Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Greer fear and if wishes were arses

Germaine Greer thinks Julia Gillard has a fat arse. She's said it not once now on TV but twice. Never mind that in the same ABC show, Greer spoke in some interesting depth with regards to her take on Female Genital Mutilation. Just ignore that Greer also spoke in some detail on abortion and highlighted (albeit, at times, clumsily) the stigma attached to pregnancy termination. Nope, Julia has a big arse and National newspapers are currently revisiting this point over and over again. It's a bit silly really.

If you ask me, all this has a hell of a lot to do with the polarising force that Germaine Greer can be. Let's face it, social media commentators spent a hell of a lot of time bagging her out last night and in the course of only a few hours I read everything from "she's so second-wave" to "Greer is utterly freakin' nuts!". In all my years of watching reactions to Greer, I have always tended to find the fact that she manages to get so many people offside the minute she picks up a pen rather inspirational, even when I don't agree with what she is on about. Hell, that infamous tet-a-tet with Marcia Langton (that I believe was last visited with regards to Baz Luhrman's film Australia) kept me mulling over various points that both of them were raising, and whilst I found neither particularly correct, I got worth from both. But as this post is intended to highlight why I think Greer remains a polarising figure, I will move on.

I think at times I benefit from being a child of the 80s and teen of the 90s when it comes to my approach to Greer. I used to love it when she popped up in the media when I was coming into my own feminism with some comment which would immediately get the press churning overtime. Frankly, it was inspirational to see that a feminist could still command that much hype. I also quite liked that she was not adverse to the odd folly. People, for example, are still talking about her old suggestion we taste our own menstrual fluid. Additionally, her oppositional staunchness, followed by her individual back-pedal on HRT so she didn't experience "vaginal gravel rash" with a new partner was quite human. I make several arguments at one point in time only to disagree with them years later on the basis of further lived experience and knowledge, and whilst Greer was labelled a hypocrite for this type of action, I found it rather refreshing. 

The thing is, Germaine Greer has been such a cult figure over so many years that nowadays she barely needs to sneeze in the direction of a reporter before people take offence. People have been taking offence at Greer for a very long time. First it was the patriarchal "establishment". Then it was the moderates and liberal feminists. Now it's just other women. Women who sometimes call themselves feminists, who have profiteered from the feminist movement, yet buy into the whole "Germaine Greer's an old bat who's lost the plot" rhetoric the patriarchy/media/etc have been selling for decades. It's bizarre. The criticism may have been warranted when Greer spoke about Steve Irwin, but as I had never seen any of Irwin's work like so many other people in this country, the comment barely left an impression on me. I thought Greer's book focussing on male beauty, rather than a complete rejection of the concept of beauty was weird. But this doesn't mean that I did not respect her exploring the topic to problematise "beauty" in the first place. Greer has been contributing to feminist thought for a bloody long time now, and the point is to agree or disagree with her, not to parrot the bullshit patriarchal messages from the media with regards to her as a person. Seriously, folks!

Which brings me to arses. I don't give a sod what Gillard wears and I certainly do not care about the circumference of her hips. I do give a crap that she has sold refugees down the river. I am pissed off that the Intervention has been given another 10 years under her watch. But the size of her backside? Nope, can't say I care. 

Greer stating on QandA last night that women are big-arsed creatures had me, as a flat-arsed black woman, questioning body image again. It was annoying enough having to hear all about bootilicious and "baby got back" celebrating the wonderful curves of black women for YEARS and realising that when they were handing out "black booty" I was clearly standing in the "great taste in music" queue. I was over the moon a couple of years ago when some jeans company finally had the gumption to release a range entitled "slight curves" for those of us who did not fit some weird womanly ideal.  We are bombarded with ideals, whether it's size 0, curve pride or bootilicious, and all of them are ridiculous and need to be thrown out in preference for appreciation of diversity.

I would definitely have preferred that Greer had not revisited that original comment because I don't think she did a particularly good job of explaining what it was she was on about in the first place; the pressure on women in power to assume an image that is not personal and serves to eventually distract from what it is that they are on about. Gillard has copped it many times for her dress sense. She has copped it many times in a way that none of her male predecessors ever had to put up with. Whilst Greer is arguing that Gillard can remove that social fickleness by embracing her physicality and uniqueness, I come down more on the side that society simply needs to grow the hell up and stop judging so harshly on appearance. Criticise on things that actually matter for a change. It would be nice...

