Sunday, September 29, 2013

On black feminist bungee jumping

Found my photos of this the other day, and thought I would share the video.

Before I go into it, some context. The year was 2005. I was 27 years old with rather normal hair, a few additional kilos, and the same attitude. I was in a quite horrible relationship, at the time. This was also the first time I had ever been overseas.

A slow developer on the globe-trotting side of things, I went to NZ for the World Indigenous Peoples' Conference in Education (WIPC:E). It was an incredibly transformative experience for me, and whilst I was always politically-motivated and engaged prior to that point, I think after experiencing all those Indigenous cultures from across the world, and also seeing how much more Maori culture was embraced in Aotearoa compared to Aboriginal culture in Australia, I became somewhat more radicalised. There is nothing quite like overseas travel for opening your eyes and your mind.

Following WIPC:E, I hired a car and travelled around the North Island of NZ solo; staying in many backpacker hostels and having a brilliant time experiencing the culture, the land, the food, and the thermal pools. The sheer freedom of solo travel is something I have replicated a few times since, and truth be told, I actually wonder if I would be able to stand travelling with anyone else!

But what's NZ without a good bungee jump, hey? Yes, there was a feminist tale behind this jump. I had planned to do something extreme sport-y whilst there, and was driving around Taupo when I came across a nearly 50m cantilever platform jump. I went to have a look and saw three blokes all line up for their jumps, but no women. I figured I couldn't let the patriarchy have all the fun, so paid my money and took the leap. The rest is in the video.

It's quite an amazing moment for me. I don't think I would be able to do it now, because water-plunges are not exactly brilliant for bad ears. Also, post-car accident, I would probably cause myself even more injury. Knowing though that I could do it, and that I did do it, has stayed with me ever since, and I am really proud that I took that impulsive leap. If anything, it means that I learnt that pushing boundaries and stepping outside comfort zones, whilst sometimes terrifying, can lead to wonderful experiences. I had always been good with pushing boundaries (mainly because those boundaries were usually crap) but this heightened it.

Anyway, enjoy, and listen out for the corny line as I talk to the people in the dingy ;)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

4 days until Frocktober!

I'm not doing Frocktober this year, as an entire month of wearing dresses, shaving armpits/legs and putting on bras was just far too much for me! Thanks to the generosity of so many though, I raised over $2700 last year for ovarian cancer research. People also got a good giggle at my expense which is always wonderful ;)

For more information on the cause, check out the Frocktober websites:



Additionally, if you wish to read about me whinging about adhering to socially-enforced femininity for an entire month, check out my blog entries:




And finally, here are some pics just to prove what a flippin' awesome op-shopper I am! You can't generally get me to go clothes shopping at the best of times, yet snaffling through an oppy? No worries!

One or two or three sneak peaks just for your amusement:

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

On being a black lefty feminist with a "posh voice"

I remember when I first moved from Canberra to Melbourne; when I was nearly 14 years old; I kept on saying stuff wrong. For starters, I kept on talking about "Carstlemaine" and mentioned that I was in the "8th grade" ("Year 8", I was sternly corrected). But it was more than that. Apart from being an identifying Aboriginal girl going into an outer suburban public school, I was also told that I had a "posh" accent. It was apparently so refined that I remember once that I was asked whether I was from England.

Possibly the funniest guess I have ever had at my heritage, I have to say.

Anyway, the point is that my alleged accent has been considered a bit of an anomaly over the years, when paired up with the blackness, the working-classness, the incessant left-wing politics and, well, the everything. Whilst now I find those who consider it an anomaly to be quite hilarious, it, like so many other things that make up me, has been part of a bigger journey that today I feel triggered enough to jot down.

See today, I am sitting here, pretty much hanging by a thread. Not only do I seem to be on the longest insomnia curve of my life (we're into the third week now), but I have extraordinary Tinnitus. At this point in time I have another perforated left eardrum; something that has happened to me so many times in my life that I have lost count and now consider it a normal occurrence (twice a year, say). I also have a damaged middle ear that was quite badly infected, or so I was told when I last saw my ENT Specialist two weeks ago. When my ears are ringing like this, the only thing that seems to give relief is sitting with headphones on and blaring music to drown out the noise. Conversing on the phone, or in any other circumstance, is difficult because I get distracted and can go so far as to temporarily forget basics like people's names. I am not entirely sure why I am struggling so much today, and tomorrow will more than likely be better, but I never quite know. 

