Archives: September 2012

Image of Andrew Rule article. For text, follow link in post

Image via Clementine Ford on FB. Full text, with “no follow” tag, is linked in the post

In the light of a young woman’s recent abduction and murder, there have been many comments – both in the press and in comment threads on social media – implying that women who walk in dark places have it coming to them. But it’s not only the tabloid jocks and the comment thread meatheads. More sensible people have been panicked into calling for a curfew on women.

Because that’s what it is. If you say that women are impossibly reckless for insisting on walking home less than a kilometre from the pub or workplace, or inhabiting the university campus, or radical things of that nature – then you’re calling for limits on womens’ freedom of movement and association, no more, no less.

If you still insist this is a fundamental right, they will deploy their best argument. One I’ll call the Tethered Goat argument. Remember the goat in the movie Jurassic Park, tethered in the clearing as a tasty lunch for the Tyrannosaurus? So, they say, we can argue all we like that women have an equal right to move freely about the city, but this is just idealism. In reality, if we try to act on our theoretical freedom, we are setting ourselves up as the tethered goats for the tyrannosauruses walking our streets. These tyrannosauruses don’t care about your feminism. So suck it up.

These statements are often accompanied with “Well, in a perfect world…” which implies that the Tethered Goat argument is in touch with reality, while its opponents are hell bent in following ideology in the face of all evidence.

It’s a compelling argument, and it has a visceral logic to it. I don’t blame people for holding it. If we look at the facts as they really are, we must reject it. Here’s why.

When we say women have an equal right to the city, we don’t advocate simply taking a tethered-goat stance. Women have written before on the lengths we already go to, all the time, to try to minimise danger. What I’m objecting to is the view that women need to be more defensive than men and that that defence needs to take the form of vacating the space. We know that men need to be careful, as well. The city has dangers for men. Different things tend to happen to them – instead of the abduction-and-rape scenario, we have the random-stab or king-hit or knocked over with head on kerb scenario. What we don’t get are the calls for men not to walk alone in the city. The blame is directed squarely at the perpetrators (e.g. calls for crackdowns on crowds and nightclubs) and not on the victims. Comments of the “he was at the Wrong Place At the Wrong Time” sort are made in the spirit of homespun philosophising on the Randomness of the Universe, not the culpability of the target of the violence.

So let’s advocate street smarts and defensive behaviour and cunning all we want – but let’s advocate it for everyone, and let’s not tie it to a limitation of movement for one gender. Notice that the tethered-goat theory is also based on woman as irresistable prey for male biological urges. This is watered-down Wahabism.

The other reason why the tethered-goat theory is harmful is that the numbers are against it. Do I have to point out that the statistics are overwhelmingly clear that, here and elsewhere, most male-on-female rapes, assaults and murders are perpetrated by someone the victim knows, and/or in the home? The home, not the streets, is statistically the most dangerous place for a woman to be. This conflicts with the visceral rightness of stranger danger and the look of the dark alleyway, but this point has been made time and again. We just haven’t internalised it, perhaps because the Law and Order SVU genre is so popular.

I didn’t know about those statistics when I was a participant in the wonderful resurgent music scene of 1980s St Kilda. I remember asking the question of myself while bumping drums out to the scary carpark of Hosie’s hotel, a notorious bloodhouse of the time, at 2 AM, and thinking, what is the alternative? Giving up? Yeah, really, fuck that.

The tethered goat theory is put forward as the realistic option, but if you want realistic, the idea that all activities – from skydiving to walking home from work – carry some risk is more so. Everything we do in our lives is a matter of weighing up risk and reward. Sure, there will be that one guy out there and there is a vanishingly small statistical probability that you may meet him in a vulnerable situation, but there are more drunk drivers out there and a much higher statistical probability that you will be hit and killed by them while walking or driving with your muscular husband. To forgo opportunities and life experiences because you give undue weight to statistically unlikely events, and, worse, to deny them to others and blame them for lightning-strike adverse events, is a counsel of despair.

30 Sep 2012, Comments (2)


Author: Helen

Spring in Melbourne: Truly four seasons in one day. We were promised rain, hail, sleet and possibly plagues of frogs for Grand Final day. Some suburbs got these while the TV showed the players at the MCG running around in the sun. You can enjoy a bath of warm sunshine at the tram stop and then suddenly move into a freezing eddy of wind straight from the snows of Mount Hotham, or be drenched by a passing shower.

