Friday, June 28, 2013

A little sister going her own way

It has been a horrible week and I don't have the strength to write about it all at this point. I do, however, have the strength to celebrate this little sister who is going her own way. Thank you, Aaralyn. You've brightened up my day no end!

Monday, June 17, 2013

The biggest rob in all this political sexism

It has been a particularly vile week or so of public and political sexism. It really just seemed to be one incident after another. To recap for those who have been living in a remote cave with no electricity, carrier pigeons or mental telepathy, it went down like this: Firstly some soccer jock talks about how women should shut up in public. Then we had the wonderful “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail” menu item developed for a Liberal Party Fundraiser that is now so reviled that it has its own Wikipedia entry. Then we had Gillard being questioned over her partner's sexuality by Howard Sattler, a radio shockjock. Of course, all these incidents were "jokes", but I must have a different sense of humour... Oh, and let's not forget the wonderful Grace Collier, who, on clearly wanting equal rights for women to be misogynists, tried to outdo "teh menz" with this puzzling focus on Gillard's boobs. Granted, there have been some highlights such as Sattler now being sacked for his grossly unprofessional conduct, and this amazing speech from Lt-General David Morrison taking a stand against sexism in the Army and stating that it will not be tolerated. All-in-all though, it has been a rather exhausting week or so.

The thing is though, all this has, by no means, been "out of the ordinary". When it comes to the sexism directed towards our female Prime Minister, this has been a constant feature. It was so constant that it led to Gillard giving this now world-famous "I will not be lectured on sexism and misogyny by this man" speech in the House of Representatives. It led to this completely amazing and horrifying lecture from Anne Summers entitled "Her Rights at Work: The Political Persecution of Australia's First Female Prime Minister" (watch this. You need to). The cartoonist Larry Pickering has pretty much made a career of promoting his disgustingly sexist pictures of Gillard, usually naked and sometimes being gynaecologically interfered with. But it's more than that. It's the daily commentary I have heard from peers, family, the broader community that reinforce my view that the sexism has been constant. 

What's more, people really don't seem to give it much thought. They have genuinely looked surprised when I have called them out after they have used some sexist trope to refer to Gillard as if this "fact" has some bearing on her politics. It seems to be so damn unconscious that it speaks volumes about how society views a woman in charge. People don't even think twice before referring to Gillard's allegedly annoying voice, or the size of her backside, whilst talking about her role in the country. An entire media campaign appears to have been built on these "criticisms" in order to topple Gillard from the leadership and get a more popular male reinstalled, yet not many seem to be too discerning as to where a great deal of misgivings toward the PM seem to have come from. A lot of it is sexism, pure and simple. If you doubt that then I suggest you really do click on the link of Anne Summers' speech above and watch it from beginning to end. Gillard's politics have been continually conflated with her gender, and it shows just how immature this country is when it comes to gender relations. Many women rule countries across the world and are treated as rulers, rather than great impostors, so when the hell will this country grow up?

Here's the real rob for me: I fell off the ALP bandwagon years ago. This fact is still a sore point for my poor mother. I come from a strong ALP family yet broke ranks over a decade ago because I felt, and still feel, that the party my parents so strongly believe in is not the one that actually exists. I am critical of their policies, disgusted over their continuation of the NT Intervention (however rebranded), their asylum seeker stances, their cuts to tertiary education, their non-complete roll-back of WorkChoices legislation, their watering down of a promised Treaty in the 1980s to mere constitutional recognition at this point in time. And I openly criticise these things. Yet at times I have felt disempowered to openly criticise what does actually need to be criticised. Why? Because the sexist mud-slinging kicks in from others and it is difficult to be objectively critical of the Prime Minister's policy standpoints when you are busy having to defend her as a woman.

