Sorry For Ignoring You. I’ve Been Busy Stockpiling Toilet Rolls

This morning, I asked the old man the following question: If he had his time again, would he choose to relive his fifty-three years, or would he choose the sixteen-years of a dog? We have these deeply philosophical discussions, sometimes – in those rare moments he hasn’t got his nose stuck in the latest viral golf or dog video on social media.

Photo by Anna Franques on Unsplash

He chose the dog’s life, which I totally understand if you’re a pet lucky enough to have the life of The Princess – stress-free, with a focus on food and walks; where the only thing you really has to moan about is daily smotherings of love from your family. That’s not to say that I wasn’t a little peeved that he doesn’t want to replay the past thirty-five years with me – his soulmate. But I get it. It’s hard to focus on those brief moments of joy when there’s all that other stuff going on… And as I’ve been reminded over the past few weeks, the freedom from stress of a dog’s life is a very hard thing to achieve in the real world.

It won’t surprise you to know that the last post I started and aborted was an incendiary piece about my reaction to the murders of Hannah Clarke and her children. It was another exasperated cry about my dwindling belief in a system that fails women so badly, but I had to can it when a wave of exhaustion from saying stuff that seems to fall on deaf ears got the better of me.

What’s the point, I asked myself, when nothing changes?

And since then, the news has been dominated by the Coronovirus, the move of the Sussexes, the art of toilet roll stockpiling, and the impending financial crisis. Sadly, Hannah’s death has been put to the bottom of the crisis pile along with other less newsworthy examples of abuse – although, I imagine that even the most fervent deniers of the #metoo movement felt some relief about Harvey Weinstein’s incarceration and the possibility that it might put a stop to women moaning.

The problem is, lads, there are just so many examples of gender inequality that we’re unlikely to run out of ammunition anytime soon – a strong case in point being the now senior, white man race to the Whitehouse.

Those (and stockpiling toilet rolls) are a few of the reasons I’ve kept my head down for the past few weeks. That and a ferocious last edit of my manuscript before it goes under the expert scrutiny of the national literary treasure who is Anna Spargo-Ryan. The author of books The Paper House, The Gulf, and numerous other publications on mental health, Anna sold herself short by accepting my pittance of a donation to the #authorsforfireys appeal and agreed take a look at it for me.

And then there’s my son, who continues to keep us on our toes through his stormy navigation of young adulthood, and makes it harder to remember, sometimes, that these difficult moments in history and our lives make us stronger and give us purpose – something I don’t see a great deal of in my dog when she’s chasing her tail or eating poo.

What we have to bear in mind on those days when the clouds finally part, the sun breaks through and we are given small drops of the good stuff to help us carry on, is that things change. We have to keep believing that with time and education, we can undo the wrongs caused by toxic masculinity and inequality. I have to believe that Kurt’s passage through the complexities of life will get easier – which it did this week when he managed to win six pieces off the old man in a game of Chess, and that someday my little story will reach a wider audience and help people like me who are struggling for answers.

How Do We Educate Our Kids About Sexual Harassment?

I posted this meme on my Facebook page a couple of days ago, and the response to it gave me a thought-provoking insight into the problem of how we educate our kids about sexual harassment and inequality.

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As a feminist, a woman that wants equality across the board, (and not a bra-burning man-hater, of which I am often accused), I want my daughter to feel safe in the world and my son to be respectful of women, and not seen as a women-hating predator.

 

Since the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace finally reached global awareness via the recent outing of many renowned predators in the workplace, backed up by the almost unanimous stand of women at the Golden Globes the other night, (the less said about that the better), it has been interesting to hear the opposing views between those who consider there to be a genuine problem, and those that deny a problem exists at all.

 

Frankly, I want to barf each time I hear someone say, ‘But that was how men behaved back then. They didn’t know any better. They didn’t know that it was inappropriate.’ REALLY? Can we find a similar excuse, I wonder, for celebrities and Catholic priests who have abused children? So men in the past didn’t sense that it was wrong to abuse their physical and professional power to belittle, sexually harass or sexually abuse women for their own gain?

