Categories: Reviews

(TW for racist dogwhistling and insulting and offensive language)

Here’s a wonderful cartoon from Crikey’s First Dog on the Moon describing Andrew Bolt’s shock (SHOCK!) that his readers, told to go and “review” Anita Heiss’s new book on Amazon, indulged in angry trolling and race-baiting in his defence (as they saw it).

…Obviously I am not suggesting my brave readers unleash an anonymous torrent of racist abuse and cruel one star reviews on Anita’s Amazon page, that would be all incitey and I’m not that sort of person.
…What?…No… Who are these MONSTERS? Is it I who have inadvertently released this dusky genie from its bottle? Surely not. I was simply mourning free speech in my little way…

Jeremy Sear at Pure Poison drives the point home: Andrew Bolt does not support “Amazon Bombing” critics’ books, and he wishes they would stop following the link he gave them!

Of course, no one except his loyal followers believed him for a minute. Bolt then switched to denying that the comments on Heiss’s Amazon page were racist in tone, at all:

(N)ot one comment I saw then was “openly racist”.

And, in response to a couple of AGE articles,

But how curious. You know my reputation for calling things by their blunt names. If I were a racist, wouldn’t I just say so?

Yes, because that’s totally how it works, isn’t it?

Hmm. I took some screencaps on Friday, and it’s technically true that no one gets up and yells “Hey, I’m a complete friggin’ racist!” As the First Dog would know, some dog whistles are so well known in Australia even a human can recognise them.

Racist limerick on Anita Heiss's Amazon page

Some people who claim to be blacks
Gorge on the teat of our tax.
Though lacking in melanin,
Don’t ever try tellin’ em;
You’ll be sued for stating the facts.

See? Completely not racist. Unless you’ve lived through the Hanson era of the internet (shudder), in which case the dogwhistling is loud and clear. I’ll give them doggy identities to distinguish them:

The AGE must have thought At Home With Julia was a doco, because they had an item about it in the News section today. “Slight it certainly was, but not fundamentally unkind – to the Prime Minister at least.” Er, no. Mocking Gillard’s partner doesn’t leave her untouched. Not the way they did it. I switched it on in trepidation, wondering what antidiluvian gender-policing tropes they would serve up. I wasn’t undisappointed. Besides Amanda Bishop’s HILARIOUS take on Gillards voice (She’s got such a FUNNY VOICE HURH HURH HURH – That stuff never palls!), the focus is all on her partner, Tim Mathieson (Phil Lloyd). And it’s all hanging on the side-splitting scenario of Man Living with a woman who’s More Successful than Him ZOMG!! WEARZ TEH PANTZORZ!!111!!

It’s relentless, from the first bar of the cliched piano intro. As the first episode opens, Tim is followed by a bunch of subteen boys who taunt him about his lack of manliness as he puts the bins out. That sets the monotonous pattern from then on as Tim fails again and again to live up to masculine standards. He even visits JG’s workplace with a sandwich. Emasculating! His day continues as a mounting litany of humiliations. Gillard calls him “my little T-pot”. And while the Tim Mathieson character bears most of the weight of the superannuated tropes, as he becomes ever more irritated and frustrated (and as oblique jokes about his manhood are made by the minute) we’re given to understand that JG’s relationship is doomed to failure. A woman simply shouldn’t be under work pressure. Everyone knows it’s the woman who makes the damned sandwich, amirite? Even in the first episode we feel the relationship is so strained it must eventually crack, and then she’ll be all alone with only Bill Shorten the terrier and Bob Katter for company, won’t she? And serve her right for being an emasculating prime minister and destroying her man.

Clearly – still – the idea that men taking the role of partner to a successful woman are pathetic, and they’re pathetic because they are then comparable to a woman, which is terrible, still has great traction. I’m just about to watch Rush: a woman running about in a flak suit with a gun might be frowned on by some conservatives, but no-one sees her as pathetic and laughable. Women taking on mens’ roles might meet with resistance, but it’s because they’re a subordinate moving up. A man taking on (what’s still defined as) a woman’s role is looked on as moving down.

I can’t help but wonder what this meanspirited and patriarchy-fellating little show will do to the real-life relationship. No matter how Mathieson presents himself in his everyday life, he now has the “man emasculated by successful woman” lesson rammed down his throat weekly, and it can’t help but affect how he’s treated by the public when he goes out. I imagine it can’t help but affect the dynamic between the two of them. And if anything happens to their relationship, then the world will be all, “See, there you go, ball buster.”

