woman by her partner along with the message that every week in Australia, one woman is killed by a current or former partner. A comment posted in response read: Have we counted the children?

Screen shot 2014-09-24 at 7.11.39 PMTragically there have been some really shocking murders of children by their fathers: one that comes too readily to mind was the public filicide of Luke Batty by his father at a cricket ground earlier this year. The 11-year-old boy was killed in front of horrified onlookers after a cricket training session. His father was then shot by police and died soon after.

Screen shot 2014-08-30 at 1.00.37 PMAnd who can possibly forget the case of Robert Farquharson, the man who drove his three young sons into a dam on Father’s day September 2005, leaving them to drown. I remember watching the news that night and it was fairly clear right from the first reporting that this was no accident and that Farquharson had chosen to take his sons’ lives. But if you want to find out why men kill their children you won’t find the answer in This House of Grief, Helen Garner’s latest bookEven so, her story is a gripping  account of the long days spent in the court until the final verdict was reached, pronouncing Farquarson ‘three times guilty’.

But why did he kill his children?

Men who kill their children do so to punish the mother, experts say, with the final act of revenge often punctuating a history of domestic violence. The most recent figures from the Australian Institute of Criminology show there were 22 cases of filicide nationwide between 2008 and 2010. No to Violence acting chief executive Rodney Vlais said it was common for men to develop a victim mentality before killing their children. “They feel they have been hard done by when, in fact, this is not usually the case. It’s more often a sense of entitlement and privilege that they have. Men can feel so aggrieved in their own warped sense of being the victim that they will punish their partner through killing their children.” Farquarson was a desperate man in the months before he took his sons’ lives. Prior to the murders, the emotionally immature father was finding life very difficult having recently separated from his wife Cindy who was now living with a new partner. To his psychologist he admitted contemplating suicide and was urged to keep taking his anti-depressants but follow – up consultation was not attended. And the tragedy he caused was unfathomable, inexplicable and shocking.

Screen shot 2014-09-24 at 7.08.26 PMAnd then there are the men who kill their whole family. At the beginning of the month we heard the gruesome news that a farmer Geoff Hunt, had killed his wife Kim, 41, and their three children before turning a gun on himself at the family’s property near Wagga Wagga in the Riverina. While we don’t know why this crazed and desperate man killed his wife and children and then committed suicide, surely the sensible course of action would have been to get some help, not kill. In the days that followed the tragedy, the press described Hunt as a loving family man who was under some strain.  You couldn’t get a better bloke. The most gentle, considerate bloke… a pillar of society.

Author and journalist Nina Funnell takes issue with the media description of this man who has just killed his family and writes that if a man walked into a classroom and shoots the teacher and the students and then himself, this is called a massacre and he’s called a murderer. And yet when a man such as Hunt shoots his own children and his wife and then himself, the press paint him as  a loving family man who was under some strain.

Language matters. Destroy the Joint are running a campaign to end violence against women (actually that should be written as male violence). We need to use the correct language and in this case name the person who commits the violence – that is the male of the species. So far this year there have been 54 murders of women by their male partners or ex partners – this is more than one murder a week. It is usual to refer to male violence in the home as domestic violence but this avoids naming the perpetrator, so yes, I agree with Funnell that language really matters and so does the killing of women which has to stop. No more murders of women and children by angry men who can’t cope when women leave them or things get too tough. It has to stop.

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Every woman needs a safe home every night

 How do we stop violence against women? 
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This was the topic of a public meeting that I attended last week. 
The speakers were Trish O’Donohue, the CEO of Women’s Information, Support and Housing in the North, Phil Cleary, the  former independent federal MP & anti-violence campaigner, and Sue Bolton, Socialist Alliance councillor for Moreland. Continue reading

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Every gun is a theft from those who hunger

Screen shot 2013-10-12 at 5.38.36 PMAbigail Bray is the author of Misogyny Re-loaded. Recently I spoke with her about her explosive manifesto where she links the present era of sexual sadism to the rise of an authoritarian militarised violence.  Continue reading

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