And I hope that Greer never stops commenting. I just wish that people would take the opportunity to pull her arguments apart if this is what needs to happen than paint her as some degenerate. For she is not. She helped carve out these spaces for women's opinion and through the perpetuation of these spaces she continues to contribute a lot more worth than those who simply parrot the patriarchy. And that's my final word of advice: beware that you are not just perpetuating years worth of feminist slander when buying into Greer Fear. Use the opportunity that Greer's points getting airplay provide to construct your own views. It's much more helpful.        

Sunday, August 12, 2012

And so we pause for a moment from this feminist broadcast to bring you an important note about identity...

EDIT: This post was linked to on Fairfax's Daily Life via a published article. My original blogpost for that article can be seen here

I have written on identity politics many times before. Back when I did honours, I wrote a play about it. Last year, during the Bolta case, I contributed to an article on it. This year, of course, there was that Miss NAIDOC article. Aboriginal identity politics has long been a pet topic of mine, which I've discussed at length with mob and non-mob over the years. Over the past week, however, identity politics has been discussed pretty far and wide by a number of mob in light of the SBS Insight episode entitled "Aboriginal or Not", and it has made me realise that of my writing, most has been about reinforcing identity in the face of non-Indigenous questioning. Tackling internal identity politics is another deal altogether and so I have decided to write this post (which has said it will be my first non-feminist-focussed post, but I am, after all, still me...) as frankly I think that the SBS Insight episode was as likely to assist in the understanding of the issues as I am of becoming, as remarked earlier in the week, a Liberal-voting baked potato. 

I have never (to my face) had my identity questioned by a fellow blackfella. True story. One of the things I have always recognised is my privilege in this regard: I come from a known desert family and my last name readily ties me into that family. For those who are not aware of that family (which are few in the community, but this also proves useful for whitefellas as well when placing me), I will then often tell them my Grandmother's "maiden name" (anyone else hate that term? Non-feminist post fail #1...) as her family have members who were in the public eye and are more universally known. In addition to this, my father has been working in the Vic community for 20 years, so when I entered the workforce, I was quite readily placed by Vic mob as his daughter. I have, in my time, met so many who don't know their family/mob/country etc and were putting those pieces together and so I know how lucky I am to have that knowledge. I have also, living in Vic, seen the mob here fight tooth and nail for culture and community rights. I feel really lucky that my political knowledge has been forged not only by family story but also by living in this state, meeting some amazing people, and seeing those battles unfold. 

I do not have a current "Proof of Aboriginality" and I have no need, or desire, to get one at the moment. My proof document was lost when I changed jobs, and I haven't replaced it because I have been lazy but also because, frankly, I have always resented having to have it. The reason why I have resented it is simple: whilst I have never had to produce this document amongst mob to prove myself, I have had to produce it to prove my background to whitefellas and govt departments. I have once had my proof knocked back by a government department because the Statutory Declaration that accompanies it was out of date. This made me resent the process even more because despite the fact that mob still recognise me, the government clearly valued the whitefella legal part of the document more and I kind of felt that this defeated the community-driven purpose of the "three-tiered definition". I have also refused to get it as I have been asked more than once for these same documents that I have previously supplied to a couple of bodies, and frankly, I think that once one has "proven themselves" in a whitefella system, that should be it and asking those that have proven themselves to do so again is really quite annoying particularly if their status within the community has not changed. But I have digressed, and in the interests of keeping this about proving oneself within mob, let's return to Insight.

I think those that were watching Insight and had no real understanding of the inner-workings of Indigenous community and our organisations could be forgiven for thinking that the system is well and truly stuffed and rarely works when it needs to. Insight constructed their programme to reflect that in my opinion, and in reality, whilst I have witnessed times where it has not worked, on the whole I think it works for most of the people, a majority of the time. I also support a three-tiered community-auspiced definition over anything that the government has cooked up over the years. I mean, let's face it: their previous blood-quanta definitions and being a part of the country's native fauna weren't exactly designed to keep families strong, proud and together... SBS, in all their wisdom, decided to pursue the show from the angle of those that had been refused community confirmation and what the consequences were. They also, quite deliberately, focussed the issue on appearance by setting it up so that we had dark-skinned and fair-skinned people battling it out over who had the most right to proof of Aboriginal documentation. Apart from a couple of brief moments when audience members got the opportunity to say something in a set that was, to put it mildly, getting out of hand, the process itself was not discussed in any huge way.

