Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Sexism isn't an opinion. It's fact.

Image via: mytinyphone

So I got into a Twitter discussion with @MrOzAtheist and his followers yesterday. As I write this it's still going. 

Let me begin by saying, I have followed him for a while and have mostly had admiration and respect for him and his work, until now. I agreed with him about atheism and the harm that religion does, particularly the institutionalised Abrahamic religions and their impact on women's lives. The thing is I am very often disappointed by people I admire, in particular, men I admire, who despite all their intelligence and kindness, still harbour very deeply ingrained male privilege, sexism and misogyny. When they are questioned, this brings about a whole shit storm of abuse, denial and deflection, from themselves and others, including women who have internalised the effects of patriarchy. At the very least, these high profile men aren't speaking to me as a person. They are speaking to other men and women they approve of. Women like me are their secondary concern. Male is standard. Female other, regardless of the gendered body spectrum. And women are so used to internalising it, they accept it, even perpetuate it.

That is why, when I came across a Tweet by MrOz in response to a Tweet by the ABA (The Australian Breastfeeding Association), I was taken aback. Given his understanding of the harm religion does to women, I assumed he was a feminist. My literal response was WTF.

I was not offended, but thought it was sexist and an abuse of male privilege to feel entitled to make a sexualised comment, (asking consent before breastfeeding, conjuring the image of an adult male sucking on a woman's breast) in that context. IN THAT CONTEXT. I was particularly annoyed that the ABA was attempting to make a supportive Tweet, aimed mainly at mothers, perhaps first time mums, who are embarking on breastfeeding, with all it's obstacles and stigmas, for the first time, and that's where he chose to try out his 'lame' joke. Some people even called it a "dad joke". Because saying "just kidding" means you're absolved of any wrong doing. Daggy jokes are a great way to get away with saying whatever you want and then blaming the person who thinks it's off. I swear, I was waiting for someone to say it was like locker room banter, but no one dared. Close enough though. I get that consensual adult breastfeeding is a real thing. I do. It doesn't bother me. I just don't believe that is who the ABA aimed their breastfeeding Tweet at.

It is no secret, despite the foot stamping denial of some, that breasts are sexualised, women's bodies are sexualised, as objects for the gratification of men. This is an acceptable way to view a woman's body and particularly her breasts. When breasts are exposed in order to suckle an infant, controversy ensues. That is why the ABA felt the need to remind women that their right to breastfeed anywhere and anytime is protected by Australian Law. If it wasn't an issue, the ABA wouldn't have needed to Tweet that.

Breastfeeding rights and stigma aren't an issue just in Australia. Recently, an American mum posted a picture of herself breastfeeding in a Victoria's Secret store, after being asked by staff to move along and breastfeed her baby in the toilet. The hypocrisy was evident.

Image via: Daily Mail (I know, shit source, but relevant content.)

MrOZ thought it was funny to play on the ambiguity of the words and to place himself in the position of the user of the breastfeeding woman's breasts. He was applauded might I add. People, women too, breastfeeding mothers, even the ABA, saw no issue with this. He was just making a silly joke and he was addressing consent, so let's give him a parade and a medal for being a champion of women's self-determination, while creating the imagery of a grown man sucking on a woman's breast. On the ABA account. In response to a supportive Tweet aimed at possibly inexperienced breastfeeding mothers.

I didn't find it funny in that context, but I will reiterate. I wasn't offended or triggered. I just called it what it was. A man feeling entitled to pipe up on a women's safe space aimed at empowering and supporting them, to be funny, hardy har. What a hero!

Mayhem ensued. I was accused of all the textbook dysfunctions that addle a woman's brain when she insists on not being treated like a doormat. I was humourless, couldn't take a joke, didn't get it, too sensitive, a social justice warrior (that's not an insult btw!), crazy, angry, bitter, needed a root, needed a wank, triggered, abused, man hating, racist (for mentioning white male privilege) and sexist just to mention a few. One woman thought that someone should hit me to shut me up. MrOz, in fact none of his followers, found that inappropriate. At one stage, I retaliated at a fellow who called me a "femitroll". I said "go fuck yourself sideways, you disrespectful cunt". It didn't do me any favours. Although, I deleted it, thinking my brutal retort would only be funny to me, MrOz, being the pro Twitterer that he is, had already screen grabbed it and re tweeted it. Several times. It was the only one of my responses he focused on. He kept asking me to explain the sexism, but didn't want to address it when I did. Just kept denying any wrong doing, intentional or not, and kept calling me crazy. It's my ovaries you know, I'm hysterical! Oldest come back in the book.

