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Are you a Real Australian? Not if you’re a woman.

As I read this piece by Sean Kelly at The Monthly yesterday, titled Real Australians: The way we talk about our country needs to change, I became aware of an overwhelming, visceral sadness, a feeling not usually aroused in me by meditations on national identity.

It took a few moments to analyse what this feeling was about. And then I got it. There is no place in the current concept of the “Real Australian” for women. There is no place for me. For my mother. My sisters. My granddaughter, my daughter-in-law, the women I work with, eat lunch with, dance with, exercise with, chat with on social media.

In other words, there is no place in my country’s definition of its identity for me, or for any human with female genitals. Real Australians are men. Real Australian men may squabble amongst themselves about which of them actually are Real Australians, however, they aren’t squabbling amongst themselves about including women in the national identity.

Kelly’s piece examines the racially abusive verbal attack on Senator Sam Dastyari in a pub a couple of evenings ago. Dastyari described his feelings about the attack thus:

“It makes me feel small, makes me feel horrible, it makes you feel kind of terrible and that’s what they are designed to do.”

Dastyari is right: this is exactly what racially abusive attacks are designed to do to the recipient. Without in any way wishing to diminish the abhorrence of Dastyari’s experience, I would like to borrow his words to describe how I feel about being excluded from my country’s national identity. It makes me feel small, makes me feel horrible, it makes me feel kind of terrible, and that’s what it’s designed to do.

I say “that’s what it’s designed to do” because it’s no accident that women are not included in the fantasy of the Real Australian. It cannot possibly have escaped the notice of intelligent, thinking men that the concept is entirely masculine, and yet I have never heard any man point out its exclusionary nature in public discussion. Why not?

Denying us a seat at the national identity table is not entirely unconnected with the apparently entrenched male habit of murdering one of us every week. A stretch! And an offensive one at that! you might protest. However, if you have even limited knowledge of the processes of dehumanisation, you will be aware that refusal to acknowledge other humans as being of equal consequence as yourself, is the first step on the morally abject journey that can end in you killing them.

Women are appallingly abused in Australia, and nobody much cares to discuss it, and it is not a stretch to suggest that the exclusion of women from national identity is a significant contributor to a national perception that our lives aren’t as important, therefore the murderous harms done to us, usually in our homes, are likewise, not that important.

As you might have noticed, my overwhelming visceral sadness has overnight morphed into fury. What are women to Australia, that in 2017 we continue to be excluded from conversations about national identity, and what are men in Australia, that you continue to conduct such conversations as if the Real Australian is unquestionably male, and that is a universal truth?

I’m not usually interested in concepts of national identity, being more inclined to cosmopolitanism. However, in this instance, it’s like excluding family members from membership in the family.

It starts at the top. The people you exclude from the definition of your country’s identity are the people you dehumanise, by the very fact of your exclusion. It’s easier to discount us, abuse us and murder us, if we aren’t Real Australians.

Oh, I’m sorry. That escaped your attention?

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.


24 comments

  1. Matt

    Jennifer,

    Not wanting to diminish your feelings, as probably many men also think they are not included in, or perhaps do not identify with ‘the real Australian’ image for men, but I cannot see why you get the feeling you describe from this article. Could you identify what specifically about it made you feel that way? (this is not a criticism, I just want to understand what triggered this response).

  2. Steve Laing

    Having lived in four different countries now, I’m at a loss to understand most people’s “need” to associate with a concept as nebulous (and historically fairly recent) as nationality. I totally understand the importance of “country” to First Nation people, as it plays a critical role in their survival, but for the rest of us? However you are certainly right about one thing – there are a group of people in this nation who are looking, wherever they can, to make others feel inferior for whatever reason. Whether that is citizen rights, marriage rights, constitutional rights – if you don’t fit their concept, then you are nobody, and Dog forbid you complain about it, or you’ll be accused of virtue signalling.

    However, as the father of three daughters, I completely agree that the issue of domestic violence and its regular, awful consequences, is STILL being downplayed by those who have the mandate to do something about it. It really is not good enough.

  3. susan

    A great article, can you please publish it every week until something changes.

  4. Jennifer Wilson

    Hi Matt, I’m not sure I can express the sense of not having a place in your country’s identity better or more fully than I have in the article.
    It is to do with belonging, as is all national identity. Women are not permitted to belong in this country to the same extent as are men who fulfil the stereotype of the Real Australian.

