Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Finding my Bass element

Image via: Pixabay

I have a soundtrack to my life. My childhood was my parents' music. Mum gave me Abba, the Bee Gees and Bony M, Dad gave me The Beatles and John Lennon. Music from these bands will always remind me of them. In my teens, music saved my life. When I first became aware that I could choose what to listen to, it was the 80s and there was definitely good stuff around but it didn't reach me, not until '88. I was in Year 8 at school and made my first soul mate friendships and together we learned about INXS. They were our Beatles, the men we would swoon over and the music that we would consume and allow to consume us. A teacher chaperoned us to the KICK concert in Sydney. We lived, breathed and worshiped at the altar of INXS.

As we got older, moving into the '90s, we naturally gravitated to the rebellion of alternative, grunge and pseudo punk, the angsty heavy guitars and deep bass of bands that began to look a little more gender balanced too. The best ones either had a female lead or female members, or better still, were all female. Women's voices and words resonated. I could list so many in that genre - both local and international, but I'd never do the list justice. And besides I had a favourite, a Sydney band called The Clouds who I followed around the pub circuit and blasted daily over my stereo in my bedroom and eventually my car.

At the end of high school, I was one of the youngest in my grade. While everyone was turning 18, I still had six months to wait post graduation. It hadn't made a difference. I had been getting into local pubs without identification for months. All I'd wanted to do was watch the bands not drink, (I did that elsewhere!), and back then, it was mostly overlooked. In fact, the first time I was asked for ID was on my 18th birthday at the Annandale Hotel in Stanmore. The guy at the door knew us well and told us they had a new policy where they had to check everyone and was shocked to see that my license said it was my 18th birthday that night.

All my friends were going off to Schoolies for graduation. Schoolies was an end of high school tradition where everyone went to the Gold Coast and let loose. I was absolutely not interested in that subculture but I'd planned to go and had paid a deposit. At the last minute, I realised I would be spending the entire time anxious about getting into clubs and likely miserable with the company so I asked for a refund and spent the money on a bass guitar that I'd planned to learn to play. For a few years I'd been watching my cousins play their instruments and had been hanging out with a group of peers from school who I went to Clouds gigs with. Many of these people had either already left school whilst I was completing my HSC or were acquaintances. One of them lived on a local rural property and had a garage converted into a haven for us to hang out in. There were always instruments around, plenty of seating and posters, and set lists from the gigs we went to, put up on the walls.

I was very focused on my studies in high school. I loved learning and was always studious. I'd had a bit of a rough time and was determined to make something of myself, and excelling at school was the gateway apparently. But in the cracks I had music to motivate me and while I watched others doing their thing in awe, I wondered what I could do given half a chance. Singing was easy enough, a euphoric outlet on long car trips. I traveled to see a friend who'd moved some distance away regularly and had started working with her washing dishes in a restaurant in the city after my classes at uni, coming home way after midnight on those shifts. Singing at the top of my lungs was not only therapeutic, it kept me awake as did chain smoking. To this day, when I need to blow off steam, music either blasts my face off through headphones, or I go for a long drive and sing loudly. Living alone for many years must have annoyed so many of my neighbours too.

My friends found out that I could potentially sing and handed me a microphone occasionally. I was fine to copy my idols and sing songs we all knew while they played along, but I had nothing of worth to say directly enough to be able to write an original song. I remember writing about a plastic Troll doll - it was fucking awful. We weren't connected enough to collaborate properly, call it bad timing.

What I hoped was that they would teach me to play that bass guitar I'd bought. I valued their friendships and mostly felt safe around them with music as our connection, but we were all so distracted with coming of age and all its complexities that it simply didn't eventuate. They did borrow the bass on occasion though and it got played on stage a number of times. However when it came home to me, it lay dormant and untouched. Sometimes I'd pick it up and try to play along to a Cloud's song. I could have pursued it, but studying and working was more important at the time.