No one, not women, not mothers, not the ABA, not people who I thought were feminists saw that it was sexist to feel entitled to invade that space with a sexualised joke. Only one person finally agreed that it amounted to harrassment, but then people argued that that was impossible because it was on Twitter, not real life. I know I know, offense is taken not given. I chose to be offended (I wasn't), it's subjective. Ok. Well in that context, it was sexist. 

They insisted it wasn't sexist. If anything, he was championing consent. And if any woman was triggered by that, she was the problem. If a new mother reading that, feeling the weight of new responsibility, the scrutiny associated with motherhood, the stigma of breastfeeding, the myriad of emotions and hormones that the ABA aims to soften the blow of; if any woman may have found that an invasion of her safe space, she was the problem. That is victim blaming and rape culture in action. But I was told they were "buzz words" that didn't mean anything and to go get a sense of humour and a root.

At one stage the discussion turned into women playing the victim, the family courts being against men and fathers, women perpetrating violence against men at the same rate as men against women, men dying more often than women at war. I kid you not. Those things were thrown back at me for merely questioning the context of a shitty sexist joke, the content of which I didn't even give two shits about. 

I simply thought a man creating the image of himself sucking on a woman's boob to breastfeed (with consent of course, *round of applause*) on a Twitter account reassuring women of their right to breastfeed their infants without harrassment, was harrassment in itself and that privilege was sexist. The End. 


Tuesday, 6 December 2016

A lesson we all need to learn about diversity

Image via Sydney Morning Herald

Today I learned a very valuable lesson about myself and I have to say I was a little bit confronted. I like to think of myself as a champion for the disadvantaged, vilified, discriminated against and persecuted. I will fight for the under dog. I try my hardest to be open minded and open hearted. To contribute positively to constructive debate. To never stand by and tolerate discrimination and bigotry. To be intolerant of intolerance. When the opportunity arises, I am vocal and I don't shy away from difficult political discourse. It interests me. I think it's important. I think it's necessary. 

Mariam Veiszadeh, a well known Muslim Australian activist was publicly nominated and voted winner of Daily Life's Woman of the Year 2016. When I found out that she won I was genuinely happy. I have been following her on Facebook and Twitter and know the incredible work she has been doing in the face of horrendous abuse, to fight for the rights of ordinary Australians who just so happen to be Muslim. In today's climate, both here and overseas, I imagine it's a daily battle to stay sane in the face of such ignorance. It must be exhausting.

Daily Life conducted their first ever live interview with Mariam on Facebook and followers were asked to pose questions to Mariam to answer. I jumped on board. I realised nobody had yet commented and I'd be the first and thought it would be an honour to be answered. Below is the whole interview and I was thrilled that my question was up first.


My question to Mariam was, "Firstly, congratulations! So well deserved! What is the one thing you would tell young people, our future generation, about Muslims living in Australia and their way of life?"

I'm not sure how I expected her to answer, but I was left feeling a bit embarrassed by her response. Mariam explained that Muslim Australians were ordinary people just like all of us. She also stated that she was tired of having to reassure people and that it wasn't the responsibility of minorities or vilified groups to do the reassuring and explaining. The interviewer agreed and they joked about how ridiculous it was to be asked this question in 2016. I don't think their intention was to shame me, but I was left feeling red faced.

I was a bit mortified. I didn't mean it to come out that way, but they were both right and I'm glad Mariam answered in this way.