On watching it back, and following conversations with others who watched it, I think folks could be forgiven for thinking that Aboriginality comes down to how dark someone is, what their financial need is, and whether or not they can hail a cab to get home. Yes, I was on the set myself and despite the fact that what I said barely went to air (I promise I didn't swear), the camera felt the need to focus in on me about 10 times probably because I was all "in between" coloured, and looked like an outer-suburban Melbourne hipster with OTT hair. I am sure that I provided a nice "contrast" to a couple of others on the set, because if Insight weren't interested in what an Arrernte/Collingwood feminist trade-unionist protopunk aficionado had to say on the topic of identity, then they really had no other motives for the numerous extreme close-ups. I did bring up the topic of social Darwinism and past use of those ideas by governments to divide our mobs after listening to a couple of people on set adhering to those exact same principles and that comment kind of made it to air, but it was not really pursued and we remained stuck on skin colour and money. Isn't Aboriginality so much more than this folks?

I think Dallas and Tarran, who were on the stage, both showed so eloquently when the system fails the people. I am not a supporter of Dallas' blog for a number of reasons, but what really shone through when he was sitting up there telling his story was a man who was fighting so damn hard to keep his young family together in extraordinary circumstances but who was also sick to death of seeing so many of our mob not looked after. If we are a "community" then the likes of Dallas need to not be failed by our processes. Additionally, Tarran who had her identity incredibly publicly questioned on stage which I found totally unacceptable, had also been failed by our community system not once, but twice. So why was the focus of the show then essentially whether one was more entitled to identity documents than others based on skin colour and not that two people who had identified as black their entire life and had a right to do so had been failed by a system that perhaps needed to improve? More to the point, why were mob on the set so quick to buy in to this discussion? Have we forgotten years of bad government policy, and the right for people to identify with their families? Is it not occurring to people that this pot of poorly-divvied up money we're squabbling over is the spare change of an imposed government that refuses to acknowledge black sovereignty and enter into some proper negotiation of how first peoples may be properly compensated for lost land, people, culture, and language? Is there another way this discussion could have possibly been framed so that we are discussing, as First Peoples, these things and exploring alternatives rather than turning in on each other and reducing our identities and experiences down to the exact same things that have been used against us? I do resent SBS for setting the show up like that.

Here's my take: I learnt pretty young that skin colour is nothing compared to family. Within my own family we have a huge diversity in appearance in my generation, and some of us are not more Aboriginal than others because we range from dark to fair through some random assortment of genetics. We're family and we're Aboriginal, end of. Additionally, we have never denied mixed heritage. Our last name came from somewhere after all, and a lot of us have one non-Indigenous parent. Our grandmother was taken to Jay Creek and then the Bungalow in Alice where language and culture were most certainly not encouraged. So do I think that someone has more right to claim identity than someone else because they are darker, have been through ceremony and they know songs, language and land? No, and particularly not if those making the assertion are directly profiteering from the displacement of other mob and their ability to practice culture by living on lands that are not their own and that have been made available to them to purchase via past government policy. People have a right to identify with their families and they damn well have a right to have their history acknowledged. By the same token, those that have these things deserve admiration, dignity and respect and it should not be the case that they often seem to be the most socially and financially disadvantaged amongst us. Do I think that monies are inadequate? Bloody oath I do. It's a disgrace that so many of our mob don't even have the bare essentials and this has been going on for so damn long. I just question whether mob, rather than government, are where the anger needs to be directed. Do I think that there are some folk that rort the system? I'd say there would be but I doubt that this is infinitely more than any other system out there (tax evasion, dole cheats, anyone?) and in my years of student support, I certainly didn't experience an avalanche of those looking to profiteer falsely identifying so they could do so. Moreover, I question whether the provision of scholarships (for example) needs to come at the cost of proper funding in destitute communities. Why is this an either/or scenario? Shouldn't our community be catered for and encouraged in as many ways as possible? I certainly don't accept the idea that our mob become less Aboriginal when they go to University, and considering how my uni-educated blackfellas were in that studio of all colours and claims, I can't actually believe that this was even part of the discussion. Hell, a members' survey conducted last year by the NTEU may prove illuminating on that front, particularly if people take the time to read the individual responses at the end.

So my final word on it is this: through buying into these arguments and perpetuating them on screen, we are simply buying into "divide and conquer" tactics. We are being assimilated into the processes that have been used against us for so long, and frankly I think we need to remember to look elsewhere as well. I know one thing: I sure as hell will be thinking damn hard about any future TV appearances. Taking breath and posting now...