I lost track of where the bass was for many years. I think it lived with me sometimes. I know it resided with me when I lived with my brother and eventually made its way back home to my parents' place. It had been moved and neglected many times and had started to deteriorate. There was a string missing and some damage, but for some reason, my parents put it away and kept it for me, just in case, waiting for me to decide what to do with it.

I found it again recently. My children have started a music program at school and are learning to express themselves musically and read music. My eldest plays the violin. I photographed her face the day she brought the bow home and was allowed to practice the songs she was learning beyond strumming the strings Pizzicato. The look of deep connection and love on her face was something I simply had to capture and I am determined to remind her of that feeling whenever she feels it's not fun anymore. Because pursuing something like learning a musical instrument isn't only fun, it's also work and commitment. A dedication I want her to know will reward her if she does the toil first. It's a good life lesson.

So when I saw my bass at my parents' place, lonely and neglected, something struck a chord. It felt like a waste to just let it sit there and gather dust a moment longer. Even if I wanted to pass it on to the kids, display it or sell it, it would need repair. So I have decided to do that. I found a local guitar repair business and have dropped it off to be fixed. When I get it back, I think I should give it one more chance and see if learning it is an option. It's amazing what time and perspective can show you if you let it and maybe my brain is wired differently now. Maybe I wasn't quite ready at 17 but at nearly 46 I might have the space in my being to figure it out. What's 30 years give or take?

I'll never be a pro. I'll never perform, earn money from it or show anyone if I don't want to. But that doesn't mean I can't learn to play this instrument well and let it teach me something.

Monday, 21 December 2020

Is 45 too young to retire?



Image via Pixabay

That’s the dream isn’t it? Make a million dollars, which used to be considered quite substantial, but now is barely enough to purchase a home in Sydney. Then, stop working to live a life of leisure and creativity, self-worth intact. I mean, if I look at being forced out of the workforce this early, while still having a roof over my head and being able to eat from that perspective, I’m living the dream! Admittedly, I’m completely reliant on my partner financially. I’m resentful and grateful simultaneously. Is this the elusive middle way?


I started working when I was thirteen. I wasn’t legally old enough but hung out at a coffee shop after school and the owner made a sexist remark about washing his dishes. I mentioned he had to pay me and that was my first job interview. I worked consistently ever since until I embarked on motherhood. It’s not like I was unaware of gender inequality and the gender pay gap, the limitations of the gender binary construct aside, but I naively thought that I could overcome it. It’s only in retrospect that I see how deeply ingrained inequality is, particularly in the labour market.


In Australia, the gender pay gap is currently around 14% and is measured using Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, by calculating the difference between the average full-time weekly earnings of men and women. For the last couple of decades, it has been between 15% and 19%, and it can be affected by factors such as occupation, industry and sector; public or private. The two main drivers of the gender pay gap are occupational segregation and the undervaluing of feminised work. In Australia, women tend to congregate in roles that are incorrectly and degradingly considered to be less skilled, like those in the nurturing and care sector, the service industry, the humanities and the arts. For example, industries like education, nursing, aged care and childcare are dominated by women. In 2016, around 97% of childcare workers were women. Their average income was around $600 a week, ironically seeing many of them unable to work full-time and afford their own childcare fees. On the other hand, the stock market value for the sector at the time saw profits of around the $1b mark. Furthermore, even in skilled professions, women still tend to earn less compared to their male counterparts for the same work. Women who pursue successful careers, also tend to lean on other women to support them with domestic services; race and class exacerbating inequality. Additionally, women tend to do more invisible and uncredited labour including emotional labour. We grumble about its exploitation, but instead of valuing it as vital within a paid economy, which we have seen starkly during the current global pandemic, we dismiss it and continue to deny its remuneration.


Throughout high school and university, I had regular part-time work, mostly in food service. I was encouraged to earn an income, take on responsibility and have a strong work ethic. That’s the main reason my parents emigrated to Australia from Malta in the 70s and 80s. I was obligated. A contribution of hard work builds character and attains freedom for myself and others, I was taught. Menial work, a means to an end; education paramount.


