Up the Ohio without a driver’s license

28 Jun

I’ve been a resident of the United States for seven days now. It was a move three years in the making, almost on the anniversary of meeting my fiance in a dingy London bar. Right now, while I’m writing this in a corner of our living room in Oxford Ohio, John is playing FIFA with his groomsmen. It is an absolutely joyous, ordinary day.

Ordinary days are something new to us. People in long distance relationships don’t get them. They get days that crackle with anticipation, heavy with the responsibility of being one day out of a limited number. For the first time, I can enjoy hearing his voice in the background while I write without wondering if we should be spending our time on something more meaningful.Photo of a street in Oxford.

Like all first weeks in new countries, this one has stretched. Each of the seven days has brought its own little crisis of adjustment. I’m not homesick yet, but small town Ohio came as a shock. We’re spending my first month in a college town… in summer… when squirrels outnumber humans 3 to 1. I get to walk down canopied avenues without passing another person and buy groceries without waiting in line. It would be nice, if it didn’t make me lonely.

The hardest thing though has been losing my independence. Last year, when I was in Paris with my dad my wallet was stolen. This made me even more dependent on him than I already was. Instead of reacting calmly and graciously, I was more like a puffer fish; my spikes coming out at the nearest opportunity. Poor Dad.

In Ohio I’m not just reliant on John, I’ve stepped out of my life and into his. On my third day here that hit me. We were driving around town running errands like setting up a phone account and buying coat hangers. After one fruitless conversation at the Verizon store (is there any other kind?) we got into the car and John started pulling out. There came my spikes. “Where are you taking me? Just because you’re the one driving doesn’t mean you can just cart me around town like cargo!”

John blinked, halfway out of the parking space, as heaving sobs started coming from me. I had, apparently, only just realised I had moved overseas for a man. Not only that, I had done it before learning to drive. I was useless, helpless and almost alone.

The solution was found at Walmart for $89. It’s a light brown fixed-gear Huffy bike and with it I have conquered Oxford, Ohio. With it I have access to food, non-squirrel interaction and the town’s only espresso machine. With it, I am unstoppable.

Quiet, the men are talking about misogyny

30 May

I’m not going to add to the torrent of think pieces about the Isla Vista attacks. That’s been done by people far better placed to do so. What I am going to do is talk about the dialogue this and #YesAllWomen has opened up between men, and how they engage on the subject.

For nearly a week now, I’ve watched men talk about violence towards women on a scale unlike that I’ve seen before. I’ve seen them use terms like “culture of misogyny” and “normalisation of violence”. It’s awesome. And long fucking overdue. Getting men to have this discussion has been the M.O. of feminism since Mary Wollstonecraft first shouted on a London street corner.

There’s a reason that a lot of the conversations I’ve seen on Facebook lately have been dominated by men — women already know this stuff. We haven’t been trying to convince each other there’s a culture of misogyny. I haven’t seen a single pair of women look for an explanation for what happened. We know, we live the explanation every day.

As I’ve explained over and over online this week, women have been having this conversation for centuries. Thank you for finally joining us.

It’s been heart warming and infuriating to watch man after man on my friends list post “Woah. Misogyny”. Some of them make the noble claim that they don’t fantasise about killing women. Some of them make a racist comment about America, or a broad statement about the film industry. Inevitably, a bunch of male friends jump in and say “yeah but Rodgers (sic) was mentally ill,” as though Kellogg’s Corn Flakes distributed doctorates in criminal psychology to everyone the day before the shooting. The overwhelming trend is towards men hoping to explain away Isla Vista to disassociate themselves from Rodger (not all men, etc).Meme: a man says 'I'm proud to be a feminist. These galls need strong male leadership.'

There was the guy who said that an article arguing against the mental illness explanation was the first article on the subject that resonated with him. Because obviously everything we write should be writen with middle class Australian boys in mind.

There was the FCKH8.com moderator who told me that if I’m afraid of street harrassment I should just stay indoors.

There was the guy who asked me to “keep it civil” after I told someone “unless you have a degree in psychology please STFU”.