On more than one occasion I have written a post on some social media platform that is critical of a Gillard government standpoint and the conversation has been derailed by sexism. If I had a dollar for every time I have written something critical only to get back "well what do you expect from a backstabber like her?" I'd be buying up that desert island and relocating with 10 dogs, no problems. FFS, people; Julia Gillard is not Lady freakin' MacBeth! She mounted a leadership challenge in a party which is historically rather infamous for such challenges and she came out victorious. The reasons for why that challenge was mounted (sating the whining of those poor struggling mining moguls) might not have been much to brag about, but that doesn't change the fact that she is not the first to do so. It's that simple, but because she's a woman, her leadership tilt was seen differently to, say, the two challenges Keating mounted against Hawke. She's a "ranga bitch" apparently, or so I've been told, which I'm certain has nothing to do with the fact that her government detains people trying to escape persecution. I should also add that whilst the right-wing has been relentless in their sexism, it's fairly safe to say that a huge majority of people who read and respond to my stuff are not from the right. What's more, the sexism isn't only coming from the men. So why are left-aligned people, particularly women, buying into this?

This is where the true sexism lies for me. Myself, and similarly-left-aligned and usually politically-intersectional people across this country, due to some deeply socially-embedded sexist attitudes, are denied the ability to judge the Prime Minister on her own merits as a leader. We are denied the right to criticise her failings as a leader, praise her gains as a leader, criticise her party, and to objectively analyse anything. We are drowned out by the stupid and inane gender-related comments, rather than simply being able to take to bits some policy that is inherently discriminatory. And if we're not in there criticising some policy items because we are frankly exhausted from having to deal with the misogyny then we run the risk of being accused of being blind to the ALP's failings because we are too busy sticking up for the sisterhood. Oh yes, this has happened to me, despite the fact that I think I have made it rather clear that I am no ALP supporter. It really feels like a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario right now, and I would be understating things if I said I was a little over it.

What do I want? Well, in a nutshell, if people could get conscious of, and then get over, their embedded social misogyny that would be fabulous. It would be wonderful to have a good clean debate about the current ALP policies without hearing the "ditch the witch", the "blood on her hands" and the other, more subtle comments. I want to be able to open a newspaper and not read Gillard being judged in harsher and more arbitrary ways than her male contemporaries. I don't want to have to be sticking up for Gillard as a woman because I SHOULDN'T BLOODY HAVE TO! It shouldn't even be a factor as she is the elected leader of this country and deserves THE RIGHT to be able to do her job without this abuse. Whilst she can't just do that job though, you can bet your backside I will be doing the sisterhood thing and sticking up for her because she shouldn't be having to deal with sexism, and nor should any woman who comes after her. If Gillard was from the Liberal Party and was copping the same I WOULD STILL be sticking up for her as a woman who should not be having to deal with sexism. I will always be critical of her policies, but I want better for our women than what Gillard has been copping due to her gender, and what she is copping publicly at the top is a snapshot of what women face every day; from men and laterally.

So then: who's up for a discussion on why I think Constitutional Recognition is selling ourselves short? 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Happy birthday,!

Yep, "Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist" turned 1 today. Who'd have thought, hey? Well I certainly wouldn't have. And I certainly didn't predict the rollercoaster ride that can happen if you decide to park yourself in a suitable domain and commence ranting. This site has now led to:

  • 32 rants (so not quite 1 per week, but whatever...)
  • 6 articles (there are more to come)
  • 3 radio interviews
  • 1 TV appearance (and let us never speak of it again)
  • 1 film festival, and;
  • 1 Conference
It has been an interesting ride. I never started this with the intention of it being anything but a place to write stuff, and although I would have been perfectly happy if it had remained as such, I have enjoyed the remarkable and unexpected journey it has taken me on. This was a little niche market activity that kind of took on a life of its own, and I hope it not only encourages others to write, but also encourages those that can to publicise more black voices.