I guess I did have expectations about what I wanted her to say. I wanted her to proudly describe her heritage, based on my own knowledge about the people that I have known in my life who happened to be Muslim Australians. I wanted her to say that they loved family life and celebrated traditional occasions with plenty of ritual and abundant food. I wanted her to talk about the way Muslims observed their culture and faith with devotion. The way they valued education and hard work. How they see themselves as Aussies, but live a dual existence that is rich for the history and culture they bring with them and the diversity they contribute. I stupidly thought that she could point out difference when really she would have been describing sameness. The same things most Australians would say about their 'way of life', whether they were Muslim, or Irish, or Maltese, or Greek, or Swedish, or whatever. Because apart from the specifics of culture and religion, we all have the same story to tell.

Her frustration at having to explain that there was nothing to explain, suddenly became clear and while my question was well intentioned, I realised it was misguided. On reflection, I think I wanted her to describe to young people in particular, those who have not yet waded into the real world, outside of their sheltered and often monocultural upbringings, those who haven't met a Muslim in their community or their school, I wanted her to give them an insight into who she is. What I found out was that she is already doing that just by being herself and by being visible. By doing the work that she does and making the contributions she is making, she is helping to ensure that Muslim Australians are visible, normalised, demystified and accepted. It is up to young people to pay attention. It is up to all of us to PAY ATTENTION to who we all are and what unites us. What makes us the same. What makes us Australian. And that unless we have Aboriginal heritage that, by the way, goes back between 40,000 and 60,000 years, we are all 'new' to this country in some way. We all have a similar story with varying degrees of hardship, persecution and opportunity. The one thing we all have in common is that we are Australian.

I hope with all my being that I didn't offend Mariam with my naive question. I hope that in giving me her honest and justified answer, that her message was received loud and clear by people who, like me, unconsciously (or consciously for some) place Muslim Australians or any other minority group in a position of otherness. It was certainly received loud and clear by me and for that I am thankful for the lesson.  

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The Facts of Sex

Recently, I came across a video on Facebook that blew my mind. It was an episode from an eight part series of sex education videos that is broadcast on Norwegian television and is aimed at children. It is factual and practical and extremely straight forward. The one I saw originally was episode six, which was about the vagina and menstruation. I thought it was an excellent teaching resource and one of such utmost importance, particularly for young girls, but also and probably more importantly on further thought, for young boys. 

Here was a video showing the female body and its functions, without mystery or shame. Without buzz words, without crude or uncomfortable jokes, without metaphors or innuendo. It simply described the body parts and how they function. I had never come across anything so informative in its simplicity and so progressive in its delivery. I was compelled to shout it from the rooftops and that I did. I shared it on my page, my profile and, thinking I was doing a huge public service, on a local mothers' group that, while notorious for its irrational conservativism and propensity for hysteria over seemingly scandalous issues, sometimes contained at least a handful of members with some common sense. I knew it would make waves, but hoped that the post would receive the usual response that my posts attracted; indifference. At the very least, I hoped that the admins would see that my intention was not to cause trouble, but to share what I truly believed was vital information.

It didn't go the way I'd hoped.

The original post was deleted. At first, I rolled my eyes in disgust, thinking it was a typical knee jerk reaction by the admins, but then thought maybe I had made a mistake and the post was lost in some error. I often participate in the online world whilst simultaneously juggling a million other tasks. So, I posted it again. It was deleted a second time, so then I knew that I wasn’t making a mistake. The admins had deleted the post. I didn’t think it violated the rules in that it was an education video about sex, a topic that often comes up in these types of groups, especially in regards to how to approach the subject with children.

While I wasn’t entirely surprised, I have to admit I was pissed off. Not because my post was deleted and that I took that personally. I’m not a fucking narcissist. I simply felt so strongly about the information and how it was set out; I was so sure that the information would be valuable and could help parents to educate not only their children, but themselves; I was so determined to get the information out there to help people demystify, remove shame and empower their children (and I have to admit my bias – particularly their daughters) that the post’s deletion left me beyond frustrated.

So, I posted this response:

I was immediately banned from the group. 

Not the first time, by the way.

I discussed it at length with a fellow member and friend, who is often the only ally I ever have among these conservative women. She has had many clashes in this group and when people have called her names and she has made complaints, she has simply been ignored. So, it was interesting, that a few days later, I received a message from the admin, explaining that complaints were received about my post and when it was re-posted after being deleted and because of my final post, they decided to remove me as a member, for being in violation of the rules and upsetting people. I was told I was free to re-join, however. Flabbergasted is an understatement. The stupidity was so overwhelming, the hypocrisy so blatant, I wanted to claw my face off.