    I’m aware that very many men don’t identify with the Barnaby Joyce Real Australian caricature. I think I’ll leave it to men who feel that way to contest the manner in which the caricature excludes and marginalises them. It’s a full-time job contesting it as a woman.

  5. Joseph Carli

    Just sayin’…

    Better judgement would tell any male to stay away from this area..but then I never have gone into a situation I could not defend..What you write above could be described as a lose-lose situation for many males..but then there is this goading event..
    It is a almost verbatim account of an episode told to me soon after by the male involved…it is by no means an isolated incident in my experience in that “colourful” metropolis.

    Proverb: “Those with sour mouths cannot spit sweetness.”

    Parable: Jim Parker worked as a motor mechanic in his own garage in Darwin. His wife; Cynthia worked in an hotel in one of the outer suburbs. After work, Jim would drive to the hotel, pick up his wife and give her a lift home. This evening he was late.

    “What took you so long?” his wife complained.

    “I had to finish Mr. Black’s truck, he wanted it tomorrow.”

    “Oh yeah, so who’s more important; me or Mr. Black’s truck?” She didn’t want or expect an answer, but snatched her bag from the desk and pushed the door open to the carpark. Jim followed two or three steps behind. As she strode toward their car, she came near a group of aborigines lounging about drinking beers. One of the women was sitting on the bonnet of a car that belonged to one of her workmates Cynthia didn’t like aborigines at all!

    “Get off that car you black bitch!” She snarled as she walked past.

    Suddenly: “Wham!” she was hit and knocked to the ground by one of the aborigine men standing close by. Jim pulled up in shock with his arms spread and his mouth open. The Aborigine women, as if by some pre-arranged strategy quickly removed one of their shoes and thrust them into the hands of their men standing there. Jim dashed forward for the fight and was confronted with a “wall of men” with the shoes in their raised fists ready to strike. Although a seasoned “scrapper”, Jim saw at an instant this was too much to take on. He halted and glared around in anger, the men glared back, their raised arms wavering.

    “Hit him Jim, hit him, hit him…go on you coward…hit him!!.. his wife yelled, one arm propping herself up off the bitumen. Jim felt the insult rake across his brain.

    “Go on, hit him I said…oh you…you coward!” She wept.

    “Shut up Cyn, for Gods sake shut up and get in the car before I hit you!” And they drove away. But all the way home she lay into his manhood so that he dropped her off and grabbed his shotgun and returned to “settle things”. But of course there was no-one in the car-park when he got there. Jim sat brooding in his car with nothing to calm his anger and the bitterness of his wife’s accusations biting into his soul.

  6. Joseph Carli

    With my above anecdote, I am not for a moment defending such actions of violent males..indeed, domestic violence in all it’s forms is a degrading of civilisation as we expect it. But I am concerned as to whom it is who wants to control the “conversation” of this criminal activity…I have no faith that the middle-class can bring this cruelty under control, considering that the incidents of domestic violence seem to rise in conjunction with the rise of the aspiring Right-wing..which seems to spawn directly from the-hungry for a dollar-speculative middle-class..
    I would have greater confidence if the program for correction of such violence was more in the hands of an educated working-class.

  7. Kyran

    It’s odd that sometimes several matters appear at the same time and the similarities in the ‘power structure’, or the status quo, get to share an unwelcome spotlight.

    Having had both the honour and privilege of knowing many ‘strong women’ (a term most of them have expressed, at the very least, disdain for), I would no more think of offering them advice than I would think of walking to the moon. In Mr Lord’s recent article, ‘How did it come to this?’, there are many references to the retreats being made in America regarding women’s civil rights, amongst many other regressions. The disparity in legislation in Australia about the most fundamental of women’s rights, the right to choice, is merely a mirroring of America and an ignorance of the reality. And that is only one instance. Ms Rosie Batty, in my humble opinion, did more for ‘self-determination’ for women in one year than dozens of politicians in a hundred years.

    I was talking to a friend of mine who is, by his own description, somewhat unconventional. He is not an advocate of marriage, but he became involved in that horrible postal survey because it, at last, gave him the right to choose whether he would or would not marry. After decades of scorn and abuse for nothing other than his existence, he had a glint of equality. Funnily enough, the conversation evolved in discussing who’s name, if any, would be taken in a same sex marriage and would that reflect the same subjugation implied in traditional marriage, when women give up their family name.

