I heard a detailed account of the ups and downs in NSW over the introduction of ‘Zoe’s Law’ on the car radio yesterday. And I couldn’t help thinking of the savagery and hysteria with which Julia Gillard was attacked after she mentioned, in passing, to a women-only crowd at a private function that if the Abbott government got in then the hard-won reforms to women’s reproductive freedoms in this country would be under threat. As Tracy Spicer says: we must remain vigilant.
-Kerryn Goldsworthy

Dear Brodie,

There’s a saying in the legal profession that “Hard cases make bad law”. The tragedy which happened to you and Zoe is a hard case, and Zoe’s Law is a bad law.

This will sound harsh, and you’d probably feel like slapping me if I was here in front of you, but you don’t know me and I have no need for you to like me. So I’m telling you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.

It’s always a danger when making new punitive laws that there will be injustices in the application of those laws which weren’t foreseen when the law was drafted. But Brodie, in the case of “Zoe’s law”, the potential bad outcomes for women are clear to everyone and have been repeatedly pointed out to you.

I wish I could do or say something to make you feel better apart from the law you’ve chosen to give you “closure”. Opposition to Zoe’s Law is nothing to do with “desensitisation to your accident“, as you claim. But laws aren’t made to make someone feel better, no matter how worthy. I know you want an acknowledgement of Zoe and her precious value to you. But is this the memorial you want for her – the baby whose death touched off an important decline in women’s reproductive rights in Australia? Is that how you want her to be remembered?

Because that is what it will be. You can claim all you like that the law will only apply in narrow circumstances, but in fact, as you’ve been told many times, this will establish an important legal precedent for a US-style Foetal Personhood principle. If implemented it would erode a huge chunk from women’s reproductive autonomy. There are people just waiting for it to happen so that they can take it to the next level. The proposed new law would make it easier for them.

Please, Brodie, listen the the AMA, the obstetricians, the Bar Association, and the reproductive rights organisations who have fought for our rights for generations. They know what they are talking about.

If Zoe had been born alive, you would be embarking on a couple of decades of sacrifice as a parent. You’d give up many things which you yearn for in order to give her the things she needed. Maybe your best memorial to Zoe is to be that tough parent and sacrifice your wish for personal vindication through a law which damages others, for the sake of the Zoes yet to be born.

Your case is a hard case. It’s the hardest for you and your family, and Zoe’s Law 2 is a bad law.

Picture of Margaret Clement of Tullaree wading through the swamp with her dog, Dingo.

Waaaaay back in May 2012, after listening to a fascinating and creepy story from a friend with a house at Venus Bay, I wrote a post called Gippsland Gothic, about two eccentric women who lived Misses-Havisham style in a crumbling homestead in marshland. One died, the other disappeared, and the mystery continues.

I’m not really fussed about blog stats – this isn’t a commercial blog after all – but I noticed something interesting after that: Not a day has gone by without someone hitting that post or using search strings on Tullaree, Margaret Clement and other keywords relating to the story. There really is a lot of interest out there about that story.

Commenter Jane-Louise Hobson has written a play called Tale of Tullaree about Margaret Clement. There’s a reading on at the Wonthaggi Theatre Group next weekend, with matinees both days and one evening show. Details are here.

I’m going with the friend who first told me the story, and we’ll stay the night down at Venus Bay, where Margaret’s bones were found.

Or the bones, that is, which might have been hers, and which have also disappeared.

It’s on again. And it’s been on multiple times this year: repeated attempts by the media and some parliamentary hotheads to convince us that the PM should be rolled and replaced by a bloke.

If this was to happen before September (or if she stays, and the Libs win), what does it mean for women in Australia?

I’m sure there is no need to tell you that the PM is on the nose for many sections of the Left. Many of us are ambivalent. Just as she made us all punch the air with the speech which is going down in history as “*the* misogyny speech”, her government changed the law to further disadvantage single mothers. They commissioned the Gonski report, then announced their intention to take funding away from tertiary education. To feminists, it seems that with one hand she giveth, and with the other she taketh. I’m frequently bitterly disappointed by Gillard and the policies she supports. Unfortunately, some Gillard opponents think that you are either For her or Agin her, and if you’re Agin her (politically) this can be separated completely from any feminist issues. This simplistic view fails to take into account the damage done to women if Gillard loses the September election or is replaced by a man from her own party before that. It now appears that damage will be inevitable.

