Monthly Archives: March 2021

2021: Meeting the Moment #13

Been having a virtual mythopoetic journey through the Burren and County Clare with a bit of County Mayo on the side these past few weeks with David Whyte and in the very best of company. It has been a much needed counterpoint to the saturation and inescapable conversation of sexual violence that is permeating every corner of the country. The cellular and elemental nature of fear, anxiety, distrust and the unpredictable appearances of trauma and grief are swirling with gusto like the winds of the Atlantic on western edge of Ireland. There is a litany of names in my heart of women who have been violated, and lamentations are completely insufficient. I find myself wanting to blow things up. I think of the muscular power of a woman’s body which can stretch to its limits sometimes tearing, often leaving permanent scars, bruised and sewn up. The rallying cry is enough is enough and so the line drawn in the sand, calls for a new day, new ways, everything is broken. I am reminded of the cycle of domestic violence and the point that comes when leaving is the only option, anything less is complicity and compliance.

I have done some leaving over the years and experienced the full monty patriarchy panic first hand.  While we have our media full of individual experiences of sexual abuse, my mind goes to the systems holding these practices in place. Here is a litany of my own:

  • You can’t enrol in this program, it is a full time load and you are about to have a baby
  • You can’t hold down that job as there is no support for childcare you can afford
  • You can’t come and sit at this table, you are not a man, you are not ordained
  • You can’t take on this responsibility you are married
  • You can’t bring those thoughts and ideas to this place, the leadership will never agree
  • You can’t pray with those words, you can’t sing with those songs, you can’t ritualise with those artefacts
  • You are not credentialed, because only men can get that qualification
  • Your motherhood is a barrier and your husband and children are your first priority
  • You should be home doing the housework
  • You can’t bring your female friends here it is unsafe for them, you are married so you will be safe
  • Your breastfeeding makes us feel uncomfortable
  • Your pain must remain hidden
  • You will probably want to do other things like have another baby, I don’t think this is the right time for you

The structural inequalities behind each of these lines are founded on the bedrock of patriarchy.  Most of them I have addressed head on for myself and for others and some have even had structural shifts and can only be found in the Australian Museum of Misogyny alongside the CDs and lost mixtapes of Julia Gillard’s speech to Tony Abbott. But it is all just window dressing, the deep wounds of power and privilege translate into power hoarding.

First Nations have been fighting this frontier since the first fleet. Colonialism another layer in the prehistoric origins of what has brought us to this moment. There are calls for a Makarrata and in doing so are calling for a non-white power sharing model, privileging country and place, story and culture. In a small way I noticed the shift that happened when I started using the names of places in their first nation language and stopped using colonial names – a small gesture and one which is catching on. It becomes a constant reminder of what was, what is and what could be. To not be welcome in your own country, to be forced to live by another’s foreign rules, under the flag of your oppressor, taken to their beds and stripped of dignity and justice, to have your children taken from you, to be left for dead, to be beaten, falsely accused, loose hope …. a petering away of hope … working a way into allyship and solidarity that strengthens means getting out of the way, going to a table not created by you and waiting to be invited, being patient to wait for the apprenticeship to be offered, to live in the discomfort of the emergence into something new and in the knowledge you are part of the problem and decolonisation starts inside the head, heart on its way to being translated into plans and action. 

So too is this pilgrimage out of patriarchy. Giving up on the messages and the structures that reinforce the messaging of inadequacy, its your fault, personalised and individualised transactions. Rejecting definitions of progress and growth that don’t include those with decision-making power not stepping out of the way is a big piece and a hard one. Think: it’s not all men, its not all white people, mantras.  Well actually it is when you take a systems lens. No justice without peace was a mantra in my youth. Meeting this moment: there is no justice without a reckoning.

2021 Meeting the moment #12

Living on the brink of tears is where I left off last week, echoing Camus, and this week has been a daily discipline of being at the brink. There have been many edgy moments met in public spaces. My pilgrim steps have taken me to #March4Justice where my legs carried me down the main street of my home city with thousands of others to make visible the number of people who are meeting this moment of misogyny and want to be both seen and heard. The outpouring of grief and anger has reached a new height and the nation is coming to terms with what might come next. My prediction is that we might see the most number of women ever elected to Federal Parliament the time we turn up at the ballot box. I know I would be encouraging parties to look very closely at their candidates and the rise of independents is very likely. I am excited for this possibility. I predict another way we will meet this moment as a nation is we will seek a spike in the number of reports to police of current and historical rapes, which I hope will be made visible in the data and then in demands from these law agencies for more support and resources to cope with the traffic. In my short walk up and down the main avenue of my city three women revealed to me rapes that had happened to them, one recently the others some years ago – I really didn’t know any of these women having only met them in virtual environments previously. I was overwhelmed and encouraged them to make reports and I know at least one did. Violence against women is everywhere. It is a pandemic, and men’s violence against women is a leading cause of the premature death for women globally (see the Femicide Census for more information).