And I can’t help but wonder how many teenage girls are abandoning plans for a bigger role in the wide world, because you know, it just makes you unloveable and makes your partner miserable.

Thanks, ABC.
Crossposted at Larvatus Prodeo

Bearings is a collection of short stories, published by the Melbourne publisher Affirm Press as part of their Long Story Shorts project “to publish six collections of short fiction from individual authors.” What a great idea, and I’m not sure why they should commit themselves to stopping at six titles. (Why not just keep going?) With their retro-looking covers, the series has a distinctive visual appeal.
Cover image - Leah Swann, Bearings, Affirm Press
Bearings is Leah Swann’s first published work, seven stories and a novella. Like most writing in our culture and period, it doesn’t shy away from the dark themes: death, illness and fractured families. The stories are centred on personal and family life. The voices are diverse in age, gender and class. A boy experiences the death of his dog as the beginning of the end of childhood in Street Sweeper. The Singles Club portrays an aboriginal man’s uneasy relationship with his home town, and a white woman’s uneasy relationship with pretty much everything. All your Mothers is reminiscent of Emma Donoghue’s Room – a hard, sad situation described from a very unsentimental kid’s eye view. In The Ringwood Madonna, art helps to transform a suburban mother’s depression and boredom with a shock of the unexpected.

As the title implies, Bearings is about people who are in flux, going through changes and in need of a map and compass. These stories could be just a good wallow in misery and torment like the memoirs that are so popular now, but Swann avoids this contemporary cliche. Except perhaps for one story, Slow to Learn, the stories in Bearings contain as much hope and affirmation as sadness. Swann also avoids too much earnestness. This isn’t just kitchen sink drama. Swann has a feeling for the little weird twist which takes the stories out of the Social Issue Story realm. In the novella, Silver Hands, where a sculptor faces the simultaneous loss of her skill, through tendonitis, and her sense of control over her family life, there’s a scene on a beach involving a penguin which I can just imagine being filmed for the next Tropfest. Swann can be whimsical, but not arch. The emotional tone rings true throughout, and her descriptive passages are beautiful and economical.

On the night of his father’s death, David felt its approach. The atmosphere of the death room was not unlike that of a birth room: a space between worlds. Something was vast and wide open, with the force of a gale yet utterly still. (Lovest Thou Me)

When jogging, he imagines what it might be like to hold his child for the first time. The baby skips across his mind like a stone skimming a river, and his heart skips with anxious joy.

His own, living body registers horror in increments: the skin, the stomach, the heart. For a moment he feels he might vomit. He reaches to his hip and draws out the mobile phone. It is silver, unnaturally bright in the muted landscape. Never has he felt more grateful for this tiny cold portal to another world. (The Easter Hare)

Bearings travels on the dark side while illuminating the things which make that dark side endurable. It’s neither Pollyannaish nor excessively traumatising (David Vann, I’m looking at you!) I enjoyed reading it and I’ll be looking out for Swann’s next publication.

Thanks to Affirm Press for the review copy of the book.


The Great Feminist Denial by Zora Simic and Monica Dux - Melbourne University Press

MUP have generously sent me two copies of The Great Feminist Denial by Monica Dux and Zora Simic, so I’m giving one away to the first commenter to tell us who wrote this and supply the missing words: “When I’m good, I’m very good. When I’m bad…”

This is an expanded version of a review I did for the Big Issue, thanks to Jo for the opportunity.

When I read in the AGE op-ed page that a book would be coming out in 2008, to be called The Great Feminist Denial, the title led me to expect another (as the authors call it) “feminism-gone-wrong story”. If we’re to believe the media, feminism is responsible for everything from low birthrates to the women in Sex And the City.

If post feminism implied that we could move on from feminism because it had already succeeded, the new millennium version… invites us to abandon feminism as a failure that has actually made womens’ lives worse.

But Dux and Simic ask: how accurate is the popular image of feminism that’s held up for constant criticism? The answer is, not very. “(B)efore feminism can make sense, we need to get past a huge wall of bullshit. So, let’s unpack a bit of that bullshit.”

This book is equally readable for the self-identified feminist and those who don’t know much about it. (Who was Andrea Dworkin really? was she as scary as people make out?) It also has a great time demolishing lots of strawfeminists: “[The] poster girls for feminism-gone-wrong: the deluded pole dancer, a victim of false feminist ’empowerment’; the thirty-something career woman who will miss out on babies because feminism told her she could have it all; …the heiress without panties; the actress with an eating disorder; the pop star with a shaved head; the oppressed Muslim woman whom feminism ignored and abandoned…” and many more.