Screenshot of a letter to the Age by Tony O'Brien of South Melbourne. "Come on Tim, now's the time to do the right thing by Julia - propose to her. A June wedding is about the only thing that might save her in the polls."

Why do people talk about the PM in terms of weddings and proposals?


Australians have had a hard time coming to terms with the first woman Prime Minister. If you’re one of those cheery souls who genuinely doubt entrenched sexism still exists, you might want to put on a hazmat suit and read for a while in the comment threads of any of our news outlets. There’s no shortage of both men and women in these fora, or just in the pub or at the tram stop, who maintain that they’re not at all sexist but the PM is just incompetent, for some reason they just can’t explain properly, well they just don’t like her…et cetera.

And so many of the cartoons, comments and other references to Gillard make the point again and again that, by the way DID YOU NOTICE SHE WAS A WOMAN? A FEMALE TYPE WOMAN? As if that notion had to be reinforced and kept in the forefront of our minds. I wonder why that would be?

Tandberg cartoon. Julia Gillard looking diffident in a wedding gown while a M-F couple look on. Man:

More wedding imagery. You just can’t have enough of it!

I would accept this notion that the criticism and abuse of Gillard is just normal par for the political course if it was framed in the same terms as it would be for Paul Keating or Tony Abbott. But it isn’t.

The problem is with the way in which actions by women and minorities are deemed to have meaning for the entire group. We might say that Whitlam was “Brilliant but flawed” or that Latham is “brilliant but flaky” and so on, but it doesn’t reflect on the fitness of white men, as a category, to govern. Those who would tell us that Gillard’s treatment is no different from the normal inter-male cut and thrust of political stoush are not noticing the media / political obsession with her gender.

Time and again, our news outlets remind us of Gillard’s female (=outsider, from the point of view of the PMship) status. Time and again she is described in a frame of her genitalia, fertility or lack thereof, domesticity or lack thereof, f*ckability or lack thereof. News articles on political alliances used metaphors of marriages, weddings, dates, divorces. We’re never allowed to forget that this person isn’t a member of the default group, but one of the other. She is to be understood in the context of sex and relationships and clothes, not power and governance. That’s how we are used to talking about women. The perpetrators will swear till they are blue in the face that there’s nothing gendered about their remarks and that it’s all exactly the same as aggression between men in politics.

(The outrage from conservative sources at Gillard’s remarks about blue ties is interesting considering the obsession with the PM’s hair, jackets, shoes and everything else about her sartorial life.)

XKCD cartoon, How It Works. (1): Two men write maths problems on a whiteboard. One says to the other:

XKCD cartoon “how it works”. xxxxxxxx

It doesn’t matter that Gillard’s perceived “incompetence” is largely a construct of lazy journalists and hostile political and media opponents. While Gillard is hardly the PM of my dreams, with her support for cruel policies for asylum seekers and single mothers, she’s hardly incompetent compared with the male leaders we’ve had up to now. Even giants like Whitlam and Keating had their weaknesses, as we know. But no matter. The story has been set – Gillard’s incompetent. And the corollary to that, whether you’re on the pro-Rudd Labor or Liberal side, is: Bring back a man and put him in charge.

If Gillard had been Julian Gillard, this would have been seen as a problem pertaining to Julian Gillard. But since it’s Julia Gillard, society’s perceptions of women come into play. She will be judged (again), but we’ll all be judged along with her. There won’t be another woman PM for quite a while, as our deeply sexist society will dismiss her time in office as “the experiment that failed”, “failed political correctness” or some other smugness. The criticisms of Kevin Rudd’s working methods, or the loopiness of John Madigan or Cory Bernardi, on the other hand, won’t prompt people to form any conclusions about the fitness of white men to govern. That’s how stereotyping works.
Crossposted at Hoyden About Town

As tumbleweeds continue to blow through this here blog as a result of multiple projects elsewhere, I thought I’d throw up links to the last four DUFCs which I missed.

