Wednesday, 29 March 2017

IQ2 2017 - Political Correctness Has Failed Itself

The first debate in the IQ2 series was entertaining and thought provoking. Upon entering, we were asked to vote on whether we were For the statement that political correctness (PC) has failed, Against or Undecided. I chose Undecided. While I was leaning towards being Against the statement, (I believe PC hasn't failed and we still need it, now more than ever), I wanted to hear both sides of the argument and make a better choice at the end.

31% were Undecided at the start, 22% were Against and the remaining 47% were For. This means that at the beginning of the debate, most people felt that political correctness was failing, but many weren't sure and perhaps, like myself, hoped it wasn't and wanted to hear an informed discussion that confirmed its necessity or obsoleteness.

There were two speakers on each team who took turns presenting their arguments. At the end, we were asked to vote again and while the votes were tallied, the floor was opened to questions or statements from the audience. I'll disclose the result at the end.

Here are the speakers:

Image via: The Ethics Centre website

Simon Longstaff hosted the debate and immediately summarised the crux of the argument. Is there a conservative backlash against political correctness or is it a failed movement in itself?

Chris Kenny was the first speaker. He suggested that political correctness was a way in which our thoughts are controlled and shaped. He described this as some sort of dystopian or Orwellian nightmare whereby we are brainwashed into thinking a certain way to police our thoughts and words. You know, like how advertising, education, popular culture, television, movies etc. are dominated by a mostly white, male, hetero/cisgender ideal and shape our identities. He remarked that the Left of the political discourse aims to promote a Utopian ideal. So far, Chris was convincing me to vote for the other team. Perhaps PC works to undo the stereotypes and negative representations that all those other bias mediums communicate in order to condition us, and perhaps PC is a way in which we can achieve a balance. Chris suggested that PC as a tool to achieve this balance had gone too far and in its extremity has instead caused the mainstream to resist. PC has become a buzz word whereby its original intent and meaning has been distorted and has thus failed, becoming a "springboard to all it despises". I can see how anything in its extreme can do that. How over policing language can water down the intention, making it seem absurd and how "political posturing" and "virtue signalling" can become antithetical to common sense. But did that mean that we could or should do away with it all together? Chris' main argument was that political correctness had become alarmist and so prevalent that it was now irrelevant and counter productive. He gave examples of how people and governments can opt for preventative responses to serious events and ideas instead of making a commitment to practical action. Some of the examples he gave were the way in which the Lindt Cafe siege was handled. He suggested that in an effort to protect the feelings of Muslim Australians, police and the public responded in a hypersensitive manner (with hashtags such as #illridewithyou), effectively abandoning the actual victims of the crime. He also mentioned the way in which environmental science is often exaggerated, causing excessive preventative expenditure that doesn't address scientific reality, like responding to droughts by increasing expenditure into ventures like desalination, that were then prevented from going ahead due to flooding. 

Mikey Robbins spoke next for the Negative side, arguing that political correctness was not only succeeding, but was necessary and desirable. He asked if PC was such a failure, then why is it still so prominent in our media? Why do we discuss it so often? Surely if it was failing it would have disappeared, like Trotskyism? If there is such a prevalent need to decry political correctness, doesn't that prove that it's working? It provokes debate and shifts apathy. Mikey talked about how the phrase political correctness originally came about. He said it was a tongue-in-cheek description given to the Left, by and to themselves, to make fun of the way in which language was modified in a changing world to reflect contemporary values and agreed upon phrases and labels that respect marginalised groups in particular. Mikey said he was an advocate and regular participant in exercising free speech, even if it caused offense sometimes, but that didn't mean that PC was unnecessary or failing. He was suggesting that the context and intention of our words can make all the difference. For example, being critical of someone's actions is different to criticising their condition. Saying someone is behaving unjustly is not the same as suggesting the colour of their skin is inferior. PC is simply the term we use to describe something that has always existed; a discourse around what is socially acceptable and known and how we progress these ideas with sensitivity, respect and inclusivity. 