 

Or the other argument, ‘you can’t deny that the casting couch has worked for women as well?’

 

Urghhhhhh!

 

Do these people, that condone this attitude, have any comprehension of the limitations imposed by inequality and male privilege historically? Women have always had to give more to get close to equalling their male counterparts.

 

Surely, a more constructive response would be to point out that not all men are bad apples, and while we pull out the rotten ones, it is important not to tarnish all men with the same brush.

 

However…

 

Gentlemen, please be aware that although you might not see yourselves as a sexual predator, that doesn’t mean you’re not guilty. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that many of you don’t seem to view the less blatant acts of harassment for what they are. For example:

 

It’s not okay to pat or pinch a woman’s arse

It’s not okay to demean her verbally in any environment, but particularly in a professional environment, with condescending words such as ‘sweetheart’ or ‘love’

It’s not okay to yell out at her in the street with lewd comments

It’s not okay to interpret skimpy female clothing as an invite

It’s not okay to recount sexist jokes at a dinner party, in much the same way that you wouldn’t joke about disabled people, people of other races or sexual orientation.

 

And finally, ‘the world’s gone mad,’ has to be my favorite comment, usually followed by, ‘you can’t do anything anymore.’ No, you can’t abuse women… mainly, because it’s fucking wrong.  Without meaning to sound Oprah-esque, this is a wonderful time in our history – we are making progress and imposing necessary boundaries – and I’m sorry if this emergence from the wrongs of the past, when slavery, racism, and women unable to vote were all acceptable regimes – cramps your style, but there it is.

 

I have also been told over the past few months – by both men and women – that the cases highlighted in the media are in the minority and that many women who have come forward with their stories of sexual harassment are lying for financial gain. They go on to quote the couple of cases, (ignoring the thousands that have been proven to be true), where there has not been enough evidence to ensure a guilty verdict.

 

How the fuck does anyone know what really happens in any situation between two people behind closed doors, when women are afraid to speak out due to the stigma attached to sexual allegations? And many a rape victim will vouch for that. Think about how Amber Heard was treated in the press. I have done my own research, and even within my small peer group of privileged middle-aged women, eighty percent of us are the victims of sexual harassment or worse; in fifty percent of examples, we are talking about more than lewd, threatening comments or an innocent smack on the bum.

 

And finally, to that other wonderful argument – from women this time: ‘I quite like the attention. I don’t mind a compliment from a man. What’s wrong with it?’ What’s wrong with it is that you are educating men to believe that all women want to be treated in that way, and my belief is – feminist or not – most don’t. What’s wrong with it is that you are educating your children that is okay to be disrespectful to women, to treat them as second-class citizens – a permission that might start with a wolf whistle before it escalates to rape or murder. Rape and domestic violence statistics are increasing – and many cases are still not reported – so if you are into sado-masochism or like the idea of your in control, that’s fine, but as my son would say, ‘get a room.’

 

So where do we go from here? What we don’t do is advise our girls that all men are sexual predators, not to drink and not to wear provocative clothing when they are out; in the same way, that we don’t generalize and label all men and boys as sexual deviants. What we do tell our boys, is to treat women in the same manner that they would like to be treated.

 

The Proudest Achievement Of The Modern World Should Be How We Break Down The Walls Of Inequality

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If ever there was a period of time where it’s possible to believe that genuinely bad people do exist, it is probably right now. With daily mass shootings in the US, terrorist bombings all over the world, the ongoing abuse of women and the surge of a far-right movement – it is hard not to believe that nature is as guilty as nurture in the production of the “bad seed”.

I’ve always sided more with the nurture side of the nature-nurture argument. I’ve always wanted to believe that there is fundamentally good in everyone and that even the pedophile is a victim – most likely abused as a child. I will never approve of capital punishment and I adhere to the belief that most bad behavior is learned behavior or emanates from the needs of those with no other choice for survival.

I watched a talk by Randy Pausch yesterday, a professor with terminal pancreatic cancer who gave his opinion before he died on how to Live The Right Way  .One of the points he made in his video was that ‘no one is pure evil – if you wait long enough they will show you their good side.’ That resonated with me.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the reason it takes some people longer to navigate society’s “system”, is that it is designed for the majority. Improved support networks and education have increased our level of compassion and the aid we can give to those less fortunate, the minority, however, there is a long way to go before we erase inequality and embrace difference wholeheartedly.