    Mr Carli’s comment reminded me of an article written by a wonderful journalist, Natalie Cromb. Whilst it pertained to our First People, I invite anyone to read this and not see the similarities in my friend’s plight, or that of the many wonderful women I have known, who are disempowered by their genitalia.

    “Stop speaking for us and over us. Stop thinking your opinions matter at all in this battle for what is right. You need to understand that for this all-important fight to right the wrongs of this and every government before it — you need to be support staff. You need to demonstrate that you understand your privilege by checking it at the door and supporting us, standing behind us and silently sending the message to the Turnbull Government that the populace fighting to right the wrongs is not a mere three per cent as they would like to believe — we are many and we are growing.

    https://independentaustralia.net/australia/australia-display/turnbulls-loud-and-clear-contempt-for-indigenous-voice,10883

    The similarities you have referenced with Mr Dastyari’s situation are inescapable.
    “It makes me feel small, makes me feel horrible, it makes me feel kind of terrible, and that’s what it’s designed to do.”

    Any sympathy or empathy I may have with your plight is largely irrelevant due to our differing genitalia. Mine gives me no right or entitlement to lecture you, and it sure as hell gives me no right whatsoever to prescribe how you should live.

    It sure as hell doesn’t stop me from standing with you.

    And, in an attempt to tie this all off, there was a discussion on the Drum yesterday. One of the panelists was an Indigenous man whose name, regrettably, I did not get. He spoke of our First People’s matriarchal community structure, rather than our mob’s patriarchal structure. He spoke of sitting in a circle when meeting (there was no ‘head’ of the table) as a measure of equality. He spoke of genuine leadership, where standards weren’t platitudes to be trouped out every so often and applicable to only a few. He spoke of respect. He spoke of self value, and how it should be applied as much as self worth. He spoke of none of that being of either significance or consequence if you don’t have self determination. All of these factor into bullying and abuse. They can only be rectified when those who are disenfranchised are given a voice, and the resultant recognition, to participate in the change.

    “Women are appallingly abused in Australia, and nobody much cares to discuss it, and it is not a stretch to suggest that the exclusion of women from national identity is a significant contributor to a national perception that our lives aren’t as important, therefore the murderous harms done to us, usually in our homes, are likewise, not that important.”

    Equality. I’m not sure we’ll ever get there. But it is a dream too sweet to be discarded.
    If that make me an unreal Australian, or a real un-Australian, so be it.
    Thank you Ms Wilson and commenters. Take care

  8. Kaye Lee

    During the time of the Fraser government, Dr Gabriel Moens, a great fan of Bob Santamaria, was appointed by the Human Rights Commission to prepare a report assessing the merits and demerits of affirmative action which he described as “a very disturbing development in our society” which “appears to favour a distribution of benefits on the basis of sex, ethnicity and colour.”

    Great understanding of disadvantage shown there.

    In 2009 Dr Moens gave a speech on the occasion of the inauguration of the B.A. Santamaria Library at Murdoch University in Perth. It was titled “MEN AND IDEAS: Bob Santamaria’s role in Australia’s culture wars.” In his speech Dr Moens said

    “Encouragement for the vocation of homemaker is described as a particularly odious form of sexism. Instead, feminism, preferential treatment, alternative lifestyles, infidelity and politically correct speech, just to name a few, are variously described as desirable or even liberating orthodoxies. These new orthodoxies, which are often aggressively promoted by well-funded lobby groups, create a climate of intolerance and instil a sense of genuine fear into a great number of decent people.”

    Ahhh yes….how scary for the “decent people” if those women are let out of the house, or those coloured people forget their place, or, God forbid, the decent people might have to stop abusing and harassing and belittling them and actually give them choice in their own lives.

    If we want to talk intolerance and fear from well-funded lobby groups, let’s talk about the churches.

  9. diannaart

    @Jennifer Wilson

    You said it for me:

    I’m aware that very many men don’t identify with the Barnaby Joyce Real Australian caricature. I think I’ll leave it to men who feel that way to contest the manner in which the caricature excludes and marginalises them. It’s a full-time job contesting it as a woman.

