By Kyran O’Dwyer
Once a year, we have global recognition of a ‘cause’, whereby ‘World Leaders’ and ‘Very Important People’ get together at breakfasts, dinners and evening banquets to pay homage to the cause. This follows a tried and tested formula whereby Very Important People and World Leaders get together at Very Expensively Catered Events, with lots of media and celebrities, and;
- Acknowledge this is a serious problem.
- Acknowledge that little, if anything, has changed since last year.
- Promise to do better next year.
Cue drum roll, fanfare, back slapping and a final very expensive drink for these Very Important World Leaders to assuage what little conscience they have left, or provide the necessary stupor for them to have their well-deserved rest. How else could they possibly sleep?
There is a passage in Bryce Courtenay’s book, ‘Solomon’s Song’;
“I studied hard and learned to read and write and spent much time with the pakeha’s [white man’s] Bible. I learned that it was a good book from a merciful God and I found it so myself. But I was soon to discover that it was the pakeha’s Sunday book only and all the remaining days of the week the pakeha felt free to disobey the commandments of his own God.
It was then that I first realised that the pakeha’s word could not be trusted, not even on a Sunday, for it was not founded in his mana [impersonal supernatural power]. That his God was good only for births and burials and his word was as worthless as a broken pot.”
Like the pomp and splendour of a Sunday service, the importance and relevance of a National Day is celebrated temporarily, to be discarded either at the following dawn or the arrival of the next National Day. I’ll get back to God later.
March 8 was the turn of ‘International Women’s Day’. The annual ‘celebration’ of an international problem that is serious, just like all of the ‘International’ and ‘National’ Days.
Now, to qualify my remarks, I must state my credentials. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. In the absence of any, I will resort to A. A. Milne for validation and verification of my entitlement to comment, which barely exists.
“Eeyore is a character in the Winnie-the-Pooh books by A. A. Milne. He is generally characterized as a pessimistic, gloomy, depressed, anhedonic, old grey stuffed donkey who is a friend of the title character, Winnie-the-Pooh.”
You see, I’m largely pessimistic, often gloomy, bordering on depressed, definitely old, grey and, most definitely, stuffed. Not to mention I’m often described as an ass, which is as near enough to a donkey as I want to get. As for the anhedonia, I had to look that up.
“Anhedonia is defined as the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable, e.g. exercise, hobbies, music, sexual activities or social interactions.”
As I’m not a politician in Canberra with access to an unlimited expense account, most of the ‘pleasurable activities’ provided as examples don’t apply to me. Once upon a time, I did, however, derive pleasure in participating in activities that helped change things that I considered unjust. Not often successful, but knowing I tried was important for my own peace of mind.
Anyway, getting back to Eeyore, the most important qualification, entitlement, empowerment granted to me by A. A. Milne to validate and verify my capacity to comment on ‘International Women’s Day’ were the two letters you may well have missed.
Having established my entitlement to comment, this is another gratuitous, patriarchal platitude to help make us all feel better about a situation that is wrong, that is not changing, and will be the same again next year when we do this all over again.
International Women’s Day should be all about gender inequality, discrimination, the types of crime disproportionately affecting women, their exclusion from many parliamentary forums (ostensibly due to ‘merit’ inadequacies), their absence from positions of authority, the disparity between pay and conditions in ‘gentrified’ and ‘feminised’ workplaces. The list is all but endless.
One ‘symptom’ of ‘the problem’, is the use of a descriptor that I find abhorrent. ‘Domestic Violence’. The very epitome of weasel words. As if, for whatever reason, the violent crime being committed is somehow palatable or acceptable because it happens in the sanctity of a ‘domestic’ setting. The very fact that you have a violent crime occurring in an environment that is meant to be safe because of its perceived foundation in trust, that is meant to be both loving and caring, makes it more, not less, heinous. The very fact that the perpetrator often claims that trust, love and care are, somehow, a part of their motivation for their criminal acts escapes me.