So I want to thank everyone who has been reading and those who have continually encouraged me to keep writing. Whether you're a Facebook or a Twitter oomi, whether you're a journalist looking for different material, whether you're someone who has stumbled upon this via a google search or you're a uni student with a questioning mind. I am incredibly thankful that you gave my little corner of cyberspace a go!

By the way, a couple of days I had another piece published by Daily Life, who have been so encouraging of my writing. If you're interested, you will find it here: A platform for the people who are not always heard

And now for some celebratory music:

NOTE: This song has nothing to do with feminism, punk, black politics, lefty politics or birthdays. It's just my favourite car-dancing song. Or one of...

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Last week I was accused of lateral violence...

Bet the Indigenous right-wing are happy to hear that they are not the only ones who cop that accusation. But before they go pointing their fingers in glee about how the left are the true evil perpetrators, I should state that there was no way in the world that the accusation had any merit at all. You see, I was accused because I was questioning Indigenous Beauty Pageants again following reading an article on the recent crowning of Miss NAIDOC in Perth. I wrote on this very topic last year and my piece ended up being republished. My basic argument was thus: how can an Indigenous beauty pageant ever be a truly empowering event for women whilst Indigenous people are still so fetishised and scrutinised, and when the broader notion of "beauty" is incredibly problematic on the basis of it reducing women to their arbitrary physical features. I also stated that individual empowerment through taking part in an event did not mean that the event itself was empowering as it reinforced social structures that are, in my estimation, oppressive. Not exactly an inconsistent opinion from me. 

Back when I wrote that article I received a reasonably respectful, though dissenting, email through from one of the NAIDOC Committees. Their concerns with what I had written gave me the opportunity to better explain my views. I wrote at one point that regardless of anything I had to state on the topic of Indigenous beauty pageants, I was reasonably certain that they would get even more applicants for their pageant this year, and I argued that this was because the same oppressive social structures exist. From what I could tell, this has been the case and the event has been bigger and better than previous years. On viewing the Facebook page on the Miss NAIDOC event and reading the comments people had left there, I was reasonably convinced that my point was somewhat proven though with regards to the oppressive structures I had referred to still being the case. Women are judged and praised for their looks regardless of what other attributes they may have, and black women are even more so. It just seems to be the way it is. 

So my structural analysis on beauty and blackness led to a baseless accusation of lateral violence when I again questioned how black pageants are actually empowering in another forum. On looking back over that discussion I have to wonder whether the accuser was looking for a reason to have a go at me over something because they had not engaged with the previous posted material or my original article at all; it was a very focussed accusation. But this accusation did make me think how an accusation of lateral violence can be a silencing tactic. Never a good thing in a community when there are many informed debates to be had on so many issues. 

To sum up lateral violence in a nutshell, I will draw on this quote from a consulting organisation in Canada where a lot of the theory and research has come from:

"Lateral Violence occurs within marginalized groups where members strike out at each other as a result of being oppressed. The oppressed become the oppressors of themselves and each other. Common behaviours that prevent positive change from occurring include gossiping, bullying, finger-pointing, backstabbing and shunning."

There is a lot more literature out there, but it is a big issue and needs tackling. A lot of the early research on lateral violence came from the nursing profession and was therefore focussed on women. It is poignant to note this  because as I stated, my original reasons for writing the first article, and indeed my reasons for this post are to investigate structures of oppression. And that is what I did. The patriarchy was called into question for reducing women to objects and then building an entire commercial industry around it. Whiteness was called into question for objectifying blackness and creating a situation where people are forced to assert their identities in the face of scrutiny, eroticisation and erasure. 

What's more, although a lot of my posts allow for individual choice to be a factor, the individual reasons for those personal choices are not of huge concern to me. That's part of the live and let live deal. What is of concern is the contexts in which choices are made, why those choices have come to exist in the first place, and how empowerment can be a long-term and extensively beneficial state, rather than a fleeting and individual experience. I have said that I am certain that women who participate in Miss NAIDOC pageants DO find them to be empowering experiences, but why is this so? Could it be that in a world were the appearance of women is scrutinised AND where black women are subjected to the additional level of cultural scrutiny, that the very notion of being seen and having your appearance validated would be experienced as an empowering thing? If this is the case then do we promote Indigenous beauty and buy into the problematic world of centralising women's outward appearance or do we try and deconstruct the lot of it? 

