Breast is best

Like most things in life these days feeding a baby has become very complicated and no doubt really expensive. I took a look at some of these infant formula websites and found that babies are not just being fed infant formula for the first few months of life but they can also have a follow on formula when they are  6-12 months old. Even toddlers who are 1-3 years are being catered for with a new product called toddler milk drink. (more…)

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‘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.

 

A Centenary worth celebrating

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While the Centenary of Anzac received blanket media coverage, the three-day conference marking the centenary of the historic 1915 Congress of Women passed largely unnoticed.

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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.’ (more…)

Why stop at poppies!

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It was common at the start of the 20th century to speak of ‘ Australian Ideals’. What are our values and ideals today? Perhaps those who so generously supported the 5000 Poppy campaign could use their goodwill to help Australia progress rather than feed its militaristic tendencies. And rather than answer the call to knit or crochet a poppy perhaps these resources could be spent on the many social problems of our time. Why stop at poppies! (more…)

Haifa Fragments

In Haifa Fragments 

khulud khamis unpacks the multiple layers of culture, religion, sexuality, politics, feminism and nationalism in the hope of gathering the fragmented pieces of the past and reclaiming the lost contiguity of being Palestinian. – Samah Sabawi, Palestinian playwright and commentator

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Maisoon is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, raised as a Christian and in a relationship with a Muslim. Her boyfriend Ziyad wants the tradition-defying Maisoon to commit to their relationship. ‘…For Allah’s sake, Mais, what’s your problem? I want to marry you! I want us to be a real family.’

But the young jewellery designer is determined to find her own path with both Ziyad and her father constantly frustrated with her.  Her father, Majid dreams that his only daughter will become a doctor. To Layla his wife, he sighs: “Everything is wrong. Her quitting medical school…and…and…” ” She’s going out with a Muslim!”

Majid has his reasons and these and his carefully hidden past eventually become known to his wilful daughter. In the eyes of Maisoon, her father was the responsible bank clerk who worked overtime most days and always hoped he’d be promoted but wasn’t. He was the meek obedient citizen who knew that he didn’t belong:’Because his name was Majid’. He was of the generation ‘who never dared to raise their heads’- ‘those who grew up under military rule’. Majid wanted a better life for his daughter and disapproved of her working for the Yahudiyya (Jewish) boutique owner…’she could have done better’.

As Maisoon uncovers forgotten papers she is moved by what she learns of her father’s political past. The young Majid had been in love with a Muslim woman and taken part in the armed resistance, resulting in jailtime. He was also a poet.

Forgive me.

So today they finally got you. 

Last time we smoked nargila together you laughed. You said, 

They’ll never get you.

But they did.

You said, ” Who’s interested in a fighter whose weapon is the pencil?”

But they were.

 

‘Baba, the bank clerk? A poet? Could it be?’ This man, her father who was so angry about her own political activities. The same man who implored her to give up her peace activism: ‘It’s gone, our land is gone, and we are citizens of this state. You can’t bring back the past. It’s dead’.

khulud khamis, unpacks multiple layers in this intriguing novel. The layers are many and concern themselves with those of culture, religion, sexuality, politics, feminism and nationalism. Maisoon lives in a complex world: she is a feminist and peace activist who rails and acts against the gross injustices metered out to those who live in the occupied territories. And as a feminist she wants to live her own life, not the one that her father wants her to lead. She resists a permanent relationship with Ziyad as she explores her sexuality with Shahd. And as she comes to grips with her father’s secret life – a life formed of struggle involving culture, religion and nationalism, ‘the lost contiguity of being Palestinian’ is reclaimed.

Haifa Fragments is published by Spinifex Press

Release Date: March 8, 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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

What price marriage?

Screen shot 2014-12-08 at 10.45.57 AMMy sister and her partner are going to marry. Both had long previous marriages which they were happy to leave. They had brought up their children and once they were gone found the marriages over, pointless, empty and left.

My best friend left me and married again. Thanks Loretta for telling me that you married your best friend – formally my best friend. I would never have imagined him remarrying nor did I think my sister would be taking matrimonial vows again.

My sister, four years my senior was an early devotee of feminism. While married and with young children she studied women’s studies at university in the 1980s. Her liberation ensued; she began to smoke and had her own ‘room’ . Her husband seemed supportive of her new-found freedom and their fragile marriage limped on for a few more years.

I never imagined my former best friend would marry again and yet he did. He didn’t agree with monogamy, said if anything he preferred an open marriage – having the occasional extramarital affair but remaining married. Having it all ways really.

And several years ago my former husband remarried. I wasn’t surprised at his decision to marry for he never wanted to divorce and needed a woman to own. But all has not gone smoothly for this marriage which recently experienced a messy breakup, followed by a mutual reconciliation and at present the rocky relationship continues.

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And as I write this blog my daughter is tying the knot on a romantic holiday in Thailand. This is the first time for her and the second try for her husband to be – I wish them the best of luck!

Seems everyone wants to be married-I wonder why. I couldn’t wait to be out of my 17 years of marriage. In the late 1960s and early 70s it was still uncommon to leave your family and live with a partner. To do this you had to be married so most people did. I think that my marriage survived as long as it did due to the flurry of activity that was involved having children and rearing them. One just got on with it. There was not a lot of time to think things through and although the disagreements and fights were common the union continued until a certain point when it became impossible. It was then that I had to make the big break and have the marriage dissolved.

There was no freedom to be my self within my marriage. When I returned to study and became pleasantly absorbed in student life, I knew that it was time to leave my marriage. My husband could not stand my new love of learning for I was less available to him. This freedom to learn and change is difficult to do in the traditional marriage. Marriage is, after all a patriarchal institution. Even though the intent of the modern marriage and hopefully the practice has changed it still has at its roots the ownership of women and children by men – its establishment and its continuance being heavily supported by the state and the church.

Screen shot 2014-12-21 at 11.56.43 AMAnd so I have to wonder why being single isn’t given the same recognition and support. To be able to function, earn a living, contribute to society as a single woman should be seen as a worthy way to live. I have time to think, learn and write – these are really valuable components of a rich life, well lived. Of course there are many downsides. I have just returned from a visit to a neighbour who is unable to walk due to a foot operation that will put her out of action for six weeks. She tells me that her husband is doing the house work and caring for her daily needs. I would not have this help and must maintain my independence by looking after my health and fitness. But I believe this is a small price to pay for having an authentic life.

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.” (more…)

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