Here in Melbourne, the nightly news tonight will be focused on ‘violent crime’, as it was last night and will be tomorrow night. At the risk of sounding conspiratorial, we are heading to an election later this year. Guy has already declared law and order will be a main issue and the media are building up the perception of an exaggerated level of crime.
Whilst crime should be addressed by government, this predominance of ‘home invasion’ and ‘car jack’ reporting is designed to instill fear in the populace, that they can’t feel safe in their own home, let alone walking or driving down the street. It’s simply a localised version of the ‘terrorist’ strategy. Inflate the threat and promise to address it. That this violation of the sanctity and safety of ‘the home’ is far more reported yet far less frequent than the less reported incidents of ‘domestic violence’ is a matter of some disgrace. Not on those impacted.
On our ‘leaders’ and their media handmaidens.
Women are dying on a frequent basis (both by murder and suicide) and the incidence of physical, emotional and psychological trauma is being better recorded. The damage done to children of these relationships is only just starting to be researched more carefully. The impact on friends and family of both the victim and perpetrator are being better understood. The cost to the economy is estimated in billions, not millions.
Men are affected by these crimes as well, but at, roughly, 75/25%, the ‘victims’ are predominantly female.
Why ‘domestic violence’ is not reported with the same fervour as the far less frequent crime and the almost nonexistent ‘terrorism’ is cause for speculation.
The Victorian government has had a Royal Commission into this criminal ‘domestic’ violence and have instituted many laudable policies which are fully funded. That is a good thing and, even more encouraging, the government has been seeking advice and recommendations from women to continuously refine and evolve their strategies and programs.
On the Federal stage? Funding has been stripped, resources have been reduced or removed and they don’t like to know about it, let alone talk about it.
‘DV’ was on last October’s COAG Agenda. It was removed at the last minute due to some ‘terror’ threat which required that the entire COAG agenda be replaced with ‘National Security’. ‘DV’ was not on the February COAG Agenda.
If that doesn’t make this federal governments priorities crystal clear to the reader, nothing will.
That’s only one of the many issues faced by women that have been overtaken by the ‘MeToo’ and ‘Time’sUp’ movements. The campaigns are, quite justifiably, receiving global attention and are largely focused on the media and entertainment industries. Both industries are alpha male (on steroids) in their structure and have an inbuilt protection system. Everything from ‘she was asking for it’ to ‘she didn’t say no often enough or loudly enough’. As always, there will be a few sacrifices of shameful males, some chest thumping and righteous indignation, then some shallow changes to protocols and we’ll all go on our merry way.
As we have seen from the furore, Weinstein isn’t the only perpetrator. Whilst the focus is predominantly on the media and entertainment industries, examples are being presented in other industries.
Why the melancholy?
Saville passed away in 2011 and allegations about his abusing arose shortly thereafter. After more than three enquiries, it was found his ‘power’ was so immense that many knew of his depraved behaviour over a period of decades, but did nothing because of his power, derived from his ‘celebrity’ and ‘commercial value’. Even after his death, it was incumbent on the abused to prove their ‘good character’ before a complaint would even be contemplated.
Very little changed systemically, but an outraged public was pacified and we returned to the same old same old.
Weinstein has been around forever, but it was not until October 2017, six years after the demise of Saville, that enough women came out to protest his depravity. Not the ‘lowly’ women who would never have a voice, but the ‘celebrity’ women, most often in the same trade as Weinstein. When those females spoke up, those males with power did everything they could to preserve the regime. Weinstein has been dealt with (to a point, as he’s not in jail yet) but the entrenched misogyny and sexism is merely lying low, waiting for the storm to pass.
In the six years between the Saville and Weinstein ‘stories’, nothing had changed. Male power has been institutionalised for millennia and will withstand temporary setbacks.
We can go into the history of this as much as we like. The simple truth is that this is a man’s world. The immortal words of Bette Midler from The Rose struck me all those decades ago and will likely remain with me until the day I drop.
“What are we ladies? What are we? We are waitresses at the banquet of life! Get into that kitchen and rattle them pots and pans – and you better look pretty good doin’ it too, ‘else you gonna lose you good thing. And why do we do that, I’ll tell you why we do that? We do that to find love – Oh I love to be in love – don’t you love to be in love?”