Down Under Feminists Carnival
DUFC #58, hosted by wom*news (UQ wom*n’s collective)
DUFC #59, hosted by Rebecca of Opinions @ bluebec.com
DUFC #60, hosted by Kim of News with Nipples
DUFC #61, hosted by hosted by Eddy at Maybe it means nothing

Submissions to DUFC must be posts of feminist interest by writers from Australia, New Zealand (and, I’m assuming, wherever feminists lurk in the rest of the Pacific downunder) that were published in the relevant month.

The next edition of the Down Under Feminists Carnival is planned for 5 July, 2013, hosted by Mary at Hoyden About Town. Submissions to mary-carnival [at] puzzling [dot] org for those who can’t access the blogcarnival submissions form here. The Carnival homepage is linked to the image above.

12 Apr 2013, Comments (3)

Friday Earworm and gig guide

Author: Helen


Throwing this post up late, but Tess and the Shapiros are playing at the Union Hotel in Brunswick, this Saturday night (13th), 9-11.

Tess hasn’t advertised this one, perhaps because it will feature a lot of new material from the Bob sessions at Pure Pop, where, you will recall, <>Tess recreated the Times they Are a’Changin album as part of the Summer of Classic Albums series.

This is one of the songs we’ll be doing.

Tess’s version sounds nothing like this.

This has song has haunted me especially in the days since Thatcher died. Seems downsizing and outsourcing wasn’t invented by the neoliberal 80s but they certainly took that ball and ran with it.

They say in the East that they’re payin too high
They say that your ore ain’t worth diggin
That it’s much cheaper down in South American towns
Where the miners work almost for nothin

Substitute “China” or “Special Economic zones” for “South American towns” (except it wouldn’t scan) and change the miners to people who make things, and nothing’s changed.

…was all the bear could see.


Actually, that song and this one have had equal earworm status since I saw Suzannah Espie play at Port Fairy with the wonderful Liz Stringer and Chris Altman (who wrote Other Side Of the Mountain).

By some kind of coincidence, after returning from three days happily soaking up the goodness at Port Fairy, I’ve been sucked into joining the Lucilles, an alt country outfit featuring Tess McKenna on guitar and the voices of Nina Rousseau and Rosie Gannon.

That will be in addition to Tess McKenna’s own band the Shapiros which will still be getting the occasional outing through the year. That should be fun!

Light blogging appears unlikely to change anytime soon.

… that it’s possible to care about more than one thing at the same time, without having to explain it to other feminists, too.

Destroy the Joint image

The title of this post was swiped with permission from Orlando, commenting on this post, by Mindy on Hoyden about Town, on Helen Razer’s popular article Destroy the Joint misses the point.

I am weary, so very very weary, of reading “Where are the Feminists” type articles where the topic is anything “feminists” are failing to write about this week. In some cases, this is taken to be proof that feminists do not care about the Thing that should be written about, or they excuse the Thing due to their excessive PC-ness. The fact that we might be unpaid feminists blogging in the cracks between work and family and real-life activities (which might include activism, personal or family illness, or a million other things) isn’t an excuse for our failure. Because the world is absolutely chock full of Terrible Things, and feminism is fighting many systemic problems on lots of fronts, it’s inevitable that we will often write about things other than the Thing which should be written about. Proof positive that we are horrible.

Helen Razer, a celebrity opinion writer with something of a media megaphone, has decreed that

Feminism is the struggle against masculinsed violence and feminised poverty. Or, the acknowledgement that physical violence is enacted disproportionately by men and poverty is experienced disproportionately by women. That’s it, really.

Just to mention the article by Jenna Price of DtJ she’s describing as “twaddle”: Razer wastes quite a few pixels claiming Price is claiming women in power will be nicer, which is indeed a horrible old relic of the Victorian “Angel in the house” image still held by some well meaning people. Reading Price’s article, she says no such thing. She does, however, point out that women are still underrepresented in power networks generally and are hived off into “life and style” media ghettos which are deemed suitable for our overheated ladybrains. Not earth shatteringly new information, but I don’t see how Razer can dismiss this as “twaddle” or trivial.

I had thought that feminist writers and bloggers do write quite a lot about masculinised violence and feminised poverty. I also get the impression that Razer, who has made this complaint more than once, doesn’t write much about these topics at all, preferring to write articles about how much other feminists suck.

In her article about Lingerie Football (Again, aren’t modern feminists pathetic, etc) she missed the opportunity to write about how that “sporting code” demonstrated exactly how feminised poverty works by writing about their very different treatment, in terms of pay and conditions, health and safety etcetera, compared to male footballers. She left it to other bloggers to pick that up.