We are better informed now as to why some people do better than others – we know now that it has less to do with IQ than opportunity. In recent years we have come to understand the social impact of “privilege” and we have a greater comprehension of mental illness –  two of the factors to influence inequality in the past.

Sometimes, during really bad days with our son, I used to wonder why I ever chose to become a parent, and there were times when I saw his “difference” as a threat or some sort of test of motherhood. I admit, I questioned if he was a bad apple and if it wasn’t for that nagging belief or some sort of intuition that kept telling me that I was wrong, I might have given up. I spent so many nights questioning why this child that I had made, who shared the same gene pool as his sister, had received the same opportunities, hated us so much and chose to remain so defiantly different to the rest of us, so opposed to our expectations in every aspect of his outlook.

Once, when I was looking for sympathy for my situation from a family member, he described my son as a “bad seed” – an accusation that made me so mad it felt like my organs had withered and died inside, such was the pain and shame. I knew he was wrong and in a way, those words steeled me to prove him wrong – I just needed to work on how to draw out the goodness in my son.  

If you don’t slide easily into a system created for the majority, you are judged, and that judgment creates fear. For the record, I can call my son a “bad seed” in those moments of anger when he burns the second hole in my new sofa or we get another middle of the night call from the police, but no-one else has that right unless he hurts them directly. Which he never has done.

I would describe his journey to adulthood as at the extreme end of teenage rebellion and perhaps if he’d had more liberal, less anxious parents who had embraced his spirit, things might have been different. I would handle things differently if I had the time again – in the same way that Randy Pausch handled his last months. I know now how much naïve and flippant judgments and criticism encourage isolation until the small problems snowball to bigger problems which then trigger poor self-esteem and anxiety, which in turn transmutes to anger.

Our tunnel vision for conformity is damaging; the effect on our gay population – who continue to be victims of harassment and abuse in spite of the West’s progress in terms of embracing difference – an obvious example. Let’s hope that yesterday’s vote changes the journey for all of the LGBTQI community in Australia, not just the majority. Many of their young community has lost or taken their lives due to their inability to tick the right boxes – boxes that were created centuries ago when it was still okay to have slaves and women couldn’t vote. Until this bill is passed, their children and partners do not have the same rights as those in heterosexual relationships, and if the outcome had been different yesterday, there is no doubt in my mind that there would have been a regression, that the seed of condemnation would have been re-sown and fertilized by the far-right and ignoramus’ that spearhead religion in our country. – even though we live in a society that prides itself on fairness.

The freedom that living in the western world affords us is that we have choices – the choice who to love, what to eat, whose altar to pray at – the choice how to live our lives, for most people. We were given that choice yesterday – a fair choice where everyone’s views were respected and taken into account, as they should be in a democracy, and on this occasion, good beat evil.

Every Woman Has Had A Harvey Weinstein Experience

I had to take the old man’s car to the garage the other day to get a quote for some hailstorm damage. When we first moved to Australia and our friends warned us about hailstones as big as golf balls and that the priority in terms of buying a house was to have either a garage or a carport, we laughed, just like we did when they told us about spiders the size of dinner plates. Nevertheless, we followed their advice until last year and made sure that each of our first twenty-five houses had some form of off-street protection. 

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Inevitably, when the hailstorm from hell finally came, we only had off-street parking.

 

And it turns out that the size of Australian hailstones can be closer to the circumference of a tennis ball than a golf ball, as we found out a few months ago: penance, according to NC, for laughing in the face of the predictions of impending doom from our in-house climate scientist.

 

The long and short of it is, hail damage has re-sculpted the old man’s car, and the new, beautifully, un-tessellated design on its bonnet may affect its worth even more than Kurt’s attempts at re-sculpturing it, should we ever need to sell it.