    I agree many men are marginalised for not fitting the Real Australian construct. Many LGBITQA people know how that feels. So either join with women and speak out that both sexes are being marginalised or at least let women speak their piece in peace. Remember, women already feel drowned out by male voices.

    I have been fighting, just for my own survival, for many years – I would appreciate the support. But don’t tell me if I was being judged along side a ‘marginalised man’ by a “Real Australian” just who would be picked for the game of thrones and who would be left on the benches.

  10. Joseph Carli

    May we men never be sheltered nor protected from badly behaved women!

    Toothless..
    Toothless wasn’t really toothless…it’s just that she had a plate that filled the gap of three missing front teeth, that she would click and clack and sometimes push out with her tongue …an unfortunate habit that gained her the nickname of “Toothless”.
    She was ahead of her time for those days, as she didn’t carry a purse with her and kept her money in a wallet like a bloke..she had a comb that she would now and then pass through her page-boy hair cut and replace to a back pocket of her jeans. But she did seek out the company of males, which would contradict any presumption of ; “batting for the other team”. But hey!..who cares..
    But she was a hell of a drinker!…Christ!…could she knock ‘em back…and she wasn’t above shouting her round. I sometimes wonder if she was a kind of “neuter” in the sexual stakes…a sort of “neither here nor there” kind of person..you do get them..I remember one such young chap in my experience..he never dated, and would spend more time admiring his own looks in a mirror or passing glass window that even consider anyone else.
    Bruce got on quite pally with her and he even scored a date to meet at her flat for a few drinks.
    “I’ve got a half dozen long-necks , a flask of Bundy, and a packet of weed!” He announced gleefully…”If that doesn’t soften her up, nothing will”…he informed us frankly.
    Actually, such a volume of narcotics was a big investment for Bruce, seeing that he was on unemployment benefits at that time, so it must have eaten somewhat into his savings.
    “Wish me luck!” he winked to us as he headed out the front bar doors.
    You can consult the archives of the Seacliff Hotel Sports and Social Club” for a report on that night’s events…the short of it being that Toothless drank, smoked and kicked Bruce under the table!…She not only polished off all his booze etc. , but then pulled out a supply of her own and proceeded to tuck into that! Bruce confessed that he gave it best when she played that unbeatable hand. ..and it took him a week to recover both his sobriety and manly pride from such a beating!
    Toothless hung about for a while until she tired of the wimpy blokes there and moved on to greener pastures…She was last heard of ripping through the male egos of the northern beach hotels…; The Henley, The Pier and Larges Bay….and good luck to her I say!

  11. johno

    I saw the new blade runner last night. Whilst I enjoyed the movie for all its high tech and grunginess the caricaturing of women is alive and well and projected well into the future. Hollywood or where ever these movies are created help keep the this dominating attitude towards women alive.

  12. diannaart

    johno

    The original Blade Runner is one of my favourite films and was the first DVD I ever bought.

    I have been listening to reviews (all male thus far, but that’s because there are more male reviewers)… anyhoo, I have heard that Blade Runner 2 is fantastic spectacle-wise, but the women are extremely plastic and there for decoration/stimulation and little else.

    However, after a lifetime of of watching movies I have had to develop a level of tolerance for women being 2 dimensional and/or stereo-typed. Which is my way of justifying seeing BR 2 – because I can suspend my disbelief at so many things.

    What I do appreciate is more and more men speaking out against the limited depiction of women in film and elsewhere. I would like to think my young niece can have less of a struggle just to be her own autonomous self, than I did. Although, opportunities for yours truly were definitely better than in my grandmother’s day.

    Change is slow, but with more men speaking out against discrimination against women or other marginalised people, the future is looking brighter.

  13. Brenda Easton

    I agree with this article and will share it with my women’s group pages. I would argue the national identity is a pro white, protestant, middle to upper class, blokes bloke man. It is still so entrenched in our notorious apartheid golden years and in-explicitly linked ANZACs and sporting heroes. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, female and our other multi-cultural brothers, sisters, sons and daughters never get a mention in the narrative. Girls went as ANZAC nurses. First Nation diggers were celebrated on the field and treated appallingly when they came home. The waves of immigration supply us with sporting talent. But they are not promoted or treated like gods like the white ones. The ones who calm the plebs not inspire or invoke them RE Adam Goodes. A personal hero for me. We are still a conservative white apartheid country and that right wing element needs to be challenged and changed. Am I a real Australian? Not it apartheid is embedded in the definition. Nopey Nope and I don’t wanna be.