Google searches on “”Helen Razer” violence” and “Helen Razer” poverty” have so far failed to locate any articles or blog posts specifically on these topics. Come on, Helen; you can’t criticise other people in at least three articles for not focusing on the big issues without writing about them yourself. Go on. Hit us with your best shot.

To be fair to Razer, and to get back to the general topic of this rant, this attitude is not unique to her. I wish I had a dollar for every Tumblr social justice blogger who has blasted “feminists” for not writing about the Terrible Thing which she has decided is the Thing which must be written about du jour. Next thing you know she’s posting about nail art or some favourite food. (This is perfectly OK by me, by the way – I’m not the one wanting to make a huge deal out of blogging/not blogging any given topic. But consistency, y’know.)

This has percolated into academe, with Swati Parashar’s Drum article on the failure of local feminists to blog about the gang rape in Delhi. Clearly, this meant we did not care, or even excused it because of our excessive pee-cee.

Razer’s broadside included a Twitter hashtag, #DestroyThePoint, which portrayed the DtJ group as a bunch of airheads making hilarious non-sequiturs. Now any large facebook group will naturally have a few airheads in it, but I don’t think DtJ was a particularly terrible offender.
Moreover, I think feminist writing over the last few years has effectively put to bed the notion that the treatment of women in the media and everyday life is somehow separate to the Big Questions of Power and Money. Sexism is the notion that men are the default humans and women are the other, the sex class, less serious. It’s all linked. As Tigtog says in a comment on Mindy’s post, “it strikes me as a crucial omission to overlook the role of microaggressions and double standards in perpetuating masculinised violence and feminised poverty.”

These things are connected with veins and nerves and connective tissue. Try to cut them apart and you’ll be left with a bleeding mess. And that’s what I see when I look at things like the Razer article.

Razer has a schtick, and it’s being the Cool Girl of Australian feminism, scolding other feminists for sweating all that small stuff which is small, and neglecting to focus 100% on the Terrible Things (about which she doesn’t write much herself). #DestroyThePoint and other snarky tweets were greeted with You Go Girls! and Woohoos! (a description, not a verbatim quote) from numerous male media figures with recognisable names. Cool girls, of course, don’t call people on their day-to-day shit, they keep their powder dry for the Terrible Things, so they make men feel so much more relaxed and comfortable. People who think #EverydaySexism might feed directly into the big issues are so irritating and boring and serious. No, wait – they’re not serious enough, because they’re not off writing articles about masculinised violence and feminised poverty? Are you completely confused now?

When the “How much Other Feminists Suck” topic has become a subset of feminist writing in itself, it’s time to ask how valuable adding another dead cat to that pile has become. If your criticism is that feminists aren’t writing about the important topics you have chosen, guess what?

It’s time to go off, sit down and write some articles on those topics.

More from Monica Seeber and Jennifer Wilson.
Crossposted at Hoyden About Town

When our vet was looking Ollie over and taking blood samples to try and find out what his mystery malaise was all about, she suggested we test him to see how his eyesight was going. Her preferred method was to place various obstacles between him and his food bowl at feeding time.

He passed this test without tripping over anything but I noticed he was slowing down and sussing out the shoes, boxes and what have you with his nose.

I put his leash on and took him out into the park. Since his odd behaviour started, I noticed he still walked really well on the leash. Extra well. No pulling or zigging or zagging. Staying close to the person walking him.

I took off across the lawn and steered him towards a small branch lying on the grass.

He tripped right over it.


He can’t see.

His eyes are as brown and clear as ever, but something must have gone wrong with the retina. According to Dr Google, he could have an adrenal or hormonal condition or… something. There will be more trips to the vet to make sure he doesn’t have something systemically wrong like that.

It becomes clear now: the slow walking, the caution, pausing for minutes before he jumps off anything, standing as if staring into space. And much happier on the leash, of course.

He’s pretty good on his own turf – he can still clear the couch in two bounds and bustle out and down the deck steps to give some strange dog what for for daring to walk too close to his fence. But when he’s outside, if we’re not careful, he does walk straight into things – Doink.

Ironically, a charity collector for seeing eye puppy trainers rang me the other day. We’ll be Ollie’s seeing eye humans.