There was the guy who called me “aggressive” and “hostile” after I pulled up a guy for explaining to me (a professional feminist writer and holder of an honours degree in media and cultural theory) how cultural change works.

Men love to have academic discussions about what the world might look like if there were a dominant culture of misogyny. But once a woman tries to tell them about her experience they shut her down as though she were intruding on the conversation.

According to these Good Guys, this international discussion about violence against women can only happen if it’s on their terms. Any digression or inference of male culpability and the female participant is shut down, insulted, dismissed or patronised.

There’s no point identifying that Isla Vista happened within a broader culture of entitlement to women as objects if you then use that to excuse men from personal responsibility.

There’s no point saying men have to learn to see women as equals if you say that while cutting a woman off.

There’s no point talking about how tragic this all is if you tell a woman to calm down while she’s reacting to it.

You’ve read up on the theory. Now try the practice.


 

Recommended reading:

It’s just… a little thrush.

28 May

What’s the difference between a vagina and a toe?

About $17 apparently.

See, if you have a fungal infection between your toes you can go to the supermarket and get a tube of clotrimazole anti-fungal cream for about eight bucks. If that fungal infection happens to be on your vulva or in your vagina, you’re going to have to go to the chemist, ask nicely and pay $25.

Clotrimazole is sold under a number of brands, including as an athlete’s food treatment and a vaginal thrush treatment. Both products are sold in the same concentration (10mg/g). The only difference is where you apply them. It is, essentially, a vagina tax.

Canesten for vaginas and Canesten for feet tubes side by side.

What bothers me more though is the on the shelf/over the counter distinction. We are, apparently, allowed to treat the skin on our feet but not the skin on our clunges without first seeking advice from a pharmacist.

Vaginal thrush isn’t rare or even interesting. It happens all the freakin time to most women. It’s easy to identify and easy to treat if you get in early.

So, this week after feeling the familiar twinge in my twat, I took myself off  to the chemist. At the prescription desk I asked for a tube of Canesten. I ask for the brand because that tells them that I’m a woman who knows what she wants and has no time to spare. I’ve never asked for this in a patient tone. Who can be patient when they’re standing in a shop with an itchy snatch?

In reply, the pharmacy assistant — in a totally symbolic white lab coat — asked what symptoms I’d been having. I replied “thrush-like symptoms. Like when you have thrush”. She leaned in and whispered “I just have to check that it is actually thrush.”

I sighed. I searched my soul for patience. I explained that I was, as the owner of the vulva in question, perfectly qualified to diagnose my own condition, and that since I’m an adult I shouldn’t have to be condescended to just because the treatment I’m seeking is for my ladyparts. She nodded and handed over the tiny overpriced tube.

There is, of course, an argument for checking that the symptoms aren’t being misdiagnosed. Snatches can be itchy for all kinds of reasons and customers are not doctors. But neither are pharmacy assistants.

The trouble is that on this particular trip to Chemist Warehouse, I could have diagnosed and treated all manner of conditions. I could have pumped myself with iron supplements because I was feeling tired, or codeine because I had a headache. I could have taken a plethora of alternative ‘natural’ remedies straight up to the counter without so much as a raised eyebrow.

If you’re a qualified professional by all means help me make decisions about my health. Be evidence based, be respectful. But don’t ask whether or not I can be trusted with a tube of tinea cream and my own cunt.

In case anyone questions your right to vaginal determination, I’ve made up a license you can carry. Go forth and medicate!

""


In preparing this post I asked Twitter to name their favourite synonyms for vulva and vagina. Here they are:

  • Ham wallet (naturally)
  • Baby cannon
  • Sprog locker
  • Breakfast of champions
  • Bearded clam
  • Wizard’s sleave
  • Willy warmer

 

Safe harbour: what to do when a friend tells you she’s leaving him

25 Apr

When I was 15, me and my parents were preparing to spend six months living in Northern England. When we were over for coffee one day, my mother’s friend handed her a note, “just in case you need it”. On it was written the address of a woman down South who would offer safe harbour to us if, for whatever reason, we needed to get away from my father.