  14. johno

    Diannaart… I have not seen the first one but hope to get around to it. Saw a shortened catchup version, definitely 80’s down to the shoulder pads. I doubt you will be disappointed with number 2.

  15. diannaart

    Johno

    There are various “director’s cuts” of BR 1, I have the version with the more disturbing ending. The women depicted are the usual 2D’s, but the story, action and production values remain sensational.

    🙂

  16. diannaart

    Brenda Easton

    Adam Goodes is one of my heroes too.

    As for the white male “manly” man – why would anyone aspire to that limited creation? One day white alpha males will wake up all alone.

  17. Joseph Carli

    ” One day white alpha males will wake up all alone.”….In one of my moonlighting jobs, I worked as a barman at the Glenelg Surf Lifesaving Club…and every Friday night they used to have a dance…it was a raucus affair, back in the mid seventies..could get real rough sometimes..but I stayed behind the bar and let the bouncers do their stuff..But I do remember this one young lad…in his late teens, well dressed in pressed slacks and sports jacket…polite manners..quite out of place in that den of sideshow roustabouts , surfies and whatnot..anyway, come every Friday night, there he was…almost the first at the bar for his starter..keen as mustard..and then later amongst the hubbub and blasting music I’d spot him going to this or that table of girls obviously asking one or the other to dance..and I noted that he was many if not most (that I saw) kindly refused..and as he walked away, you’d see the girls lean in to each other and giggle…and then at the end of the night, there he’d be at the bar somewhat more dishevelled, less sober…and alone..and getting “one for the road”..

    After several weeks of this, one night, at the end of the night..he’s at the bar..alone again and he asks me..:” What is it with me that none of the girls want to know me?..I’m not rude like some of those other fellows..”

    “Maybe it’s your duds?..” I replied.

    “What’s wrong with my clothes?…They’re always clean..my mother makes sure of THAT!”..

    ” They’re great…if you were at a debutante ball…bit out of place here though..don’t you know; “the clothes maketh the man.”

    But really, he just didn’t look wild enough…and even the most demure girls liked to have a wild time when they were young..but some blokes just don’t know when to grow up.

  18. Harquebus

    Something that I read yesterday. A strong woman having a wild time. For what it is worth, her and her husband’s survival strategy is not one that has much chance of success but, that’s another unrelated story.

    “Her husband, Peter, proudly tells me she could beat most men in a fight: “Miriam is the hunter and I’m the cook. She’s much stronger than me. Women are better shots,” he says. “And they’re more careful,” adds Miriam. “They are less driven by trophy hunting. They have less of a need to prove themselves.””
    https://www.theguardian.com/global/2017/nov/05/wild-at-heart-how-one-woman-and-her-husband-live-out-in-the-woods

  19. LOVO

    “One day white alpha males will wake up all alone .” Jesus H …wtf ….oh, and crikey sweetheart…mm!!!

  20. diannaart

    Get a grip please.

    Most men ARE NOT ALPHA. The majority of men, as in the majority of women are a mix of aggression and compassion and all the other qualities that make up a human being, well, human.

    Our culture , however, is saturated with images of ultra masculine man – to which no man can measure up and I say thank the universe for that.

    There are, as with everything human, extremists. The appalling history of gun massacres in the USA is a sad example. More worryingly are those who gain power; Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump.. I am sure the dear reader can find further examples. We even have female dominants like Gina Rinehart.

    Now, my wish for white alpha males waking up alone: I was not suggesting violence to them, merely justice.

    However, I do have permission to give my opinion without being classified as extremist myself, don’t I? Pretty please?

  21. paul walter

    diannaart, there are exception, though.

  22. Peregrine McCauley

    Hey Matt ! Haven’t you a brain cell or two ? Quick , hurry up , News Ltd are doing an subcription drive , 50 cents a day . They’d also appreciate your substantial intellect , and worthy insightfulness , relative to social inequalities in this great blokish land . Hmmm , i can visualise a weekly column in Moriarty’s prime propaganda paper , titled , ” Matt’s Gnats ” . Very worthy . Mate ..

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