 

As the old man had already left the house a few times this month, it was my turn to face the general public to organise the quote for repair, and inevitably, the only place that does this very special type of repair work was one of those seedy, dimly-lit garages down a dodgy side street with enough testosterone in the air to grow back the hairs on my legs after my recent Spring shave.

 

Without stereotyping, there was one tattooed, grimy gorilla under a bonnet and another under a chassis when I walked into the establishment and it is fair to say that in my younger days, I would have been quite terrified to approach them. Some men don’t seem to understand that lecherous looks and comments such as ‘smile, love’ are hardly conducive to the creation of a new business relationship. But as it was, that day my entrance barely caused them to pause, which I like to think was because they were modern, intelligent men of a feminist persuasion who have come to realize that the historically sexist and crass behavior of their mechanic forefathers – those who thought it acceptable to ogle at posters of naked women in the workplace – is inappropriate and downright threatening behaviour.

 

Or maybe it’s because young men have an innate fear of cantankerous women over the age of forty-five – most likely because we remind them of their mothers.

 

Anyway, the boys gave me a predictably unintelligible response to my query, but for the first time I was not made to feel afraid and I left the garage with a skip in my step. What the experience did do was compound my disgust for those women who see feminism only as a battle about equal pay or educational and professional opportunities, and who refute the claims of women who have been (and still are) threatened, compromised and sexually objectified by men in positions of power.

 

Every woman has had a Harvey Weinstein experience, but we have been so brainwashed by male privilege that many are unable to see it.

I’m Learning About ‘Privilege’

‘Privilege’ is a word that crops up increasingly in conversation at the moment – as it should – to make every one of us question our attitudes towards different races and genders. woman-1302674_1280

 

As a middle-aged woman with some free time now that the kids are older, I have noticed a reignited hunger and enthusiasm for learning to understand what the world holds for my young adults entering into it and the generations of our family in the future. I’m becoming more aware about the different kinds of ‘privilege’, in particular those that have been staring us in the face for centuries – that of ‘white privilege’ and ‘male privilege’.

 

I learned more about these when I went to the launch of Clementine Ford’s book ‘Fight Like A Girl’ in Sydney last week.

 

Sometimes when I try to convey my personal feelings about inequality, whether it’s with friends or here in this blog, internally that little voice in my head tells me that I don’t really have the right or enough knowledge to speak about this important topic that divides nations. I was never an activist for feminism in my youth and when I read articles by leading feminists that are so much more intelligently written and researched than the meagre offerings I put out, I feel like a novice. Yet everyone has their right to their own opinion, everyone has a voice, and we should use it in whatever forum we have if we are to progress and make any change in our society.

 

I suspect that if I mentioned the term ‘male privilege’ in one of the heated discussions about feminism that I have monthly with my dad on Skype, he’d laugh in my face, in the same way that he does when I talk about the pay gap and climate change. I’m not making excuses for him, but there is a distinct generational gap of understanding when it comes to equality, I believe, and interestingly his opinions don’t necessarily anger me – he’s entitled to them – it’s the fact that he won’t listen to my perspective that irks me.

 

Perhaps because he’s male.

 

I’m sure that Clementine would disagree, but I can’t draw up a huge list of times where I’ve been the victim of male privilege, either on a personal level or in the work place. I’ve been fortunate to have been given the same education opportunities and I don’t believe that I have ever lost a role due to my gender or colour, so I am undoubtedly the perfect example of ‘white privilege’.

 

Perhaps my bolshy nature has helped because I’m no pushover and I’ve always voiced my opinions loudly, so although I can admit to being witness to sexist and racist remarks that I since regret not jumping on immediately, and I’ve equally suffered at the hands of the occasional, ageing male predator, I’ve made sure that my circle of friends and my partners have inherently feminist ideals, even if they choose to be more ‘silent’ than I’d like.

 

Certain among them have required some extra coaching – not mentioning any names.

 

There was one situation in my late teens when I was hitchhiking through France and the initial delight that a Mercedes had stopped to pick me up quickly turned to fear when the driver’s hand found my knee and I was forced to bolt at the next petrol station.

 

Inevitably, more and more stories about male dominance are currently bombarding the media due to the catalyst of Trump’s march, nay limp, towards the Whitehouse – thwarted recently (*praying*) by the exposure of the level of his abuse of women, (and it seems to me), general misogyny.