The first sign of spring in our garden is the almond tree, which blooms in August while everyone is still freezing in their uggs and polar fleece.

Almond tree just starting to bloom

It’s then I get out into the garden to try to remove some of the acreage of weeds built up by the winter rain.

Yarraville’s streets were lined with plum trees when our pocket was built some time in the 1950s.

Some of them still survive, black and gnarly, with pink blossoms appearing in September.

Gnarly old plum tree trunk with fluffy pink blossoms appearing close to the trunk

Very Hokusai.

Plum Blossoms and the Moon by Hokusai

Some of the plum trees have been replaced with new ones. These come out with a fresh burst of pink and green.

Another plum tree in bloom

Close up of the plum tree blossoms

Another failsafe sign of spring is the appearance of red buds covering the jasmine along our side fence. Then bam, flowering, and the heavy scent. The jasmine will go soon because we have to replace that fence in a month or two; I’ll miss it next year.

Le Chien qui Fume – A Smokey Life. from Liz Burke on Vimeo.

If you were a reader or writer at Larvatus Prodeo you’ll remember Fine – with the adorable whippet avatar. Blow me down but Fine isn’t a whippet at all but a filmmaker. This Pozible page is raising funds to make a feature film, Le Chien Qui Fume (The Smoking Dog).

We’re raising finance to produce a preview/trailer for this feature film. We’ll then use that preview/trailer to showcase all the elements of the film and approach financiers, to raise the money for the feature.

We know we need to produce a high standard trailer to convince potential funding partners that our concept will work. The money raised will go into minimal cast and crew costs, location and catering fees, art department and post-production. We can make a great preview/trailer for this money. So, please come along for the ride.

Follow the link above for more info on Fin… er Liz Burke, Donna Rae and Michael Vale. Here’s the Facebook page. And please, kick a few dollars in for the Smoking Dog.

And, blow me down again (and I’d only just got up again and dusted myself off) when I watched the little promo vid, who should pop up but that ubiquitous and brilliant pair Dave Graney and Clare Moore, who I’d just been to see play at the Newport Substation, where they blew us all away. They’re doing the music for the movie. Quelle Coincidence!

17 Sep 2012, Comments (8)

The Recent Unpleasantness

Author: Helen

…Not the zombie Apocalypse the Herald Sun and sundry dickheads are making out.

The smugness and gloating on facebook and other media has been truly cringeworthy. Again the implied narrative was: How terrible “they” are, and how wonderful “we” are. “They” don’t deserve to live in our society!

A spoofed image of the kid with the "beheading" sign at the Sydney Muslim protest - instead of the original message he has a sign saying "If anyone has any Cookies i would like some please"

Little boy at the protest with a sign more suited to his age and inclinations

Unfortunately, a little boy was placed front and centre in the hate-fest. (This picture is spoofed, of course, but the original is all over the internet now.) To paraphrase the stupid movie which sparked this thing – and to throw its hateful words back at it – he is innocent. There is no way he understands death and consequences at this age. His mum and dad, of course, are the complete nangers in this scenario.

Accounts of the demonstration by “reasonable people”, though, as exemplified by Waleed Aly in the Fairfax opinion pages, place this ratbag minority at front and centre, as if that wasn’t done daily by the tabloids and by popular social mythology. At the very end of his piece, he mentions – in passing – that not one, but several Muslim associations in Australia condemned the action. No matter. Aly’s piece sticks to the tabloid picture of Muslims: Miserable, disengaged, violent.

Aly says:

This is the behaviour of a drunkenly humiliated people: swinging wildly with the hope of landing a blow, any blow, somewhere, anywhere. There’s nothing strategic or calculated about this. It doesn’t matter that they are the film’s most effective publicists. It doesn’t matter that they protest using offensive slogans and signs, while protesting against people’s right to offend. It doesn’t matter that they object to insulting people on the basis of their religion, while declaring that Christians have no morals. This is baffling only until you realise these protesters are not truly protesting to make a point. The protest is the point.

It feels good. It feels powerful. This is why people yell pointlessly or punch walls when frustrated. It’s not instrumental. It doesn’t achieve anything directly. But it is catharsis. Outrage and aggression is an intoxicating prospect for the powerless.

And more in that vein. But isn’t it easy to counsel positivity and self-empowerment and not being outraged when you have a drivetime radio program and lecture at university? What about the responsibility of the trolls not to troll?

