What White Ribbon can learn from #NoMore 

2 Feb

It’s Super Bowl Sunday here in Wisconsin and while the guacamole congeals I thought I’d take a moment to talk about football, violence against women and those smug pricks at White Ribbon Australia.

For the first time the biggest television event in the world will lend its airwaves to an anti-violence PSA. I can say, without a hint of sarcasm, that it’s wonderfully done. The people behind the NFL-supported #NoMore campaign did an amazing job and when I see it tonight with a corn chip in my hand I am sure to cry big tears.

The #NoMore campaign launched with the 2014-15 football season in the USA. It features players, celebrities and the President saying straight up to the camera that violence against women must stop.

At first I was dubious. It was another campaign that highlighted men as saviors rather than perpetrators and made no effort to reveal the suffering and self-advocacy of victims. But the Super Bowl ad won me over.

Across the Pacific another football-related anti-violence campaign, White Ribbon Australia is a different beast altogether. In 2014 the non-profit announced a partnership with Sydney rugby club the Canterbury Bulldogs. This, my local team, is almost synonymous with rape. In 2004, six members of the team were accused of raping a 20 year old woman. And that was just one incident out of a string that would make any woman hear “Bulldog” and make run for it.

As Jacqueline Magnay wrote at the time “Rugby league, with its macho advertising and scantily dressed cheerleaders, has long cultivated an image of masculine bravado. But a picture is also surfacing of a murkier code in which players share women for sex as part of the team “bonding” process.”

A decade later, I can see why the Bulldogs would leap at the chance for some good PR. While there’s a chance that the team’s endorsement of White Ribbon might result in a change to its culture, the fact that White Ribbon is willing to endorse an organization with an (alleged) history of rape is disturbing in the least.

White Ribbon, you see, talks very little about violence. Very rarely do they draw attention to victim’s stories. Their all-male ambassadors include some mighty shifty characters. As I’ve said before on this blog, “All I ever see of this organization or its ambassadors is Good Blokes patting each other on the back. Rarely, if ever, have I seen White Ribbon tell a story of female victimhood. The key message seems to be: there’s good guys, and there’s those who can become good guys.” Basically, White Ribbon gives out more cookies than the Girl Scouts.

Looking at the #NoMore Super Bowl ad makes me long for an Australian organization that could gets its messaging right. In the ad, the woman is the protagonist. It tells the audience to listen to her, even though it’s hard. It isn’t about what makes a good man, it’s about what it’s like to be a woman under the threat of male violence.

The NFL may be no friend to women, but with this they score some points.

Yes I’m pro-abortion. Who wouldn’t be?

14 Jan

If you spend your time in the same corners of the internet as I do you’ll be familiar with the line “I’m pro-choice, not pro-abortion”. Whenever I see this, I ask “Why? What’s wrong with abortion?”

If you’re pro-choice you believe in the autonomy of women. You believe that no matter what importance an embryo/fetus/unborn baby might hold, it is never more important than the freedom of the woman whose body it is housed in. In short, women are more important than fetuses.

Since we’ve got that out of the way, we should all be able to say that abortions are awesome. The development of safe abortion is a medical advancement that has improved the lives of one in three women. The availability of abortion is something that gives women, me included, great comfort and security. Pretty great, right?

Before the advent of safe, legal abortion women were dying. Women were at the mercy of biology. Let it be remembered that in this same period it was legal for men to rape their wives. When we use the term “bodily autonomy” we are talking about no small thing.

Since I first become a pro-choice activist when I was fifteen, I’ve seen feminist discussion of abortion follow the same formula: to terminate a pregnancy is a difficult, heart-breaking decision for every woman who makes it but we must defend her right to make that choice. As friendly as that sounds, it’s also bullshit.

The “pro-choice, not pro-abortion” line plays into the trope that abortion, though sometimes necessary, is always shameful. It’s always difficult. It’s always sad. In reality, not every woman feels shame and nor bloody should she. Guilt should not be the tax we pay on autonomy.

I think of abortion the same way I think of a root canal. It’s an often painful, invasive procedure that in some cases could have been prevented through education and good habits. I don’t want to have one, but I’m glad it’s there if I need it.

Every time we say “pro-choice, not pro-abortion” we make it a little bit harder for a woman to stand up and say “I’d like an abortion, please.” It makes it a little harder for women to say “I had an abortion once”. It makes it a little bit harder for couples to discuss abortion openly and give women real freedom over if and when they have a child.

I’m pro-family.

I’m pro-woman.

I’m pro-choice.

And I’m pro-abortion.

You should be too.


Author’s note: Fix It, Dear Henry is a safe space for me and for my readers. Anti-choice/forced-birther comments, or those that otherwise denigrate women will not be published. If this upsets you let me remind you that WordPress is free.

Who holds back the electric car? White Ribbon does.

26 Jul

It was 7am in Wisconsin when I spotted it. Andrew O’Keefe, Australian comedic talent and All Round Good Guy, had written a piece about what questions men need to ask themselves about violence against women.

It is exactly the kind of thing that needs to be read widely but for me, there was just one small problem. Daily Life defines itself as a women’s publication. Even if the piece made its way under the nose of a member of the woman beating public, it doesn’t make up for the fact that the piece was, by nature of its publisher, targeted at women.

It was another in a long line of pieces written by Good Blokes about violence against women aimed at women. (See also: Charlie Pickering in Mamamia.)

Women don’t need to be told the questions men need to ask themselves about violence. We don’t need to be told how many of us are being killed by our partners or exes. We don’t need to be told because either the reality of it, or the potential of it is part of the female experience.

Both O’Keefe and Pickering wrote their pieces as part of their role as White Ribbon Australia ambassadors. This is an exclusive boy’s club. I can only imagine they have poker nights to which no women are invited. In the lead up to White Ribbon Day in November each year, these men are trotted out, promising to start a dialogue between men about the culture that permits violence against women. This is a good thing.

However…

All I ever see of this organisation or its ambassadors is Good Blokes patting each other on the back. Rarely, if ever, have I seen White Ribbon tell a story of female victimhood. The key message seems to be: there’s good guys, and there’s those who can become good guys.

And that just makes the mansplaining of violence against women in Daily Life and Mamamia so infuriating. Not only does White Ribbon fail to show men the reality of their violence against us, their PR puts the onus back on to women to recruit men to the good side. The only time I can think of a White Ribbon ambassador getting featured in the gender-neutral press is Sam de Brito’s expressions of sympathy for men who kill their families.

Looking at White Ribbon’s content strategy, you see women who must be catalysts for their own salvation and men who must be forgiven if we fail.

Here’s to November.

 

Please note: The title would have been super clever had I been able to embed a picture of the Stonecutters from The Simpsons. WordPress is broken so can you please just picture it in your heads? Thanks.

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.

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Suggested reading

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