So, I studied hard. I did well in high school and got a high score at the end. I got into university but had no direction or guidance about what my desires or strengths were, so I followed my heart. I did an Arts Degree. They were affordable and popular when I studied between 1993 – 1995 and we had HECS (Higher Education Contributions Scheme). I never worried about the cost because I knew I didn’t have to pay anything until I was required to pay it back through the taxation system once I started earning a decent wage over the threshold. I didn’t notice the debt, but I remember the relief when I’d paid it off. The system has gradually become more complex to navigate and Arts degrees themselves more expensive. I’d chosen essay subjects in high school; the easier road apparently. My choices were similar at university and while I didn’t fully participate in university life, I did have a few lightbulb moments.


My Anthropology Professor in first year was the only one that ever gave me a High Distinction. Another Anthropology tutor suggested I stay back after class to listen to Noel Pearson speak. Once in Sociology, a mature age student sat beside me in a lecture and suggested I choose Women’s Studies in second year. She thought I’d enjoy it. I took her advice and she was right. I failed English miserably in first year. I didn’t realise I’d failed until third year, when I was lining up (in person before the internet) to register, hoping to graduate. I had to pick a first year subject to make up the units to get my degree. I chose Government 101. Practical and useful I thought. I still don’t understand the Westminster System. I graduated and John Bell from the Shakespeare Theatre Company spoke at the ceremony. I hired a gown and got photos near the Jacaranda tree. My family came. We were like aliens on a foreign planet. Working class people from the western suburbs, a daughter of migrants, don’t belong in that world. But I got my piece of paper; it was currency. An example of intelligence, commitment and completion. An unattainable symbol of prestige in my family.


My first full-time job was in residential community support. It was the closest I got to feeling that dignity of having finished an Arts Degree at the University of Sydney, majoring in Women’s Studies, Anthropology and Sociology and putting it to good use. Doing my Masters or a Phd wasn’t really an option. I’d already strayed far enough out of my lane and I wasn’t about to push my luck. I certainly couldn’t afford to. I was eager to work and be debt free. I spent three years in a domestic violence refuge, doing important work that was shamefully undervalued. There were three generations of women working side by side and to my knowledge, I was the only one there with a degree. It felt superfluous in comparison to the abundance of wisdom and life experience of my co-workers, but it proved invaluable during the refuge’s transition from a grassroots shelter to a funded and operational service provider. I burnt out fast, three years in, feeling like the nature of the work and the lack of resources didn’t attract the compensation or appreciation it deserved. The older workers had more tenacity than me.


The next six years were an attempt to figure out where I could be productive and valued in the private sector, because as I’d learned, the community sector was potentially harmful to workers; neglected by government, funding bodies and society at large. It was underfunded, underpaid and traumatic work. I have regrets about giving up too soon, but my body and mind’s deterioration gave me little choice at the age of 23. My parents had been recently married and had had me at that age, but I dreamed of doing more with my life, given the opportunity to delay settling down. The private sector, I assumed, would have boundaries, safety nets and a pathway to a ladder to climb. With a degree under my belt and several years of experience doing the gritty work, a fancy office and people in tailored clothes would welcome me with open arms and help mold me into something befitting my intellect and compassion, I thought. I discovered that the opposite was true. To make it in the corporate world, I soon learned I had to be callous and compromise some of my values. Empathy and collaboration wasn’t encouraged, competitiveness and individualism was. I had learned about the structures that demanded my subordination in that world. Evidently unionised menial employment, an Arts degree with a feminist angle and supporting diverse survivors of family violence were useful and empowering eye openers. I did my best but without vocational qualifications and unrelated experience, it was only possible to start at the bottom in a private company. Receptionist, secretarial or mail room and casualised. No perks, bare minimum. I was expected to work my way up and I was motivated at first.