 

How any nation could consider putting such a man in power when girls and women around the globe continue to be kidnapped, raped, tortured, married off and made pregnant when still children – often for political gain – or silenced and abused in the workplace, I have no idea.

 

Yet in spite of these daily events and stories of male dominance, (that even the most ardent anti-feminist can surely not remain immune to), astoundingly there remains an underbelly of male supremacy that continues to try to curb whatever progress women at the coalface of the feminist movement, such as our own Clementine Ford and Germaine Greer, or politicians such as Julia Gillard and Hillary Clinton try to make. And they employ brazenly vitriolic bullying tactics and threats.

 

The state of Victoria is about to introduce a new program to public schools to educate children about ‘male privilege’, not to ‘man-bash’, but in an attempt to get to the root of where this concept of male dominance comes from and to reduce the number of female deaths at the hands of domestic violence, before this privilege spreads like a cancer into the developing brain cells of the next generation of young men.

 

Of course the program already has its skeptics, who have accused its creators of brainwashing our children into a campaign of ‘man-hating’ – yawn – the atypical reaction to feminism in spite of statistics that prove that many of us man-haters continue to put up with them, and some of us even like and marry the fuckers.

The Biggest #QuestionForMen This Week Is What Century Are We In?

The debate over equality has been heating up nicely in the media over the past few weeks and I will always take whatever opportunity comes my way to get back on the feminism soapbox.   (Sorry, Dad!)

English: Chris Hemsworth at 2010 Comic-Con Int...
English: Chris Hemsworth at 2010 Comic-Con International (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With awards season upon us when we witness the bevy of beautiful and successful actors and actresses flaunt their talents and physical assets on numerous red carpets, attention has focused on the different approach towards the genders by the media.   The wonderful Kate Blanchett was one of the first to publicly shame a reporter who dared ask her ‘who are you wearing?’, prior to any questions relating to the professional work for which she was being awarded.   I will be the first to put my hand up and admit that I am shallow enough to enjoy ‘red carpets’ for the fashion, but Kate has a point – I wouldn’t be averse to watching Chris Hemsworth or Bradley Cooper forced to twirl and preen for the camera prior to describing at length their outfits, fitness regime and matching accessories.   Why are women treated as cattle and men treated as talent?   We know that the movie industry remains a man’s world wherein the movie moguls are still predominantly male, most lead roles are written for men and the pay is unequal, yet do we have to insist on dumbing down women when they have earned equal status within the industry?   With the increased impact of social media, I believe that female celebrities do have a duty to mention the name of their designers on air; but so should men. What neither gender should have to accept is to be treated as vacuous, pretty pieces of fluff, there to sex up a movie or compliment their more successful counterparts.   Buzzfeed tried to turn the tables when they interviewed Kevin Spacey at a recent awards show and dared to ask him about his beauty preparations for the event.   http://youtu.be/xlW-aHC8KdI   A mani-pedi? Agreed, Kevin, it is fucked up!   His look of confusion once the penny dropped, said it all.   The continued inequality in the workplace was further highlighted this week on Twitter by Clementine Ford, one of our most forthright writers on the topic of inequality, who created the thought-provoking hashtag on Twitter- #Questions for Men. These were not questions of the ‘men are from Mars’ ilk, of how the fuck can two genders from the same species think and behave so differently; the question was aimed at the prevailing disparity between the sexes in the workplace.   Questions such as ‘have you ever been judged by the length of your pants’; ‘When you die, do you expect your obituary to start with references to your attractiveness or lack thereof?’ – a reference to an obituary recently posted about the writer, Colleen McCullough; and ‘In a job interview have you ever been asked how you will juggle work and home?’   There was the expected acerbic backlash in response from the cavemen and predictable accusations about whining lesbians who no doubt should be pleased with what we already have.   As someone asked this week when the world witnessed the terrible fate of the Jordanian pilot in a medieval-style public burning – sometimes we have to question “what century are we in?”