Ear problems have been an issue I have had for as long as I remember. Whilst it's something that generally children grow out of, mine are going to be an issue for the rest of my life. My Eustachian tubes, thanks to years of infections and a couple of operations along the way, are quite badly scarred which makes them infinitely more susceptible to everything. It's hereditary, and whilst people with Aboriginal heritage are much more likely to have issues with their ears, I also get it from my Mum's side with two close relations having lifelong ear problems as well. Generally, I end up having 1-2 hearing tests per year, and this increases if I get a cold because colds can knock out 50% of my hearing for up to three weeks. When I clear again, it's rare that my hearing will go back to the exact same level it was prior to the cold; usually there will be a minute loss. I have had two operations (grommets at 7 and a dual eardrum repair procedure at 14) and am in line for a third one should current conditions continue to deteriorate. At this stage, both my eardrums are retracted (bowing backwards) due to being severely weakened over the years, and my left middle ear is more damaged. DESPITE ALL THIS THOUGH, my hearing, should I have no other issues at the time, is not much below what a normal person's would be! It will get a lot worse over time, but for now, I don't need the TV up too much louder.

So what on earth does this have to do with my posh accent then? Well basically, that comes down to two things: the first being that my mother flatly refused to ever speak "baby talk" to any of us kids and was quite hardcore on correct pronunciation, and the second being that my ear problems didn't actually get diagnosed until I was 7 when a teacher at school picked them up. For years, I had had difficulty and because I'd hear a lot of "fluffy noise", I actually mumbled a lot because that's what it all sounded like to me. I also developed as a reader and writer earlier because I found listening and talking far more difficult, and for as long as I can remember I have preferred communicating in written forms. I am still a complete introvert, but back then it meant that I developed socially slower than children who had better hearing and so I would isolate myself or hang around one or two friends that I trusted. I am actually incredibly glad that I had an aptitude for reading and writing because I hate to know how far I would have slipped behind without those things. 

Once I had had my first operation, I also attended speech therapy to help me better form my words. We worked together for a while, if I recall correctly, and since then (along with the influence of mum!) I have always spoken in a way that may be a little, well, "posh". It was absolutely drilled into me that well-formed sounds and clarity were the key. I think I also became aware that others around me may also have ear issues and so it was incredibly important to be clear for them. I don't really know any different. It means that I can pick up languages quite well because I hone in on the correct sounds, but it also means that perhaps there's a bit of a mismatch between the ranting black lefty feminist business and the way I articulate it verbally. Does one sound ranty when they're clearly articulating their swear words, for example ;)

Whilst speaking better is something I learnt from childhood, dealing with my ear problems is something I don't always do particularly well. It's frustrating to lose hearing when you have a cold and feel like you're in a bubble for a couple of weeks. It's completely annoying when two people are speaking to you at the same time and their voices mash in together. It's embarrassing when someone is trying to whisper something to you in a more intimate setting and you end up yelling "sorry?" because you can't hear a bloody thing they've said. It's irritating when your headphones start to go on the blink and one of them is louder than the other when you're already off balance. It's tiresome when excessively loud music becomes a method of health-and-sanity management rather than a good excuse to mosh. I still struggle a fair bit, and like today, sometimes it will just get to me. 

So if I want anything to come out of this it would be that many more young people, and particularly young Aboriginal people, end up with posh voices with which to do their future ranting because they have had their ears checked and they're on their way to a better, and clearer, future. My stupid voice is actually a source of pride to me; that despite an early setback, I was still able to learn and eventually get to where I am today. I also like that it has that "friggin' what?" factor where people, knowing other stuff about me, may be wrong-footed when they hear me go all "refined accent". When you're frequently underestimated due to your gender or racial background, it's always fun to mess with their heads a bit. Plus, I always sound good on recordings, no matter how deaf I may be that day ;)

Onward and upward all! 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Andrew Bolt: The "new racism" is so last season!

Andrew Bolt, who was found to have contravened the Racial Discrimination Act in a court of law, has been going to profound levels to prove just how racist he is not. Funnily, his tactic seems to be to point out just how racist the left are rather than apply any level of introspection and perhaps examining why his actions may have been found as such. Not only that, he's brilliantly coined himself a buzz phrase to flog at every opportunity, particularly when he is promoting the virtues of his favourite conservative and moderate Aboriginal people. Yes, thanks to Andrew Bolt we now have “The New Racism” (TNR).