One of my first private sector jobs was in a fashion warehouse of a small-scale designer as the receptionist at head office and the designer’s personal assistant. I cringed at the stored carcasses of fox stoles, I prepared lunch for the staff every day and picked up her son from school.  A couple of the men in the office were a bit too aggressive for my liking but I knew my assertiveness wouldn’t be welcome. It was a four-hour return commute each day by car and it proved unsustainable. I felt ungrateful and oversensitive, but I knew toxic when I saw it, so I quit.


Shortly after, I found a job at another corporate company, an engineering firm comprised of five smaller businesses. My “office” was a dark room surrounded by compactus shelving units. I had a huge bowl of lollies on my desk, that I was responsible for keeping full for the staff to nibble on when they came to return files to my in-tray. I bound documents with the coil binder machine and went to the post office to send and retrieve mail. Sometimes I relieved at reception and took calls. I recall supporting and advocating for a co-worker that was being abused and stalked by her parents, my refuge skills resurfacing. A senior staff member raised his voice at me once and I didn’t hold back like before. I shouted back with no inhibition to never speak to me that way again. A female senior staff member made him apologise but it was the beginning of the end. Once, we were having an office celebration. I went out to the balcony for a cigarette and in the meantime, someone had closed the glass sliding door. On my way back in, I walked into it like a budgie flying into a mirror. The office erupted into laughter and quickly refrained to save me embarrassment, but I didn’t feel the humiliation. I realised that even walking into a glass door with full force while everyone snickered at my expense didn’t make me feel any less worthless than I already did working there. I started planning my exit.


I began working in a call center selling insurance products for a conglomerate of financial institutions. It was an opportunity I probably blew to be honest. They let casual staff turn up every day if they were keen. We sat in a large open plan office at rows of desks, behind computers, wearing headsets. Calls dropped in as we cold called existing bank customers, offering them life and accident insurance products with free coverage for three months. We signed them up and gave them details about how to cancel before the billing kicked in. It was easy and I learned to sell quickly. I had a knack for connecting with people in a non-threatening and nurturing way. I didn’t pressure them and if there was no interest, I empowered their decision making and didn’t waste either of our time. I made them feel like they were in control, that they were getting something for nothing if they only remembered to cancel, but if the price suited them, they would wind up with a great product. If there was strong resistance, I wished them a good day and promptly hung up. I got so good at selling they used me to test out phone lines. Once, I spoke to so many customers in one day, the system looped back around to the first person I’d called that morning, then the second and third and so on. It baffled the IT guys, I’d clocked it. So, they promoted me. When I say promoted, I mean the pay and casual status remained the same, but I got to sit at a different desk and process cancellations. There was less volume and more responsibility. I sat in a more private room, away from the entry level plebs, among the second and third-year plebs. With one foot on a possible rung, I had a moment of self-righteous doubt about working for banks and insurance companies. I’d been looking for an out, a return to dignified, ethical work in the care industry and scored a job in a disability support service just as the “promotion” kicked in. It was a huge mistake. I went straight back to that feeling of powerlessness and grief that had sunk me at the refuge and I lasted as long as the probation period before finding something else.


I secured casual employment with future potential at a labour hire company. They advertised the position as temp to perm, as was becoming the trend. The incentive was that if you proved yourself over a twelve-month period, you would then become full-time staff. It was one of the more unusual experiences I had. For instance, only Capricorns were promoted to management – I’m a Gemini, I was already out of the running. I don’t recall ever doing any substantial or relevant work. I took calls from labourers and airport baggage handlers, usually giving them scripted answers about when they could expect to be paid. I sorted timesheets, shuffling them into alphabetical order in a wooden sorter. I remember emptying boxes, retyping something that had already been typed, returning files to shelving, meeting with an angry man who hadn’t been paid. My refuge experience and training dealing with possible aggression and violence saw me draw that short straw. They tried to include me socially, but I had nothing in common with my co-workers. A team building weekend in the Blue Mountains was organised by the company. We had to trek through the bush and work in teams to find a mock plane wreckage. I located the wreckage in a tree but none of my teammates believed me. They told me I was going “bush mad”. I tried to explain that if they followed me a few meters and looked up they’d see it too, but they refused. The other team won. I quit before the Christmas party having lined up another casual role.