Jacinta Price was the next speaker for the Affirmative and claimed that political correctness distracts us from the real issues, preventing real solutions, particularly for Aboriginal people. She talked about the way her people spoke to one another and while in the mainstream, it can be considered politically incorrect, like referring to herself as a blackfulla, it was a cultural way of communicating that wasn't hurting anyone. Again, like Mikey, she was alluding to the idea that context and intention are very important when we consider how we use language and when it is appropriate to call it out as not being PC. She gave the example of how her mother, a respected Aboriginal Elder who participated extensively in elevating the status and well-being of her people, was denied the right to speak at a prominent Queensland university. Apparently she had been on the SBS program Insight and had said to a young person that she didn't think she looked like a blackfulla, inadvertently suggesting she was too white. People were offended and accused her of being politically incorrect and as a result she was denied the platform to speak publicly, effectively silencing her. Jacinta argued that her mother didn't have any ill intent, it was just the way she spoke. She didn't mean to cause offense and wasn't being "racist", it was benign language and its criticism deflected from the real issues that her mother wanted to address. It got me thinking about context again. Surely, most people in that room understood that Jacinta's mother wasn't being abusive and had ownership over that language as a cultural way of communicating. However, flagging those words as politically incorrect, don't necessarily condemn her or her ideas, they simply point out that better words can be chosen in another context. It prevents giving license to people who would use those words to denigrate or abuse people by suggesting the darkness of your skin determines how Aboriginal you are. I think they should have let her speak at the university, but I'm glad the discussion about her words happened. Of course she isn't racist, but it's necessary to talk about how her words can impact on others and what the consequences may be. Jacinta, like Mikey, talked about the place that humour and offense has in delivering often heavy and serious messages and how if we police our language too closely, we risk silencing vital voices. She suggested that in denying fundamental truths because we are afraid to speak about them and saying the wrong thing, we further enforce incorrect stereotypes. So do we say whatever we want to get our facts straight, or do we say what we want in a way that allows us to examine the facts sensitively? Jacinta mentioned the Bill Leak fiasco and how his cartoon about Aboriginal fathers was perhaps taken out of context and blown out of proportion. She said many Aboriginal fathers who did not identify with the derogatory portrayal, still understood its meaning and that the fact is those fathers do actually exist. She noted that nobody suggested that the cartoon was portraying all Aboriginal men as policemen, as the policeman in the picture was indeed Aboriginal. Both Chris and Jacinta suggested that Bill Leak was being unfairly targeted for his controversial cartoons and it was an example of PC being used in its extreme. She didn't talk about the unequal platform that white journalists and cartoonists have in society generally, compared to Aboriginal fathers who are still experiencing the effects of colonisation, poverty, unemployment and attempted genocide. Jacinta also talked about how Aboriginal women in remote areas are being threatened by their own people, with violence, if they dare to break traditional lore. She said nobody wants to talk about it out of fear of being politically incorrect. It seems that in order to be PC, people refuse to acknowledge that black on black violence has taken more lives that white on black violence and this is hypocritical in the face of the #blacklivesmatter campaign. Again, I thought about the context of privilege and discrimination in which violence happens generally. Shouldn't we be asking why and in what circumstances black people are dying compared to white people? Jacinta stated that she believes that racism and political correctness were two sides of the same coin. That's when she lost me.

Tasneem Chopra was the final speaker and argued for the Negative. Her concerns centred around the notion that when the conversation is dominated by a certain group of people and when those whose lives the issues impact are excluded from the debate, PC is a way in which we address imbalances of entitlement, privilege and representation. Political correctness provides boundaries. It defines the checks and balances that keeps the discourse honest and ensures a level playing field. When there is a lack of representation and when marginalised groups are spoken about instead of being allowed to speak, bigotry and misinformation becomes casualised and eventually becomes acceptable and mainstream; sometimes those who hold those bigoted beliefs can even become POTUS or PM (who in the case of Tony Abbott, a white, male, conservative, suddenly and inexplicably to many, declared himself Minister for Women and Minister for Indigenous Affairs). Tasneem pointed out that PC helps us to identify the issues that divide us and eliminates the Us vs Them mentality that often causes bigotry to escalate, as it is currently, despite the influence and prevalence of political correctness. PC is a siren of the non acceptance of hatred and it helps us to ensure respectful discourse. 