And gee, does he love to promote this idea. One simple Google search shows just how much he is promoting TNR as a concept (which incidentally, he seems to have pinched from the writings of Indigenous conservatives Dallas Scott and Bess Price but put a catchy phrase on). How he defines it seems to be that the Left, in all their folly, are promoting the division of us all by virtue of race leading to lower aspirations and neglect of Indigenous communities. This is because the left wish for the preservation of some sort of Indigenous "authentic" and therefore resort to stereotyping because they see races, and not individual people, and argue that there are common issues suffered by people of the same race. To pinch a quote from him: "I’ve long thought there’s a lot of projection in the Left’s obsession with racism. The rise of the New Racism - this offensive harping on differences of “race” which are all but invisible to the naked eye - is but one manifestation of it".

Apart from his extraordinarily lazy focus on the left in his analysis, I have but one thing to say: Congratulations Bolta, you've discovered "structural racism"! Have a biscuit, lad. Some of us have been talking about this for a while, and the thing is, it's not exactly "new". Nope, the discussions have been going on for a long time now, but we're glad you've joined us! The left and the right may talk about structural racism and its manifestations in different ways as you have "amply" shown us, but it doesn't mean that we are not talking about the same thing. Yes, the idea that a person may end up being oppressed and have their agency diminished by structural and social forces, even if there is some argument over what those forces might be, is nothing new at all.

When paring down Bolts arguments, I come up with the following:

1. To consider people different by virtue of their racial and/or cultural background is racism
2. Tailoring support programmes differently to address different racial and/or cultural groups rather than an individual's circumstances is racism
3. The left, due to its fascination with "equity" for different groups, rather than its focus on the situation of individuals, is responsible for perpetuating racism

In other words: the ones calling out "racism" are the biggest "racists" of all because they draw attention to race when this divider doesn't even occur to good right-wing folk who are most interested in a person's individual merit. Which is, of course, rubbish. The fact that there are different life experiences due to issues of race when there is a situation of a "dominant culture" is well-established. The right has also been no stranger to using race rather than individual merit as a divider (for more information, see Nazism, Apartheid, Segregation and, oh, Stolen Generation). What's more, structural racism faced by Indigenous peoples is so recognised as a global issue that the UN have set up a special committee and a set of rights to address the common issues. 

Racism is not a left-right issue; it occurs on both sides of the political spectrum because structural racism is a well-embedded cultural phenomenon. Regardless of whether people are left-wing or right-wing they will perpetuate it in their own ways if they are not self-aware. Indeed, 11-odd years ago when I wrote my honours play I included an incident of racism experienced within left-wing circles and many could relate to coming up against stereotypical ideas of what Indigenous people "should be". Bolt's rather strange idea that we can all go colour-blind, join hands and skip around the globe is not going to become a reality until we're honest about the historical, cultural and other factors that cause racism to be a feature of this country. The key is collaboration and education, and arguing anything else is just misdirection.

One final point: I question Bolt's motives for harping on about "the new racism". I cannot help but think he does so to try and wriggle off the hook of racism he created for himself when he wrote his fateful columns and got called out legally. What's more, his positioning of himself as the champion for right-wing Indigenous opinion is particularly distasteful. He may see his role as promoting this opinion as an alternative to the Indigenous left-wing voices, but if he truly believed in the merits of the arguments of these people then I have to wonder why he doesn't step aside and let them speak for themselves. If they have something that should be said then let them have the floor rather than taking up that space with rubbish theories about "new racism". Regardless of what I think of the opinions of the Indigenous right-wing he promotes, I believe that most have shown themselves perfectly capable of stating their arguments and certainly not in need of a "champion" with his own agenda. Let's face it: they're politicians, academics, accomplished bloggers, bureaucrats. I'd prefer to read these opinions unfiltered by the likes of Bolt, personally, because they're part of the Indigenous political landscape.

Just as a little aside, I wish to highlight the following: back in the day, I used to write many letters to the Herald Sun refuting the arguments of Andrew Bolt. Some were even published although very heavily edited. It is so much fun having my own space to refute his arguments AND being my own editor :D 

Monday, September 2, 2013

On being a feminist with period pain

Period pain. A perfectly normal part of a woman's lifespan. Most menstruating women will experience it at least once in their lifetime and some, like myself, experience it regularly and strongly to the point where it can reduce their capacity to participate in everyday life. Sometimes it's not completely normal. Sometimes it's a part of an underlying medical condition that requires treatment, and this is particularly the case if it comes on later in life with no previous experience of pain. Generally though, it's harmless if not somewhat inconvenient.