I told them thanks, but no thanks and my friend and I started a new group. It’s called PMS: Progressive Mothers of Sydney. Here is my response to the admin:
“You did me a favour. I’m not interested in being a member of a group filled with such ignorance and close mindedness. I wasn’t proving a point. I genuinely found the resource valuable and thought that other women would understand how important It is to remove shame and mystery from our physical and reproductive bodies. I think it’s life-saving information to teach children that their bodies aren’t rude or grotesque or vulgar. They need to know how it works in a factual way. If this group finds that disturbing and offensive, the dysfunction lies with them not me. I’m disgusted and frustrated about the idiocy of these attitudes, but not in the least bit surprised. Keep your group. I’ve started my own and am seeking the company of more intelligent people. Feel free to publicly post my response. It’ll give everyone a laugh, but might reach a few still capable of enlightenment.”

I really believe….no I’m absolutely positive that teaching pre-pubescent and pubescent children how their bodies work, and that they are not shameful or disgusting, could save their lives. Having knowledge about your body and being prepared for the changes that will take place, understanding your self-determination, not being afraid or ashamed of your desires and functions; these things prevent unwanted or unpleasant sex, sexual assault and rape, unplanned pregnancy, self-hatred, eating disorders, low self-esteem. Imagine raising confident, knowledgeable, emotionally mature and mentally well young people in this regard. Picture the impact it will have on all aspects of their lives.

Sex education should be about the following, very important things. 

1. Function: how does the body work and why. The changes that occur during puberty and development should be described matter-of-factly using language and imagery that one would use to describe the function of the heart or the liver or the lungs. Anything less is merely fear, taboo and power imbalance left over from archaic religious delusion and sexist ideology. Our squeamish attitudes towards sex are dictated by outdated mores and deliberately unjust systems to control us. More specifically women.

2. Consent: we need to hammer this home. Young people need to understand what consent truly means. It means that when two (or more) people engage in a sex act, they must want to be there and are enjoying the act, THE ENTIRE TIME. It’s really that simple. The cup of tea analogy is one of the best I’ve ever come across. You can’t force someone to like tea! So don’t!

3. Pleasure: Sex should feel good. For everyone involved. Most sex education centres around boys’ pleasure. Young people learn that boys get an erection and they ejaculate. Fine. These are the facts. But often they aren’t taught adequately about girls’ pleasure. Sex education aimed at girls talks about the vagina, the entrance to the uterus. So girls are taught, first and foremost that they will be entered. They are taught about ovulation and that there are one of two outcomes following intercourse: menstruation or pregnancy. Fine. Functionality is important, but there are huge omissions. The clitoris is completely ignored. Discharge and moisture are shunned. I can feel you cringing now! Girls are given the impression that unless they are going to start a family, they aren’t having sex. 

4. Contraception and reproductive choices: all of them. Not just condoms or abstaining or the things girls must do to prevent pregnancy like it is solely their responsibility. Having sex for consensual and mutual pleasure, aside from doing it for the purpose of procreation needs to be discussed openly and truthfully. ALL options need to be laid out on the table and this becomes difficult when women all over the world are still fighting for full and unencumbered rights and control over their reproductive bodies. Abortion as a legal, accessible, safe and universal right needs to be provided as an option for young people when unwanted pregnancy occurs. Of course, the statistics for accidental and unwanted pregnancy dramatically drops, when young people are educated from the get go about how their bodies work and the ethics and obligations surrounding sexual activity.

We’ve got a long way to go, obviously. Whether that group had deleted my post and banned me or not, the bottom line is that Facebook itself removed the video and YouTube makes you confirm your age to view it. You have to prove you are an adult to watch a series of episodes aimed at children. Aside from the utter hypocrisy given the vile, misogynist, violent and abhorrent content that slips past the censors on both mediums, censoring valuable educational resources such as the Norwegian sex ed videos are doing us all a disservice.