Memories of Ma and my sisters re-enacting that scene will haunt me, not because of their parody (which was hilarious), but the unfortunate absence of a singing voice between them for the ‘musical’ interludes (not that I can claim to be any better). Even then, though, the solution offered in the movie reeked of the patriarchal reality.
“Or do you say, “Fuck this shit! I’ve had enough of you, you asshole! Pack your bags. I’m putting on my little waitress cap and my fancy high-heeled shoes, I’m gonna go find me a real man. A good man, a true man.””
The only escape from one ‘waitressing’ ‘job’ was to find another one.
Even with all of this current maelstrom, there are narratives being planted to cauterize the damage. Does anyone think, for a second, that the only industries or occupations effected by this structure is the media and entertainment sectors?
We have a self-confessed pussy grabber in the White House, yet politicians would have us believe that he is the exception, not the rule, and his transgressions are acceptable because ‘He’s Donald’. ‘Boys will be boys’. ‘It’s just locker room banter’.
Even here, in modern shambolic Australia, with all of the allegations against (and confessions by) Joyce, we are told that the promiscuity is widespread but ‘we don’t want to go there’, because it’s private. ‘They’re just blowing off steam’. ‘They miss their families’.
This is about power, not a power imbalance. From the cradle to the grave, we have a gendered society. The rate of change has been glacial. As a child, there were boys toys and girls toys. There were boys clothes and girls clothes. There were ‘acceptable’ behaviours for boys and they were different to what was acceptable for girls. It seems passing strange that these conversations are still occurring in 2018.
In the ‘60’s and ‘70’s there were social movements that started to address this. Bra burning and contraception were two issues regarded as controversial, even horrifying for some. Having thought that so many issues had been addressed in the societal sense way back then, how can it possibly be, in 2018, that how women dress and contraception are still considered newsworthy, let alone controversial? And why is it that men are so often the most vocal?
The simple analysis would be that the conversations are fixated on what the female is wearing or the ‘morality’ of contraception, not the basic issue. A woman’s right to choose for herself.
There is little need to study the history. We have made a habit of reliving it, ad nauseam. Going back to the start of what we euphemistically refer to as ‘civilised society’, steeped in religious belief, there were two types of females, the two Mary’s. And God.
There was the virtuous virgin preparing to give birth and the woman of ill repute granted forgiveness for her sins.
How are women defined if not in the ‘Black and White’ of virtuous or scandalous? Those worthy of protection, exaltation even, and those whose actions are to be forgiven? Any entitlement they may have to rights is based on their ‘morality’, as defined by men.
No matter how dated that scenario is, it seems that the subservience of woman to man is very deeply entrenched everywhere you look.
Even though the MeToo and Time’sUp movements have achieved much, that conversation is already being distracted. The ‘unfairness’ of public naming and shaming is being talked about as much as the allegations are. The absence of any meaningful system to deal with everything from bullying and harassment to coercion and assault (sexual or otherwise) is an act of sabotage on any long term outcome.
Any such conversation right now is a wasted exercise. Our current government is simply not up to it. If any reader has any expectation of positive action from this dysfunctional government, I can only suggest serious medication.
There was a song by the Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin in 1985, ‘Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves’.
“cause there’s something we forgot to say to you,
we say sisters are doin’ it for themselves
standin’ on their own two feet
and ringin’ on their own bells
sisters are doin’ it for themselves”
It’s nice to dream sometimes.
Imagine if women across Australia got together to form a National Women’s Congress. Where membership of the Congress wasn’t a matter of gender, but the nomination for membership could only be made by women. Between groups such as Change.Org and GetUp, forums such as this and crowd funding capacities, there is no need to wait for the ‘political will’ or the blessing (and, more importantly, financing) of VIP’s and World Leaders. I’d even hazard a guess and say many brothers would be more than happy to contribute dollars to their sisters, whilst keeping their mouths shut.
Imagine if that Congress could use the Law Reform Commission to draft legislative proposals to put to Parliament.