This isn’t false advertising. I scheduled it for Friday, honest. I don’t know what happened.

Maggie was responding really well to her treatment. Supervet has been really pleased with her. Therefore, we were ripe for Murphy’s Law to take effect. Something else had to go wrong.

Maggie and Ollie on the back deck. Maggie is a black Kelpie cross and Ollie is a brown pugalier

Just after Christmas I noticed a change in Ollie. That dog loved to run… and run and run. And he was fast. His favourite thing was to play chasing games with bigger, athletic dogs like weimaraners or boxers. It was lovely to watch him run and it totally cracked up the bigger dogs’ owners to see this little dog chase theirs all over the landscape.

He didn’t run any more. He lost interest completely in playing games with the other dogs and he was having trouble even keeping up on our walks. I’d look back and see him on the path a long way behind, toddling sedately like an elderly gentleman taking his daily constitutional.

Had he just suddenly clicked into middle-aged mode? He’s eight. It suddenly occurred to me the change in behaviour could be a sign of heart failure. We were still in the limbo period between Christmas and new year, so I took him to the Lort Smith, our year-round emergency animal hospital. His coat was as bright and soft as usual, his tongue was pink and healthy, his eyes were bright and clear, and hanging out on a leash in the Lort Smith clinic there was nothing visible to justify his presence there at all. With other dogs coming in with hernias like basketballs and bites and poisoning, he never made it through triage, and after a few hours I had to take him away. But there was a triage nurse who listened to his heart and took his temperature. Ollie had no heart murmur and no temperature. I wished he had shown a temperature so I could know that this thing, whatever it was, had a beginning and an end. I was casting around for explanations. Had he eaten some chocolate santas on Christmas day? Why was he so flat?

Off to the regular vet in the new year: Ollie had a comprehensive blood test which showed that all his organs were in superb working order. But this wasn’t the Ollie we used to know.

After a few more weeks and close observation, we know what’s wrong with Ollie now. Have you guessed it already?

Ollie sleeping on the couch

(Cuteness factor still off the charts)

The theme for this year’s IWD, according to this web page, is The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum, but according to the UN it’s “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”. Confusing, but no matter – both themes are important and necessary.

I recommend this TomDispatch essay by Rebecca Solnit (with an introduction by Erika Eichelberger). It’s a comprehensive, shocking overview of just some of the cases of violence against women in recent times. It’s also the best article I’ve seen in a long time, just as a general overview of what women are up against. Do read the whole thing, as a much better contribution than I could possibly make on the subject of feminism and violence against women.

The feminist blogosphere still skews to the US a great deal. Unlike the US, we haven’t had the VAWA act to debate, but with the death of Jill Meagher and other cases the debate (and sadly it’s still a debate) about rape and violence has been given a new momentum in Australia.

I’ve been happy to see new Gen-Y feminist organisations spring up, enabled by Facebook and Twitter: Destroy the Joint, the Everyday Sexism project and Melbourne Feminist Action, as well as (mainly in the US I think) the Atheism+ movement. I’ve been delighted to see my own new-minted adult daughter and niece become active themselves. I haven’t been so happy to see the attempts by older writers, as well as antifeminists, to tear them down. Yes, they’ll reinvent some wheels, they’ll make mistakes, but things like the #DestroyThePoint hashtag are just smallminded and point-missing in themselves, I think.

It’s so easy to be pessimistic, seeing the old arguments deployed again and again by the antifeminist and MRA element, as well as people commenting on the media who simply haven’t done the homework and refuse to do so. But 2012 was a year where I definitely got the impression that we were making some progress on rape culture, namely, turning it onto the rapists instead of the time-honoured focus on the raped woman. There’s a ray of optimism there: it looks like the point is finally getting across. When the young physiotherapy student was raped and murdered on a bus in Delhi, old and young people took to the streets with clear messages placing the responsibility on men who rape. Meanwhile, back at home, the high profile of the Jill Meagher case was an opportunity to educate the Australian media on this point. If I ever have a granddaughter, my wish for her would be that she’d see rape culture as a pathetic historical detail of our 20th- and-early-21st century culture. For the first time in quite a few years I think this is gaining traction.

Dreamin’? Maybe. Anyway, thank you, young feminists, and the older ones as well.