And what about the fact that the Western invason of Iraq and Afghanistan have killed hundreds of thousands – there were probably few people at the protest who hadn’t lost relatives. Many are displaced against their will. And they find themselves in a society where a sizeable section of the population continually abuses, others and baits them. This blog doesn’t condone the violence when it erupts but hell, I think I can dimly understand the sadness and anger.

And the usual suspects are moving in, gleefully, to capitalise on these events.

There are a hell of a lot of things people are forgetting here.

The Cronulla riots were largely absent from the discussion: the call to arms by white thugs and ne’er-do-wells in the name, not of religion, but their equivalent – a distorted version of nationalism – and the shock jock (the equivalent of the methhead movie maker) who incited them to attack. Also absent from the collective memory were the deranged killers thrown up by Western society.

There was no mention of the notorious WEF demonstrations where young, white demonstrators were similarly demonised for a very similar “riot”, which was, naturally, over-egged to the hilt by the popular press and right-wing commentators. Any mass demonstration where pushing and shoving take place will, in Australia, result in such demonisation, but despite the blanket condemnation of WEF protesters, this was not taken as a sign of the irrationality or inferiority of Australians generally. And despite the hyperventilation in the press, society didn’t collapse.

The condemnation of the Sydney demonstration by the Islamic Council of Victoria, Muslim Women’s Association, the Islamic Council of NSW and Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights, and the setting up of a Facebook page and twitter hashtag – Muslims Against Violent Sydney Protests and #MAVSP. These have been reported, but they aren’t getting the attention they deserve, I think, among all the shouting about the impending imposition of sharia law. They should get more than a passing mention. After all, the Bolts and Blairs and other opinionistas set such store by people “refusing to condemn”. These people, and numerous internet commenters and tweeters, have not refused to condemn, but the fundamentalist woman with her sadly exploited little boy remain the go-to image for the demonstration.

One of the contents of the invisible backpack of White privilege is the ability to fuck up without people projecting your actions onto your entire group (See Breivik, Anders or Bryant, Martin.)

Above all, with “trolling” such a hot topic in the media last week, there seems to be very little recognition of one of the protagonists as a classic troll. I refer, of course, to the person who, under false pretences, shot and disseminated the film which caused all the trouble. Like Alan Jones’ Cronulla quote, it was a deliberate attempt to provoke.

Before you fire up the knee-jerk “freedom of speech” and “looking to be offended” response, have a read of this. Freedom and responsibility: they go together.

On Twitter, I compared this situation to yelling “FIRE!” in a crowded movie theater – something that actually is illegal in the US. A user I follow responded to me, “This isn’t just yelling fire, it’s loading the theatre with kindling & putting gas in the sprinkler line & toying with a Zippo.”

We can’t be responsible for how every individual reacts to our opinions or expressions. But some misconstrual or mild disagreement was not what happened here; what happened here was that a former meth-dealer, a militant racist, and an extremist from a different religion got together and created a hateful portrayal of another religion to debase 23% of the world’s population. Any claims that these people didn’t know exactly what they were doing and what the end result would be are patently false. The filmmaker who was ejected from Egypt after calling for the US to attack the country specifically promoted his film in Muslim countries. He dubbed it in Arabic and sent it to Egyptian television statements in the days before September 11th – a date which is always charged with tension for Muslims inside and outside the US.

(H/T Guerillamamamedicine).

What else was forgotten? Why, this. I think the methhead filmmaker, a Copt, forgot it too.

We can enjoy our superiority and have fun throwing things at an Aunt Sally other, but we shouldn’t be shocked and horrified if we help to bring into being the very thing we’re supposed to be so afraid of. I just hope that little boy has a good school counsellor, and some good friends who won’t give him a hard time as he grows old enough to know what has happened to him.

13 Sep 2012, Comments (0)

Down Under Feminist Carnival #52

Author: Helen

Down Under Feminists Carnival

This month’s Down Under Feminist Carnival is up at Lip Magazine.

Hoydens represent!

I’ve been mugged by offline life at the moment. Must do some more writing soon before tumbleweeds start blowing through the blog.

[Update: The next edition of the Down Under Feminists Carnival is planned for 5 October, 2012 and will be hosted by Bluebec. Submissions to rebecca [dot] dominguez [at] gmail [dot] com for those who can’t access the blogcarnival submissions form.]