Imagine if there was a Women’s Ombudsman, with all of the necessary power and resources to accept and investigate claims, from bullying to assault, and take them through to prosecution and restitution. The shoddy ‘name and shame’ model can only be dispensed with when there is a legitimate process to handle such complaints.
Imagine if women had their own superannuation fund. Many current funds have ‘death and disability’ and ‘unemployment’ provisions. With a Women’s Fund, the thorny issue of ‘maternity leave’ can be addressed through a superannuation provision. Funding for women who work full time in domestic environments could also be funded through this. It could address the serious imbalance in superannuation for women and could be used as a universal basic income for those engaged in raising children. Naturally, male membership would be welcome, even though their prospects of falling pregnant would rival the legend of the immaculate conception (and likely be as profitable).
Imagine if women had their own bank. There is a lending scheme in India created by some wealthy bloke to lend ‘micro loans’ specifically to women. After several years of experience, it has been established that the default level is next to zero and the borrowers have grown business and small enterprises that have made them self-sufficient and independent in a very patriarchal society. Such a bank could look at gender specific financing of all manner of things with due regard to the vagaries of full time continuous work, varying such things as the interest rate, fees and repayment period to accommodate the employment ‘breaks’.
Imagine if the minimum wage was set for graduates based on the level of their education rather than the nature of their degree. We know that certain industries are underpaid as the work force is largely feminised, so why aren’t we looking at legislating a minimum wage for graduates, regardless of their courses?
Imagine if we could remove the ‘stick’ of forced quota employment and wages parity and put in a ‘carrot’ instead. There is legislation proposed in the EU to restrict a CEO or Managing Director (the person in charge of corporations, authorities, departments, etc) to no more than 9 times the ‘mean’ salary of their workforce, in the hope of reducing the glaring chasm between the lowest and highest paid. It wouldn’t take much tweaking to amend that to the highest paid salary in an organisation being linked as a multiple of the female employee’s wage. Watch conditions change then!
Imagine if women had their own religion. (I did say I’d get back to God, though maybe not in this lifetime!) They could invite all the God’s to explain their position and why any particular dogma should be adhered to or take precedence over another. In the event the God’s don’t respond to the invitation, they could simply start their own church. Given the role played by most of the churches in the suppression of women and women’s rights, there seems to be little point in asking the blokes currently representing the various God’s for any input. That would be as silly as asking politicians to act.
This isn’t about a power imbalance. This is about women having bugger all power. To shift that culture, given the government we are stuck with, sisters gotta start doin it for themselves. As one sister said, “if the rules broke, disobey it until they fix it”. What she didn’t say was that if the rules are seriously broke, start your own rule book.
By looking at the ‘system’, we automatically look at it through its present form. We look to change what is there, rather than ask if there is another way. This ‘power’ thing has caused a lot of problems globally. Us old, grey, dumb ass males haven’t acquitted ourselves too well. In a final act of cowardice, isn’t it fair to ask our sisters to get us out of the Pooh (one more time)?
As a parting salvo, a very dear friend, long since passed, mentored me in an organisation. One of his best bits of advice was ‘Sometimes, you gotta get a bit of mongrel in you’.
Don’t even bother with the mealy mouthed offerings of those who created the problem.
Don’t look at things that are there and ask ‘Why?’ Imagine, dream, of things that aren’t there and ask ‘Why Not?’
Oh dear. I’m going to shut up now.
now there was a time
when they used to say
that behind every great man
there had to be a great woman
but in these times of change
you know that it’s no longer true
so we’re coming out of the kitchen
cause there’s something we forgot to say to you,
we say sisters are doin’ it for themselves
standin’ on their own two feet
and ringin’ on their own bells
sisters are doin’ it for themselves
now this is a song to celebrate
the conscious liberation of the female state
mothers, daughters and their daughters too
woman to woman we’re singin’ with you
the inferior sex has got a new exterior we
got doctors, lawyers, politicians too
everybody take a look around
can you see there’s a woman right next to you
now we ain’t makin’ stories
and we ain’t laying plans
don’t you know that a man
still loves a woman
and a woman still loves a man
just the same though