The notion of ‘safe harbour’ has stayed with me since then. It’s made me see the systems of support women put in place for each other, often covertly, that stretch across the world. The story of family violence sounds almost the same in every retelling. The reality or threat of violence at the hand of the men we love is, tragically, a shared experience that bonds women together.

That bond is there in the worried glances we give when a friend says she has to get home or “he’ll be angry”. It’s in the mental notes we take of the bruises on each other’s arms. It’s in the the culture of hospitality we create whenever we say “you guys are always welcome”.

Violence against women and children in Australia (and I would posit almost everywhere) is at a crisis point. We know that when women do decide to leave their partners the danger to them and their children increases. It’s in the period surrounding the separation, as well as milestones such as anniversaries and court dates, that women need safe harbour most.

I’ve spent my afternoon chatting with a friend who is in the process of leaving a violent partner (statistically speaking, chances are you have a friend like that too). She and I live far apart, but I gave her the address of a relative she could call on in an emergency. It was exactly the same act my mother was grateful for 11 years ago.

Inspired by this, I’ve been talking with people on Twitter about the strategies that have worked for supporting the women we know when they decide to leave a violent partner. I’m a writer, not a social worker, lawyer or psychologist so I’m not going to offer advice.

What I will say is that this covert network of support women build for each other needs to be strengthened. We need to constantly reassure each other that help is there, that we are entitled to protection from society.

And when a friend comes to you with the same story of family or partner violence we’ve all heard before, for the love of all that is holy please believe her. She is not lying. She is not crazy. She did not contribute to this situation. She is a friend in need.


 

The Domestic Violence Resource Centre has a list of support services in each state.

 

My Australian Computer Society International Women’s Day Fantasy Breakfast

20 Feb

Rather than dudes telling dudes how great dudes are on International Women’s Day, I have put together a panel of tech babes who I think deserve to be made pancakes for. I’ve also taken the liberty of writing down what I’d like to hear them talk about.

In no order whatsoever:

Leena van Deventer: level up

Coding is power. Let’s not only teach girls that they are allowed to occupy space in gaming culture, let’s help them create  space by teaching them to write, design and code their own games.

Claire Porter: go, go gadget girl

Techly editor Claire Porter shares her experience of covering Australian digital technology and gives the industry some tips about how it can make room for women.

Sarah Pulis: 1 in 5

Web accessibility superstar Sarah Pulis lets us in on how we can make the web more inclusive for women (and men) with disabilities.

Asher Wolf: steal your secrets back

In the era of surveillance journalist and hacktivist Asher Wolf gives insight into the length and breadth of government data monitoring and shares her tricks to preserve your privacy online.

There. Done. March 8. I’ll chair it.

Too early for flapjacks?

There’s sexism in games, Paul Verhoeven told me so

23 Jan

Here are my thoughts on Paul Verhoeven’s talk at TEDxWomen Southbank last weekend.

His talk was on sexism in gaming and, overall, he did a pretty good job. He started off with sensitivity to the fact that he is, in fact, a bearded man and that puts him in a strange place to talk about sexism. His qualification came not from gender but from his work as game critic. He had a pretty solid understanding of feminism. You know, the type that should be part of the basic criteria for being a functioning adult, not the type that lets you level up.

I watched it on YouTube this morning and it gave me feelings: warm, fuzzy, angry feelings such as:

  • How the sweet merciful fuck does a man get invited to speak at TEDxWomen?
  • Why can’t he talk about gender equality at a regular TEDx event?
  • Could they not find a chick wanting to talk about this?

What pisses me off most though is that at no point in Verhoeven’s 16 minutes and 11 seconds did he mention the work of Anita Sarkeesian (@femfreq) – a personal hero of mine who dedicates her life to exposing sexism in games and other popular culture.

Her TEDxWomen talk from 2012 is a tour de force in which she catalogues her experiences of being a feminist gamer online, a story which “comes with a very large trigger warning”. This is maybe the most significant text in the discussion of sexism in gaming culture, and yet Verhoeven chose not to acknowledge its existence.

