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.