But also, look – Hoydens!

Hoyden About Town [is] one of our favourite blogs…

The Hoyden About Town community started off with just one person- ‘tigtog’, who started blogging in 2005. Since then she’s blogged extensively at Larvatus Prodeo, one of Australia’s more lively left-wing blogs, and helped launch Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog, a one-stop shop for all your feminist queries. Click under “Stop the Strawfeminist”, for instance, and you’ll find answers to frequently asked questions such as “aren’t feminist just hairy legged makeup haters?” and “Don’t women have ‘female’ privilege?” In March 2007, tigtog invited Lauredhel to share Hoyden duties with her. With tigtog in New South Wales, and Lauredhel in Western Australia, the Hoydens have only met face to face once. But in cyberspace geography is no obstacle.
…To those who caricature blogging as “slacktivism”, Lauredhel is dismissive: “I have a strong belief in the power of words as well as in the power of non-verbal actions. I don’t think talking is the only answer, the only type of activism; but I think it’s under-rated.”
…tigtog: “Keeping track of and exposing the bullshit, that is essential. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. The crucial tool in keeping the backlash contained (and shrinking it) is to debunk it and make it more and more ridiculous.”

The book’s failing, as Lauredhel and many others point out, is that in their haste to disasssociate from “cliches” of the textbook Radical Hairy Feminist, they place too much emphasis on “we’re all quite feminine, really”. In doing so, they do marginalise women who are “ugly” and “fat” (I think the authors, being young, might not quite have internalised the sad fact that most of us have been consigned to this patriarchal dustbin once we reach a certain age.) In the op-ed article which are came out today, this argument is placed too much to the front and caricatured into “Oh, no, we wouldn’t dream of looking ugly or fat or hairy or any of those things, We’re normal and nice, please love us.” In their eagerness to throw off balance what they know is an essentially hostile audience (see chapter 1), they make the mistake of coming over all submissive. As a much loved radfem points out, most women perform femininity as a necessary survival skill, but it’s disappointing that that should be the central point of an op-ed article on this book, which really has so much more to offer. (Note, Lauredhel has pointed out that it was largely the AGE op-ed by Monica which she herself is referring to, also, my remark about “submissive” is about the article too – the book is much more robust).

If you’re “not a feminist, but…” you need it. If you’re an antifeminist, I dare you to read it.

30 Oct 2006, Comments Off on What I’m reading: Waterlemon

What I’m reading: Waterlemon

Author: Helen

This is a book of the triumph-over-adversity genre, or what Pav calls pathography. It’s about the writer’s husband, Jhonnie Blampied, who suffered a brain injury when he fell off his bike. The writer,Ruth Ritchie, is a film and TV reviewer for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Of course, I bought the book because of my sister in law. Prepared to identify, learn more, and all that. Ritchie’s husband’s injury was different in cause, severity, age and health of injured person, but their main trajectory was similar; Sudden catastrophic event, spell in ICU, move to hospital ward (and realisation that they’ll live, but with what deficits not yet known); Rehab; then home. But apart from this skeletal plot outline, and the knowledge that personal tragedy is what it is despite differences in circumstance, the book didn’t really speak to me as a fellow traveller on the ABI road.

Talking of the SMH thing, you can’t shake the feeling throughout this book that it’s part of a broadsheet Lifestyle section, with its crisp David Jones bedlinens, gorgeous platefuls of exquisite food, and articles about people in seven-figure houses with children who go to the best schools in crisp straw hats. Yes, I do sound mean and politics-of envy-ish; How can I say that about a woman whose husband, the father of her two children, met with such a horrible accident just when there was a three-month baby at home? All I can say is despite the undeniable traumas she went through, the family’s lifestyle was so replete with financial and social cushions it bears scant resemblance to what a more “typical” person might go through. It makes me feel like the Fairfax lifestyle magazines do; impressed, but not able to identify.

Husband Jhonnie (Bogans are mocked when they misspell their names, but not the Naw Shore) is a former highly-paid CEO who has just taken a golden parachute in order to work as a consultant. Let’s just say that the stress of a typical family struggling with the sudden incapacity of the main breadwinner isn’t apparent. Yes, school fees and child support get a mention. But the crunch never really comes. There really is an awful lot of spending in this book.