The debate was then handed over to the audience. A few people brought up some excellent points. One man argued that PC is a form of self-censorship that occurs when we have freedom of information. It is a way in which we can police our own thoughts as opposed to censorship being imposed on us by the state. Another person talked about stereotyping and how accurate stereotypes are a way in which we make sense of the world around us. It is when stereotypes become inaccurate assumptions that can cause harm, that PC can help us to keep these inaccuracies in check. Another woman reminded us of when words like kaffir, nigger, wog, faggot and other derogatory terms were an acceptable part of the lexicon and how those insults have been eliminated due to political correctness. It made me wonder if political correctness has gone too far, or if in fact it has forced the scum to the surface. When people get defensive about being PC, are they just showing their true colours, indulging in their cognitive dissonance and refusing to admit that they are out of line and learning from it? Is it PC that is stifling debate or privileged people using it to deflect from the real issues? Which is the argument that is twisted around to minimise political correctness. As Mikey said, surely political correctness has done more good than harm. That quote kept coming to my mind. "When you're used to privilege, equality feels like oppression". I'd made my decision. I voted Against the statement and went with my initial thoughts. Political correctness hasn't failed. It's working, it's agitating and it's changing the way we see the world, for the better.

The final vote was counted and the results spoke for themselves. It was one of the biggest swings seen in IQ debate history.

Undecided - 13%
For - 18%
Against - 69%

Thursday, 9 February 2017

This is how I wrote my book

I can't begin to explain how excited I am to hold this wad of paper in my hands, finally. Writing a novel has been a life goal of mine for a very long time. When I was a kid, when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said 'Author'. Not writer. Author. I wanted to write novels. To tell stories. That is, after I discovered that being a Vet wasn't just about cuddling animals, but touching poo and vomit (much like parenting), healing injured ones and putting some of them to sleep

I started writing this book ten years ago. I was in my early 30s. I had just skidded out of my 20s, bruised and battered by failed relationships, disappointment and instability. I'd been bouncing from one job and rental property to another for the best part of a decade and had finally settled down in a flat for a couple of years straight, and a job that looked like it could be a long term thing. I went overseas on my own, doing a Contiki through Europe on the cusp of my 31st birthday, when the tour guide himself was still negotiating his 20s. I came back determined to be a grown up.

In the meantime, my now husband had returned to Australia from a year long working holiday in the Canadian Alps and our paths crossed shortly after. My lease was up and my brother needed a flat mate, so I moved in with him the weekend after we met.

So, I finally found myself adulting. Living in stable accommodation, holding down a secure job and in a serious relationship. It was time to write. Then, I began this story. About a young woman, much like myself, who was living with her brother and working as a public servant. I had some ideas in mind about what I wanted her to experience. In some way, to tell my own story and reveal the themes that had guided my life to that point. I didn't have a set plan, just a bunch of thoughts and ideas and the desire to write.

I did that. On a regular basis. I would fish out my cheap laptop, turn it on, punch away at the keys, and develop a story. In fact, it was the characters I was creating. The people in my story who would come to life in my mind and embark on their own journey, sometimes seemingly separate from me.

But as is the case with being a grown up, life gets busy. My partner and I went overseas, feeling the urge to travel together before we settled down. We came home and bought our first property and got hitched. Then we started a family. Things literally snowballed. A year into our marriage we had our first child and then ten months later we conceived twins. To say things got a tad chaotic is an understatement. I suddenly found myself at home, unemployed and looking after three children under the age of two.

A short time before I gave birth to my first baby, I found out about 'Push Presents'. Apparently, people buy or are given a material incentive for giving birth. I'd never heard of this, but wanted to cash in. Side note here, I never pushed. I had two cesareans. But that's beside the point. Instead of wanting jewellery or a fleeting massage or some other pointless commodity, I told my husband that I wanted a writing class. 