I knew the corporate world was not going to ever feel safe or right for my interests or skillset. I had one last attempt at a private vascular clinic. Medical administration felt like care. Another temp to perm role, it also didn’t work out. I contributed high quality work but at the end of the twelve months the manager cut my shifts instead of making me permanent, so I quit. It was the first time I was truly unemployed with nothing to go to. I spent November to February of 2004/2005 unemployed and on Newstart, barely covering rent, job hunting over the holiday period. Centerlink forgot to send me a group certificate and the taxation office audited me. I had to pay them back $300.


I eventually landed in the public service in workers’ compensation health administration and stayed for a decade. It was unionised, a permanent role with Award protections and stability. I had never been ambitious for power or wealth. I only wanted security, a decent income, camaraderie and to be of service. I finally felt like I was making a difference to people’s lives and it allowed me to embark on adulthood with the self-respect and independence I’d always strived for, even though career progression was corporatised and near impossible. In that role I was able to travel, I met my partner, we bought our first home and started a family. I wasn’t fully prepared for the interruption to my working life that having children was going to bring.


I had my first child and while on unpaid maternity leave, conceived two more; twins. Suddenly we were responsible for three young children. Returning to full-time work was not an option until they were in daycare, around the age of two which was our personal preference. Privatised childcare is expensive and even with the rebate and my partner’s uninterrupted income, we could only afford a couple of days. Sydney is cursed with the tyranny of distance, traffic, and inadequate parking and public transport. Not working in my local area felt overwhelming. My partner and I agreed that we’d only access school hours at daycare to get accustomed to a routine as early as possible, knowing how short the school day is and how unaccommodating full-time employment and workplaces are to these limitations. If I was going to return to work, it was only going to be a couple of days a week with daycare restricted to school hours.


I had a total of four years out of the workforce and watched as my superannuation plummeted compared to my partner’s and as soon as the twins joined their older sibling at daycare two days a week, I started looking for work. Seven months and over 60 applications later I found another public service administration role in health. I persevered for almost three years, but then Covid-19 hit. The kids had started primary school by then and I was required to home school. It was a short-lived return to the workforce.


After lockdown ended, I didn’t go back to work. The risks felt too high, the uncertainty of further adjustments related to the pandemic too distracting. The casualisation of my role, the culture of devaluation of administrative work in general, the travel, and the lack of working from home options, which we needed a pandemic to even begin to talk about as a nation, didn’t provide enough incentive to balance the demands of a young family with paid employment. So, for now, I guess I’m semi-retired and hope to have a decent income again someday. Or not.


Friday, 3 July 2020

Big Ideas Forum - Beyond COVID Northern Beaches Council Webinar

Image via fertilityroad.com

Last night I attended the online Big Ideas Forum Webinar through the Northern Beaches Council called Beyond COVID. It was initially an interview with Dr Norman Swan, a health journalist and physician, then went on to a panel discussion which included Lucinda Brogden AM, Chair of the National Mental Health Commission, Dr Sean Turnell, Associate Professor of Economics at Macquarie University and Greg Jones, former school principal and executive member of Community Co-op Northern Beaches. It is available to watch here.