When the author receives the fateful phone call, it is necessary to tell us she’s between “egyptian cotton” sheets. A strong feature of the book, as this review points out, is the relentless food fetishism. Many writers bring out the beauty and the poetry of food, but many of the food descriptions in Waterlemon are a litany of expensive purchases. Although numerous laksas and other (not McDonalds) takeaways are consumed, the home and restaurant cooking as described is jaw-dropping (and droolmaking, I have to admit). Beef can’t just be beef, but is “fat boy Angus” or “those amazing little spicy cubes of Wagyu beef they do so well”. Lamb has to be “thick organic lamb cutlets” and “excellent lamb racks”. Fish is John Dory, veal “White Rocks” (what the hell is that, anyway?). No corners appear to be cut in this house, there is no end-of-the-week juggling of mince and Tofu and tinned tuna to eke out a household budget (there is no mention of a budget).

There’s the baby, of course. A three month old baby, at such a time. Major stress. But there’s also a difference… he has a full-time nanny.

…Last night Anna Ritchie and I ate some fat-boy aged Angus steaks (roast leeks, pumpkin and snow peas). Esther stayed for dinner and demonstrated enormous vegetarian tolerance of all that rare beef, and kept her filthy capsicum risotto to herself.
…Patrick is mostly in the capable care of Meera, an amazing woman who started working with us a month ago. she already has a tight relationship with both the boys and can clearly do a better job running the household than moi. (See, if we didn’t have any help with the children, this never would have happened.)

But one must economise:

My car went yesterday. We won’t be needing a two-door convertible any time soon. So I’m driving Jhonnie’s new Audi. This is the first new car Jhonnie has ever owned… It arrived around the same time as Patrick, and he loves it nearly as much. Chock full of very Jhonnie toys, seven seats, great stereo and a chassis that goes up and down – presumably for the change in terrain between Cremorne and Elizabeth Bay. His favourite toy is the sat nav…”

At one point financial reality seems to be about to intrude. There are mentions of this or that income stream coming to an end. But, since her little boy starts school at Cranbrook soon after Jhonnie comes home – fees currently start at $12, 384 for Prep-2 and end at $19,734 for years 11-12), they clearly don’t end up on struggle street. When Jhonnie finally comes home, to celebrate, they book tickets to fly to New York to see The Producers on Broadway. And so on.

Yes, I sound like a sourpuss old sour grapeser. But it’s hard to identify with Ritchie. She didn’t like the social worker at the hospital; well, fair enough, and he was probably no genius, but how many of us would say “…we talked about getting him fired…”? The constant disdain got to me- in the hospital: “I haven’t caught public transport since school….I don’t see a lot of miserable government-issue public spaces on a regular basis…” and driving to the Rehab: “…I’d escaped the tyranny of peak hour traffic in the clogged arteries that pump the pergola-building masses from their renovated homes to their very promising jobs”.

The book always seems to be on the edge of a revelation about how different, and how privileged, her experience is compared to the pergola-building, nannyless, sausage-eating masses, and their representatives in adjacent hospital beds, but it never comes.

There’s another strand through this book, and it’s horribly riveting, though nothing specifically to do with brain injury. In a toe-curlingly personal, remorseless and fascinating way, like some personal bloggers, Ritchie trashes her extended family and her husband’s ex so utterly and in such detail (publishing scores of personal emails, verbatim, throughout the book) that you can never see her going back to having any kind of relationship with them again. Which, when I thought about it, was unfair on the subject and raison d’etre of the book, whose family it was. (The writer’s own family, of course, are uniformly lovely). While the family might well be as dysfunctional as they’re made out to be, what now, now that all the family’s personal failings have been hung out in the village square for everyone to see? While the ex might well be as clueless a waste of space as the writer makes out, her portrayal is an extreme trashing of a reputation, out in a locally published, popular work of nonfiction (and one which her two stepchildren- the children of the trashee– are bound to read one day). Like the AGE reviewer, I felt uncomfortable and thought that some fundamental boundary had been crossed. But where is that boundary? I admit it’s difficult. One hopes it doesn’t come back to bite her one day, but after the Pergola-building masses, does one really care?

So, two stars for this book as a realistic taste of what life with a brain injury might be like, but five stars as a juicy deckchair read for those who’d delight in a raw expose of how the Other Half Responds to trauma, in all its bitchy, gourmandising glory.