Verhoeven’s talk is one of what feels like 470 pieces of ‘feminist’ writing from men I’ve seen so far in 2014 which excludes women’s voices. While I don’t believe Verhoeven did this deliberately, he fell into the trap of acting as though he’s the first person to think these ideas. He then made use of his male privilege by occupying space on stage that a woman would have been more qualified for.

If you’re a dude and you want to incorporate a study of gender bias into your work, then I commend you. (That’s not sarcastic, I really do.) Just be sure that when you express your frustration at the lack of gender equality in your world you acknowledge that women have been in this game a lot longer than you.

145 words on victim blaming

22 Oct

Children need to be taught to manage risk and to not attack people. It’s not a matter of which side of this is valid, it’s a matter of which is dominant.

Girls are taught from birth to be cautious, to be constantly aware of the harm that others can do to us. We’re told not to make ourselves even more vulnerable. This is why short skirts and booze are rebellious. Boys are taught by porn that sex should be rough, and by music that guys sing, girls dance.

So when one of the most prominent writers in the country brings out the old line about girls not putting themselves at risk, it plays right into the hands of forces which keep girls indoors.

Until we even up the spread of these messages, girls will never enter the world feeling they have a claim to it.

—————

Suggested reading

I put a classified ad online. A month later I called the police.

19 Jul

10pm, Wednesday

It’s taken two years of living in Chippendale but I finally have a stalker. It’s lucky, I’m moving to the suburbs in 3 days so I was really running out of time. Like almost everything in my life, it started on the internet.

About a month ago I put up an ad on Gumtree saying I was looking for a room in a sharehouse. You know, It had worked for me before, so I figured it was worth a try. In it, I mention I’m a writer and include a blurry profile pic. Every Ebay seller knows you need a photo to get replies.

Among a bunch of replies advertising shared rooms and lounge rooms with a “transformational curtain”, I got this:

Hi Eliza,

I have a large creative arts premises and welcome you and your writing to settle here as we grow into living dreams.

 I look forward to hearing from you…

Billy*

 I replied:

 Hi Billy,

Thanks, but I’m not interested in commercial space.

Cheers,

Eliza

 And it went on, until I eventually accused him of being a sex offender.

 Him: I know. I have a room / studio the size close to three standard garage lengths. Pls come check it out I know you will agree it is right. I’m in the business of growing people’s dreams……

 Me: That honestly sounds as though you’re luring me there so you can murder me.​

 Him: Oh god. Now imagine I say my business is freedom & self appointed as dream maker. But, self demoted recently to executive freedom fighter. Do I have your number? Perhaps we can talk other housemates are here

 Me: Sorry, what has freedom fighting got to do with house hunting?

 (I have to admit, by now I was intrigued.)

 Him: Just thought I’d let you know what my business is. Altogether your potential new home is part of a creative arts centre. Pls call & chat with us.

 Me: Thank you but that sounds like my personal hell. Can I suggest you take a copywriting course? You shouldn’t have to explain that you are not in the business of murdering people. Unless you’re running a Warhol-esque factory/murder house. If that’s the case then your marketing strategy is appropriate.

 Him: So do you want to call or come or just miss out on the best thing that will happen to you

 Me: Is it some kind of arts/murder/sex house?

 Him: Two out of three ain’t bad.

 Me: This is insane. Why are you pursuing me?

 Him: All jokes aside. Pls take a look I am sure you will find it suitable

 Me: no, never, under any circumstances.

For three weeks I heard nothing, then two nights ago he contacted me again urging me to check out his Art Sex Murder Factory. I called him a stalker. We’re in the midst of the Sydney housing crisis and this guy has been pursuing me as a housemate. This does not happen. I had deleted my ad from the internet and the creepy dude from my mind.

Until about 20 minutes ago.

I was walking home from dinner in Surry Hills to Chippendale (yes, Dad, I should have got a cab). I passed this old junk shop — the kind filled with 1980s high-cut bikinis and Huey Lewis cassettes. I paused for a moment and looked in. For the first time I saw someone in there: a blonde girl who looked about 19, just sitting in a chair. I shrugged and kept on walking. I got about 10 metres away before I heard a man call out “excuse me”. Of course, I didn’t turn around. That’d be nuts. I kept walking and heard him shout out again. And again, more insistent each time. I wondered if I was being too harsh and thought that maybe I’d just dropped my wallet or something. I stopped and turned around.