Before I delve into it, I just want to comment on the Acknowledgement of Country that takes place at the start of these gatherings and how disappointed I always am at the irreverence and insincerity. I know it's an awkward forced protocol that many simply read off a piece of paper without actually thinking about the meaning of what they're saying, but it has become so tokenistic that it feels like an insult to even bother. I refuse to accept that in the whole of the northern beaches, the council can not find one Traditional Owner or First Nations person or group to do a genuine and heartfelt Welcome to Country - particularly NOW, with everything that is going on around the world. My guess is that there has been absolutely no attempt to connect or collaborate. If indeed there has been no progress, then the Acknowledgement itself needs to be better. It's not just something you rattle off, it's something you feel and make people feel and understand so that we can all start off on the right foot. This needs to change. It's confronting, but it needs to happen. We need to acknowledge that we are on stolen and unceded land, we need to address sovereignty, the lack of treaty and pay our respects genuinely to elders past, present and emerging. This is a significant step forward that requires honesty and truth, many are not yet ready to face.

The interview with Dr Swan, as always was informative and evidence based. If you haven't already, get acquainted with The ABC podcast he does called Coronacast. They are short 10 minute episodes released daily, covering the basic updates of what is happening around the country and around the world. 

Dr Swan explained many aspects of the Australian experience with COVID 19 and commented on why we did so well as a country. The main thing we got right was that we closed borders, particularly to China early, back in February 2020 - the first case being discovered on the 25th January. The pandemic was then managed collaboratively by government, particularly the states, business/workplaces and the community. It became a unified movement, largely communicated through social and digital media which forced people to act and the federal government to respond on an evidence based approach. This was to act strongly and intervene as early as possible. The World Health Organisation (WHO) urged immediate lockdown action, as it is impossible to make these decisions retrospectively and undo harm. Australia's early response and heeding of this advice was able to maintain COVID related deaths to just over 100, which while extremely regrettable and tragic, are comparatively good. Locking down early, closing borders and taking advantage of being islands, insisting on physical distancing and later extensive testing to identify clusters saw Australia and New Zealand become world leaders in flattening the curve and keeping numbers down. It gave us time to prepare health services and hospitals for possible case increase and slowed the spread of the virus. In comparison, the US and UK waited much longer and are bearing the tragic consequences now.

The discussion then turned to the recent increase in numbers in Victoria. Dr Swan stated that referring to COVID cases in terms of 'waves' isn't very accurate and applies more to illnesses like Influenza as there are things in place like vaccinations and herd immunity. With COVID it is more accurate to refer to spikes in cases, whereby transmission rates tend to double daily with no cure, no vaccine and still very little predictability about how the disease will impact people, taking into consideration things like co-morbidities, age, and social/economic factors. While Victoria is experiencing high numbers, Dr Swan mentioned the case in Balmain in Sydney which indicates the disease is still present in NSW and it is not yet time to relax.

He talked at length about the difference between NSW and Victoria in terms of the way health services are structured. In NSW we have Area Health Services which include the local hospitals, but also health service provision on the ground in each geographical location. This structure allows bigger areas to be covered in order for the population of that area to receive health services aside from the local hospitals. This infrastructure is not present in Victoria which seems to only have stand alone hospitals and GP/Specialist services. This impacts testing, treatment and service provision.

Locally, Dr Swan discussed the cases around Manly and Dee Why early on in the pandemic and how immediate lockdown and extensive testing was able to contain the clusters, area health and hospitals were able to oversee treatment, isolation and recovery, and this prevented community transmission. This did not work as well in Bondi where community transmission was allowed to travel a little further out. 

It is evident that social distancing has a huge impact on community transmission. Dr Swan talked about the demographic of people who contract COVID and while globally, for example in places like Italy, there was a lot of publicity around the elderly, it is a much younger demographic that can contract the disease, show few symptoms and then transmit through large gatherings and socialisation. In Italy, for example, there was the tragic circumstances around cut off ages for access to ventilators being around the age of 40 mark, when the hospitals were bombarded with extreme cases. Big social networks, which young people are more likely to have, pose the biggest threat, particularly in gatherings that take place indoors, with lots of people and over an extended period of time.