I am very much of the "Audre Lorde" school of thought here whereby "The Master's tools will never dismantle the Master's house". Buying into coloniser notions of blackness, as well as patriarchal notions of beauty is not going to change anything for the better in the long term. Others disagree with me, and you know what, that's fantastic! Why? Because we need to have the ability to debate issues within our community. We're a diverse community and the more we do engage in debate, the more able we become to cover all of our needs. I would like to see a hell of a lot more debate out there in the www because there is not nearly enough, and our debate is generally not covered by Australian news sources. 

Dissenting view, you bet your life. But lateral violence? Not even remotely. I wish all the young women involved in the pageants the very best and I said this when I first raised the topic for discussion nearly a year ago. I hope they thoroughly enjoy their experiences and I hope that the community supports them 100%. I also hope that their involvement in these competitions propels them on to bigger and better things. But I really do hope for a world in which our women aren't made to feel like they have to be physically appealing; where they are seen as human beings of equal status and treated constantly with respect. Where their culture is also respected and is not continually misrepresented by the mainstream or just blatantly ignored. I want extensive and inclusive empowerment. 

One final note. As mentioned, lateral violence is a real issue. It exists BECAUSE racism and sexism exist* and it is therefore important to analyse those structural forms of oppression in order to combat it. It is a daily experience for members of our community and more awareness of it and the forms it takes are needed so people can check themselves and move from an oppressive to a supportive framework. Audre Lorde works here too: becoming an oppressor does not remove oppression. It only creates the "divide and conquer" paradigm. So call it out when you see it and work toward positive change. Don't use it as a tool to silence others wrongfully because essentially, that's just buying into it.

PS Through work, we conducted a members' survey on racism, discrimination and lateral violence in the workplace, and approximately 2/3 of the respondents indicated that they had encountered this issue. The full report is available here

* It exists in other forms of oppression but for the purposes of this piece, these are the types we're focussed on here

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A note on this proudly biased site

I have stated this before here and here, but as it appears that some are exceptionally slow learners, I am writing this again for the benefit of those people.

This is a proudly black site. This is a proudly feminist site. This is also a proudly left-wing site. Additionally, this is a proudly moderated site. I started it because, well initially I just wanted a place to write stuff, but also because I wanted to claim a space in the www for an Aboriginal feminist lefty to express opinion in a way that we do not tend to get to opportunity to do in the Australian mainstream media. See, the Australian media is dominated by white men, and it is also 70% controlled by the Murdoch Press; hardly a radical left-wing organisation that's for damn sure. 

So I am dedicated to not replicating that continual cacophony of white male right-wing opinion in this forum and proclaim my little corner of cyberspace to be proudly biased. Black opinion, feminist opinion and left-wing opinion will be actively promoted here, and if you don't like that then you are free to start your own blog or post in forums that are more inline with your persuasions. God knows there are plenty.

I will occasionally allow dissenting views from people that respond to my posts, particularly if I think they are well thought-out and detailed responses. But I will not tolerate those who feel the need to "whitemansplain" stuff to me via sprawling diatribes. I've had a lifetime of your opinion. I will also not tolerate trolls. And I will not tolerate those that harass other people who post on this page for those ones are the utter scum of the earth. I am utterly disgusted that this has happened to some commentators on here and if I get even a sniff that someone is actively seeking to abuse others I will, from now on, simply block those people. 

So again, if you feel silenced by my stance, post elsewhere. The WWW is a vast playground and there is more than enough room for you to exist in another space. You can even express those opinions you think I need to read in full and unmoderated ways! Okay?