Categories: Gender, feminism

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.

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

… 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

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.

20 Feb 2013, Comments (0)

Down Under Feminist Carnival #57

Author: Helen

Down Under Feminists Carnival
Can’t blog – Have a family wedding coming up and I’m playing.
This month’s DUFC is curated by Scarlett Heartt. Thanks to Ms Heartt for an interesting carnival, and thanks to the link!

The March edition of the Down Under Feminists Carnival will be hosted by Johanna, Madeleine, and Laura at wom*news (from UQ). If you can’t access the blogcarnival Submissions form, send URLs and details of nominated posts to uqwnews [at] gmail [dot] com.

15 Jan 2013, Comments (1)

Down Under Feminist Carnival #56

Author: Helen

Down Under Feminists Carnival
Tis Herself, Chally, the doyen of DUFC and writer at Zero at the Bone, curating this month’s Carnival.

Next month’s DUFC is at Scarlett Heart. Make your suggestions via the Submissions form, or scarlettheartt [at] gmail [dot] com.

Down Under Feminists Carnival
DUFC #55 is brought to you by Kim of News with Nipples. Kim celebrates the way in which criticisms of misogyny and sexism have been front and centre in the media this year, rather than given a free pass as usual, and even Tony Abbott has had to try, in his own grotesque way, to give the impression he’s on board with feminism. There’s movement at the station.

As usual, there’s a fascinating collection of the posts that you loved in the month just gone, together with a whole lot of goodness you might have missed. Off you go!

The next Down Under Feminists Carnival is planned for 5 January, 2013 and will be hosted by Chally at Zero at the Bone. The submissions form is here. If it doesn’t work for you, send submissions to chally [dot] zeroatthebone [at] gmail [dot] com.

Down Under Feminists Carnival
Another double header because I’m terrible-

Carnival #53 (October) presented by Bluebec: Bodies, families and parenting, LGBTIQ, politics, racism, feminism, media, violence and some personal blogging, with bonus Judy Horacek.

Carnival #54 (November) brought to you by Stephie Penguin: Harassment, sexuality and society, Gillard (and That Speech), Ada Lovelace day, women in media, Performance and art and bodies, families and motherhood.

DUFC #55 is being curated by News with Nipples. The theme is “the future”. Submissions via the carnival page, or via email at newswithnipples at gmail dot com.

Normal blogging should resume on the Balcony very soon.

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.

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.]