In regards to a vaccine, Dr Swan thinks this is a long way away and while there is promising research coming out of Oxford University, there are many barriers to a vaccine for a respiratory illness due to the nature of the membranes and organs involved and how they function. Usually treatment relies on activating an immune system response and then needs to be administered annually. In some cases like with SARS, vaccines were found to create a hyper immune response which can cause autoimmune disease. The good thing is that any vaccine progress coming out of the UK will likely be publicly funded and therefore widely available and shared. The opposite is happening in the US where research and funding will likely be privately conducted and therefore not shared. Finding a vaccine is condensing 10 years of research into 1. It's obviously urgent.

Discussion turned to the effectiveness of wearing masks. Dr Swan is of the opinion that masks are a good idea when there are high rates of community transmission, as is happening in Victoria. Wearing a mask is not about protecting yourself from getting infected, although that's a bonus. It's about preventing transmission of the disease to others if you are carrying it and have no symptoms or if you are indeed ill. Masks are particularly useful indoors, for example whilst shopping and on public transport. The main factors to consider are things like the quality of the mask and availability. Both issues are easily addressed, but the culture of wearing masks is a bit harder to change. 

The health implications during this pandemic are complex, particularly in relation to how each individual is likely to recover from infection and all the factors that contribute to their well-being before and after having COVID. Another matter to consider is how people have responded to healthcare generally during lockdown to minimise risk. Telehealth in Australia has been particularly effective as people have been able to consult with GPs remotely and continue any ongoing or chronic health issue management. An area of concern was the decrease in cancer screening numbers whereby people have avoided going to routine screening while in lockdown. There is some unease around people delaying testing for early detection and risking delayed diagnosis. 

The impact of the pandemic has not only been on public health but also the economy. Dr Swan mentioned that data from the 1918 influenza pandemic demonstrated that places where lockdown happened earlier were able to recover economically much quicker. It focuses on the idea that in the long run prevention is better than cure and the impact on the economy will happen either way but will have more long term consequences and will be harder to recover from if we allow people to get sick, overwhelm our health services and create more trauma.

At this point the panel joined the discussion. I was disappointed but not surprised that it consisted of four white men, including Dr Swan and the facilitator and one white woman. Until we allow diverse voices in these discussions we continue to assume that the majority of people are white and middle class. This is simply not the case and while divergent groups are often referred to as 'minorities', they are not in fact less than in number and importance but instead are marginalised as such. This is prevalent in the local area.

The panel discussion was mainly an exchange of ideas about community support, focusing on mental health and connection. There were some examples of the local community exchanging material necessities like donations of food, volunteering of time and provision of support to those impacted by lockdown. It's nice to live in a community where everyone is doing great and can help those doing a little bit less than great and then taking comfort in the ease with which we got through hardship working together. However there was no mention of people who may fall through the cracks and the reasons why, which can erase the experience of many people. 

At one point there was mention of the suffering experienced by self-funded retirees. How they have paid taxes all their lives and never needed government assistance and now suddenly their investments might be worth less and they may be embarrassed or ashamed to ask for assistance. It is important to express empathy and to consider anyone who may be impacted by this pandemic in a substantial way. We just need to truthfully define what substantial means. Not having enough money to pay rent or feed your children is very different to a decrease in wealth that does not impact your day to day survival.

Mental health was discussed extensively, particularly community connection and loneliness, but the discussion stopped short of addressing issues like individualism, capitalism, cultural diversity and wealth inequality. There is still a long way to go in facing some of these issues in this demographic.

Some talk centered on things like working from home, how this has been a necessity and many have adapted well, but for so many businesses and organisations, there needs to be a face-to-face market place and people are social animals that need human interaction. All this is true, however it shouldn't take a pandemic to provide people with flexibility and work/life balance. There was brief mention of people who benefit from the ability to work from home occasionally, but it wasn't discussed adequately. Parents/guardians of young children for example can benefit greatly from flexibility in the workplace. Current employment structures and culture can increase the exclusion of women from the workforce and public life when they have very young children and this inflexibility can also prevent men from spending quality time with their children. Many people take care of aged parents, family members with disabilities or themselves experience mental health issues that are alleviated with working from home options. It's important to maintain a functioning economy but not at the expense of a healthy and balanced society. There was no acknowledgement of front line workers who never had the option to stay home; doctors, nurses, teachers, community workers, supermarket staff, delivery drivers. Essential workers were not mentioned at all. There was also no recognition that for many, online options are still unavailable and inaccessible due to cost, access to devices and reception issues. Connectivity was a big local issue. Just ask anyone who worked from home or home schooled.