There’s Equality and Then There’s Doing Stuff Together…

What I really want to do is shout from the rooftops with Sound of Music, Julie Andrews, completely over-the-top enthusiasm about Emma Watson’s recent speech for the UN, on inequality. 

There's Equality And Then There's Having To Do Stuff Together

 

Did you know that there are women out there declaring that they aren’t feminists because we already have equality?

 

HELLO?????

 

Now I know I shouldn’t use this forum to impose my personal views about equality on you. But then again, we shouldn’t really need ‘views’ about equality, should we? It should just be there, a given, taken for granted. But that’s a whole other post.

 

So I’ll stop there, and instead I’ll tell you a funny little ditty about what a bloody awful parent I am (again) and how Kurt got stuck in a girls changing room this week.

 

With our holiday looming (two days and already drinking!), I had to get Kurt to the shops. Kurt dislikes clothes shopping intensely, like a lot of males. Added to the fear of bumping into his peers in the outside world, WITH HIS MUM, (because none of them have mums, evidently), is the awkwardness of trying things on and not looking cool in public. Then there’s the ADHD factor – all that noise, lighting and people in the mall easily overwhelm him and he also doesn’t do ‘choice’ well.

 

There's Equality And Then There's Having To Do Stuff Together
Michael Cera’s Awkward Teenage Years, Part 47: A Review of Youth in Revolt

All that pressure turns him into a complete ratbag on shopping trips, which is a real shame, because I loving nothing more than playing personal stylist with my boys.

 

Anyway, a few days ago I finally managed to blackmail him into going by reminding him that if he didn’t come, he would be forced to wear last year’s VERY uncool, boardies and I might have also mentioned something about new Nike shoes.

 

He did his usual thing of dropping me like I’m a hot potato as soon as we left the block and I had to walk the usual ten metres or so behind him, like fucking serf, but eventually we met up again in the youth section of Myer. I love that floor of Myer because it’s full of the most wonderfully camp male retail assistants who don’t care that I’m middle-aged and invisible and actually talk to me like I’m a valued customer. Kurt immediately retreated into the nearest corner of the floor, of course, with the biggest teenage gob on, while I chatted to the guys and grabbed at clothes that I thought might suit him.

 

It’s not that I’m insensitive to his teenage need to appear cool and I am also aware that it can be a bit awkward when your mum asks you to try things on in the aisles, holds up clothes against you or insists on calling you ‘darling’ very loudly, but I was trying.

 

Eventually, armed with a bundle of boy clothes, we headed to the fitting room and Kurt got underway with the apparently torturous task of trying stuff on. When suddenly we heard voices, VERY close by. Girl voices. And it was obvious from the high-pitched squeals that a gaggle of female pubescents had accidentally come into the male changing rooms next to us.

 

OR…..

 

All we could hear were shrieks of:

 

‘Boys love it when you get your tits out like that.’

 

‘You’ll never get a boyfriend if you don’t wear shorter dresses.’

 

‘What do my boobs look like in this dress?’

 

I felt the heat come off Kurt’s face before I saw what I can only describe as a beautiful shade of fuchsia, as he looked at me accusingly. Had I mistakenly taken him into the women’s changing room? It wasn’t beyond me. Even I felt mortified as I watched my son’s face collapse with embarrassment and thought about what my punishment would be for orchestrating this, the most awkward teenage faux-pas. I tried to laugh it off, nervously, (as you do as a parent when you know you’re in trouble; but if you know anything about teenagers, you’ll also know that they have NO sense of humor when it comes to awkward situations), but Kurt slapped his hand around my mouth quickly and it was obvious we were going to play dead. The girls, meanwhile, carried on discussing every intimate detail of their bodies, boys and then sex, while I watched my boy physically shrink in stature, as he stood there, vulnerably, in his undies.

 

After the longest five minutes of our lives, not including my recent session in the sauna or my first kiss with the mouth-muncher, the girls began to leave and Kurt regained his ability to breathe again. We grabbed his things and made a run for the exit, noting on our way out that it was indeed a unisex changing room.

 

I’m with Emma and for equality, just not quite sure if the whole unisex thing, where men and women actually do things together, is ever going to work.