So if it is so damn normal and average and stuff, why is it so hard to talk about? Why is it that this hardcore black feminist, when confronted with pain and depleted energy as a result, finds it so difficult to say "I think my uterus is actually twisting itself into an infinity symbol in four different directions and I simply need to rest"? I mean it is that normal for me that, generally speaking, most months I will need a day away from society or work to rest, and it has always been that way. I hate to say it, but in the quest to be the all-conquering feminist ready to take on the world, I think I unfortunately sometimes see my own body's needs as a sign of weakness and a thing to be overcome. And that, quite frankly, is ridiculous.

Part of the reason I got involved in the trade union movement is because I saw what it was trying to do to achieve equity in the workplace for women and for Indigenous people. Workplaces are still very much set up based on a mainstream man's lived experience, and this is evident by the fact that we are still fighting for parental leave schemes, cultural leave and other such things that will allow for optimal participation in the workforce of people who are not white men. Rather than being seen as opportunities for workforces to grow their capacity and skill pool, a lot of the time these clauses are seen as disruptions and inconveniences at the bargaining table and the reason for this is that they upset a dominant workplace culture. So they damn well should too, because if it wasn't for these dominant cultures being challenged, we would still be having to deal with bosses in the vein of Gene Hunt but lacking any of the residual charm.

Whilst great strides have been made, we are still walking that tightrope of trying to change embedded cultures whilst also trying to achieve as much as we individually can in the existing environments. That whole "women are just as capable as men, if not more" argument will occasionally run aground when the entire system is set up around men and women's experiences are still fringe considerations. This leaves women with a dilemma: do they change to adhere to the current system thus proving how capable they are at succeeding in it, or do they own their own experience and push for recognition of that experience. From the time I was young, I was told that women, and Aboriginal people, could do whatever they wanted but for the most part I have found that this is only true if they wish to do so completely within a white male paradigm. If they don't wish to be swept up in a great big wave of assimilation then we have a problem.

This is where period pain comes into it. Like I said, this is part of my lived experience. I know most months I will be confronted by it. I know that generally it is manageable but sometimes it won't be. I also know that it will abate by the end of the second day because that's what happens. I may have to deal with pain but one thing I have never had to deal with is irregularity and on comparison with other women friends I have found I have clockwork precision; every month, average 28 days between, ovulation smack bang in the middle of it. What's more, knowing my cycle and and all its quirks means that I am pretty in tune with what's going on and I can, and have, used the Billings Method for extended periods of time because of this knowledge. I honestly don't know many women who would be able to do that without having to read up extensively and fuss about with thermometers.

I have though, at times, sought medical assistance for period pain, just to make sure that there isn't anything more problematic going on. They have had suspicions: endometriosis was talked about 10 years ago but nothing was conclusively found. I've had borderline scans for PCOS for years but hormone levels are all within the normal range. When I had a laproscopy a couple of years back for an ectopic, they routinely checked to see if there may be any further complications and found utterly nothing. The short of it is, this is just me. Medical professionals have, however, suggested "remedies". Painkillers of course, but they always suggest the contraceptive pill and I always refuse. I've tried it before and not only does my normal cycle not particularly like being synthetically regulated and tries to stubbornly push itself through, but, like many other women, it effects my moods drastically. Additionally, seeing I have the rare benefit of being regular, then regulating synthetically seems just a tad ridiculous to me. So does cancelling my completely natural cycle so I can wholly participate in a male-focussed society.

So why dance around it then? Because this IS my life, and because all of the workplaces I have ever worked in have had this embedded masculine culture to varying degrees, it still seems like weakness to admit that one has a very female problem in this environment. At times this has led to other people making assumptions about what my physical limitations may be based on other issues I have (eg: ongoing injuries from a car accident) rather than them knowing that I have varying needs. Additionally, because there are certain regulations regarding days off and the like, it sometimes means I have to waste time going to the doctor for a certificate for something I experience consistently and know exactly what to do about. Perhaps it's the fault of those poxy white swimsuit ads because there can be an implicit understanding that women will just "get on with it" and admitting when we can't flies in the face of our perceived capabilities. If we keep pushing on through and not admitting when our bodies are telling us we need a break are we really changing or challenging workplaces, perceptions, society or, well, anything?

Food for thought; for me, and for anyone else who is similarly afflicted. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Murdoch Press improvement

May add more of these as I feel inclined. Feel free to share and spam onwards