It was a valuable webinar, and I appreciate the limitations of time that don't allow every single aspect to be covered, but the panel discussion fell short. It was out of touch and outdated, particularly in the face of the global sociopolitical movements that have emerged rapidly in response to and simultaneously with the pandemic. The ideas seemed to come from very traditionalist and conservative perspectives that are no longer relevant or are only true for some people. We now have the information and technology to question the systems and structures that are only serving a small number of people and it isn't justified for those people to declare that everything is working, when it clearly isn't for many. It was a missed opportunity to address broader issues and failed to acknowledge that to come out of this pandemic relatively well is to have access to immense privilege.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

This Is 42 - Roxane Gay and Christina Hoff Sommers

Pic author's own

There are 2 things I took away from the Dr Roxane Gay and Christina Hoff Sommers talk for This Is 42 at Town Hall in Sydney last night. Firstly, the notion that some people believe Feminism is now too radical, divisive and exclusionary, as Ms Sommers suggests. Secondly, that the way to address this is for women to come together and, in particular, to reach out to the most disadvantaged women in “developing” nations to progress forward.

My take is that Feminism is absolutely radical and militant right now and needs to be because we find ourselves at a time when misogyny is no longer an open secret, but a full blown, in your face, mainstream and acceptable way to behave both in everyday and political life. Whether this is a backlash to the supposed gains that women have made or simply the scum rising to the surface, scum that has always been there but has been allowed to flourish and is now undeniably seen, is just a chicken and the egg argument, futile.

We have Trump in the White House, right wing misogynist politicians, both men and women, in every developed country on the globe, in our media, judicial and education systems. In Australia, 1 woman is killed a week by an intimate current or ex-partner. We are not doing fine!

The democratisation of information through social media, has meant that women have come forward to disclose their experiences, can come together to support each other globally, organise and mobilise in real time, in response to individual events and broader social issues. Whether these events are tokenistic, few and far between, selective only to demonstrate who is deserving of support and who maintains power is debatable. Perhaps people who feel that feminism is too radical are those who have held onto power for so long and think they own feminism. Suddenly marginalised women have a voice. Marginalised people are seen. “Equality feels like oppression when you’re accustomed to privilege.” Privilege isn’t necessarily wealth either, white skin is a privilege, as is an abled body, being a CIS hetero, being raised in a Judeo-Christian religion, not ever having experienced war, having access to education.

Feminism is radical and militant because it is responding to a capitalist, patriarchal, colonial, imperialist and white supremacist world that is destroying not only the planet and subsequently our species’ existence on it, but also the lives of othered people that don’t fit the dominant paradigm of that narrative on a daily basis.

People that DO fit the narrative of the dominant paradigm; white, male, able bodied, straight, Christian, wealthy, educated, ‘western’ or any of those combinations are having those values and traits questioned and measured against an alternative lived experience, one that is not any of those things and can never be and that applies to the majority of people. Suddenly, aspiring to this narrative, the impossibility of it and the demand that people do that to the exclusion of everything else is being rejected.

We need to go back to talking about ideologies. Yes, the bodies we inhabit matter hugely. The intersections of our privileges and oppressions, individually and collectively are important and dictate our lived experiences as citizens and as nations.

We need to continue to shed light on these individual experiences but that does not eliminate the need to talk about structures that continue to be racist, white/western supremacist, sexist, heteronormative, homogenised and classist.