Image via:
Catherine Deveny was running her first Gunnas Writing Masterclass in Sydney for the Sydney Writers' Festival and I wanted in. Heavily pregnant, I waddled into the city and sat through a day of 'aha!' moments among my kind of people. It was the fuel I needed to resolve to finishing my book. The perfect opportunity was about to present itself, in the form of a longer than expected maternity leave. I would put the nine-to-five grind of working a day job behind me for a while, in fact much longer than I'd expected, and this gave me the time I needed to focus on finishing the book. I started to see myself as a novelist and when I found out about self publishing, it only propelled me even further forward. I realised I wouldn't have to send out a manuscript to a whole bunch of publishers and then have to sit on my hands and wait for someone to 'get me'. I could make a book myself. I would have complete control over every aspect of its design and construction and I would be able to create my own deadlines and basically own and oversee every step of the process. It was completely irresistible.

In the weeks before I had the baby, I started this blog. I found an online site that would pay me for writing articles called and I pushed myself to finish my book. I made writing my full time job. Albeit mostly unpaid, but whatever. I had savings and a financially supportive partner and was in fact working harder than I'd ever worked in my life. I knew that eventually I would return to paid employment once the kids were in care and that this short time was a drop in the ocean in my working life. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I had to at least try. I'd kick myself if I didn't at least do that. 

As busy as it is having a newborn, I found the time. When the baby napped or was settled, I wrote. And wrote. And wrote. It kept me sane during the days I felt isolated and motivated me when I was exhausted. When the twins came, everything was magnified again, but I did another Gunnas Masterclass - Self Publishing with Julie Postance and a further writing one with Catherine, and I became even more determined to finish what had become a project, beyond merely writing a book. In fact, the story and characters had grown so much in me, that I envisaged a second and third book and a business plan started to take shape.

While wrangling three toddlers, I pushed on with not only writing the stories, but conceiving the cover, registering a business and getting a logo designed, starting a Facebook page and website; editing, proofreading, typesetting and building the architecture of a book. It was daunting and I was riddled with doubts and insecurity, but those niggles weren't strong enough to defeat the joy and the satisfaction I got from doing it. I grew attached to the narrative, the fictional people, their lives and relationships, and the process of making a book. I worked in small increments of time, whenever I had a moment to myself or the kids were occupied with themselves. Even five minutes of writing or organising fulfilled me and gave me pleasure.

Before too long the book was finished and while it was being proofread and edited, I busied myself with the business side of things and commenced the sequel. The second book has been much easier to write in some ways. I have experience and a premise. The sequel's protagonist is a character from the first book, it reveals her back story, and the stories intersect. In other ways, different challenges have presented themselves as I can't just let the characters lead me into the story, I have to adhere to the established narrative and characterisation. In so many ways, these obstacles have made me a better and more creative writer. 

The editing process of the first book educated me about the pitfalls of writing, such as style, grammar and punctuation and I think, I hope, that I have improved. The third book is swimming around in my mind. The business end is established and I believe that it won't take me as long or be as arduous a process, in terms of creating a physical book and making it available for purchase.

All in all, I decided one day, that I was going to write a book and when I took that first step, and kept putting one foot in front of the other, eventually I got there. And looking back, it's been a huge and very satisfying learning curve.

The hardest part now, and I think what has been the most difficult all along, is sharing it. You want people to like what you do. Especially if it's an artistic pursuit. You want people to connect and to feel the things you felt when you created it. It's not about being liked or feeling good all the time or getting approval. It's about connection and you want people to have a positive and constructive response. So, for example, even if people don't like something a character says or does, you hope that it is within the context of empathising with them. The fact of the matter is that some people will like your work and others will hate it. Some will be completely indifferent. I am prepared for that. What I wish for most is that the story and the characters are interesting, believable and at least a little bit entertaining. 

More than anything though, I wrote this book because I liked writing it. I am writing the next two because I want to finish telling this story. I will keep writing because that is the one thing I do that makes me want to punch the air in jubilation. I am so lucky to say I have found that thing that makes me go 'fuck yes!'. It is something that everyone should find in their lives.

Space: Everybody Shut Up, I'm Trying To Think will be available for purchase through my website and Facebook page from February 14th 2017.

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.