The man, with pirate long hair and black everything sidled right up close. He told me, “Sorry, but I just wanted to tell you you look really stunning. I had to come out and tell you.”

I said in the loud, confident voice I reserve for suspected rapists “Thank you. Fuck off.” I strode away. I got a few paces and heard my name.  He called it out three times. A chill ran through me as I put the pieces together. This is him, this is Billy. The junk shop is the “artists’ residence”. I walked like someone who’s not scared all the way to my front door where I collapsed in a gibbering heap in front of my male, drummer-armed flatmate.

I called Redfern Police and spoke to an incredibly helpful constable.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to pack some boxes. Can I also just mention, internet, that my boyfriend actually owns a gun? And that it’s totally fucked-up that I should have to fear for my safety walking home from dinner? I think I need a hug from that bullmastiff I’ve been training. He hates artist collectives even more than I do.

*His name isn’t really Billy, I just named him after my least favourite ‘Ally McBeal’ character.

If you’ve encountered similar incidences, online or off, the police would quite like to know about it.

Boy, oh boy, a lady Doctor? John Birmingham reports

6 Jun

John Birmingham, prolific Fairfax writer, novelist and apparently functioning human wrote for The Brisbane Times about his struggle to comprehend the idea of the twelfth Doctor being a woman. He took at least 250 words to reach the conclusion “by golly, I just don’t know. Wouldn’t that just be a thing.”

Image

In the process he managed to include some of the worst sexist bullshit Fairfax has published since that one by Geoffrey Barker about newsreaders’ boobs.

“I’m not against the idea, mind you,” writes Birmingham. “In fact as it stands naked before me in the Library, the cool blue glow of that lightsabre illuminating all the lady bits, I find my fascinated horror ebbing back to mere curiosity. I just wonder is all.”

Firstly, lightsaber? Really? Secondly, if he’s are prone to staring at “lady bits” with “fascinated horror” I have to wonder how he ever came to have children.

To Birmingham, “female” and “Time Lord” are completely at odds. The Doctor has always been a scientific genius, his moral compass guiding him through time and space. Violence is abhorrent to the Doctor and is only used as a last resort.

According to Birmingham, a Lady Doctor (that’s a female Time Lord, not a gynecologist) would have to be a vastly different character. A woman can’t be a genius or a pacifist:

“The Doctor has always fought with his wits, and his sonic screwdriver. Things do go boom, when he takes a hand in them, but generally not because he’s pulling a trigger. The female hero as modern pop culture has come to define her, however, might well be a thinker. But mostly what she’s thinking about is KICKING MORE ASS!”

Yes, that there is Birmingham claiming that women in popular culture are more prone to violence. Never mind that in the Doctor Who universe the female sidekicks are generally there to work as moral guides, pulling the Doctor back if he strays too far from his pacifism.  It didn’t occur to Birmingham that, like River Song, a woman can be a Time Lord, a thinker, a genius, a pacifist and an engaging televisual character.

If you’re shocked and confused by the idea of a strong female lead in Doctor Who, or indeed science fiction, then you haven’t been paying attention. Yes, the continuous cycle of God’s police/love interest has hardly done the last 50 years of feminism any favours. But, as characters like Rose and Donna show us, the potential for strength, courage and genius in those with XX chromosomes is limitless.

Maybe if it weren’t for people like John Birmingham we women wouldn’t have to leave the planet just to feel capable.

So it turns out political candidates are legally allowed to lie to you.

23 Apr

After Tony Abbott unveiled a billboard claiming a certain number of “illegal” boats had made their way to our shores I felt outrage.

I looked for something to do about it, an avenue I could use to stop lies like this being perpetuated during a political campaign. I found out there wasn’t one.

Here’s my piece for the fantastic Junkee.com about learning that our democracy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Hope you guys like it.

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