From here my steps took me to the national capital and in the public space of the lawns of Old Parliament House I was welcomed by the community custodians of the Tent Embassy, a permanent occupation, since 1982 protesting about land rights, sovereignty and a site for hosting conversations and protests such as Black Lives Matter. Being a constant presence, means the door is always open for those conversations and I was pleased to make a visit. I was part of a small delegation travelling to Canberra for meetings and connections with elected representatives and included indigenous women leaders. We are walking and learning together about place based changemaking and aiming to apply the principle of First Nations first. Practicing this muscle requires a daily workout and I realised I wasn’t as match fit as I thought, fortunately, for me, the Aunties, are generous and patient teachers eager to help me with my learning curve. The opportunities to decolonise thinking and behaviour came thick and fast – it was a three day intensive immersion.

I was weary to the bone once I got home and integration of the lessons will take a while. Part of that integration, is sharing the learning, holding discomfort and reaching out to decipher and translate so the learning can continue. And meeting the moment of exhaustion calls for flopping on a couch, reaching for tea and toast, watching comedy and allowing the body and mind to rest. Rest itself a practice seeking meaning as the /place between activity, the pause to gather yourself, refuel, recover, so you can go on. When the yeast is in the bread, then kneaded, it too has to rest to grow and in the resting the gluten relaxes and reforms into protein strands to help form the loaf. I have been imagining conversations around preparing bread, kneading, resting, baking, eating. The communion that comes when we break bread together never ceases to hold me in place and purpose, and support a vision of inclusion.

Before the week ended, I was sitting with the sun setting over the gulf, an abundance of salads every colour of the rainbow and plates filled with locally grown produce discussing the housing crisis, especially for women seeking permanent homes for their children post domestic violence. The far reaching conversation held the invisible and silent women not at the table whose lives and the lives of their children separated from the security of a solid roof over their head, and what does this mean about the kind of people we are, and the systems that hold this inequity in place. Tales of policies past, cultural responses, planning, housing options and structures were in abundance making more visible the holes being identified and urging us all to collectively and individually meet the moment. Intergenerational privilege and promise was inherent in our shared experiences, and beckoned us to want more for each other and other women.

Wanting more and less all at once seems to be featuring in equal measure in moment meeting – integrating the micro and the macro and keeping the conversation going between the two and holding the personal as political continues to ring true.

Photo by Nadya Spetnitskaya on Unsplash

2021 Meeting the moment #11

Was reminded this week of Camus’ instruction to “.. live and create. Live to the point of tears.” He also wrote: “In the depth of winter. I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” That thought was made visible in the glorious Australian impressionist Clarice Beckett painting Summer Fields which I was able to see in the Art Gallery of South Australia last week. The heat rose from the canvas in the softest tones and the invisibility of her work being vaulted in a tin shed vault for many Melbourian winters. I suspect her creative life was one that lived to the point of tears. To be on this edge, a precipice inviting disaster is also a place where to fall or perhaps even be pushed forward into an unknown, a letting go is a surrender. The paint must leave the paintbrush, the tears must leave their ducts and in the leaving there is release, they are liberated and folded into something bigger. This is how I am meeting the moments of these days I am coming to understand as a kind of reckoning.

The black lives matter movement is a reckoning particular in the US for racial justice, I am hoping that a tweet induced campaign will crescendo nationally in Australia over the next 24 hours with over 40 #March4Justice and all Australians will heed the call for these actions:

– Full independent investigations into all cases of gendered violence and timely referrals to appropriate authorities. Full public accountability for findings

– Fully implement the 55 recommendations in the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Respect@Work report of the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces 2020.

– Lift public funding for gendered violence prevention to world’s best practice.

– The enactment of a federal Gender Equality Act to promote gender equality. It should include a gender equity audit of Parliamentary practices.

– No perpetrators as policy or law makers. Stand them down.

– Ratify the International Labor Organisation’s Convention on Eliminating Violence and Harassment in the World of Work.

– An independent review into the prevalence of gendered violence in Parliament to be conducted by the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

– Strengthen the Sex Discrimination Act so that Parliamentarians and Judges are no longer excluded from accountability for sexual harassment and discrimination committed in the course of their employment as public officers.

– Creation of a Code of Conduct for all Federal MP’s that includes the prevention of gendered violence in Houses of Parliament and associated workplaces.

– Mandatory gendered violence and sexual harassment training of all Federal MP’s and their staff on an annual basis

I notice I am seeking from leaders more and more to be at the point of tears, to arrive so angry, exasperated, moved by empathy, enabled by love, that they act not talk about acting, not planning to act, just do what they know is right. A truth is always naked – vulnerable, shedding adornments, throwing off cladding that may have enabled it to hide in plain sight. This is what I am noticing coming to life around me, years of pent up frustration, disappointment, anger, fear, rage – truth arriving – there is no going back from this precipice now and I am hoping we are at a tipping point in our country. The violence, the practices that keep workplaces unsafe, the inequities that are cloaked in unconscious racial and gender bias, must stop. It is a call to bring our truths to the table, to bring our whole selves not a watered down, covered version. To make visible the cost of what ignoring this is doing to our nation on every kind of balance sheet. The number of children not hitting their developmental goals and not ready for school is a direct result of systemic failures generationally of racial, economic and gender justice in funding, in not have treaties, in not valuing women and men and grandparents and uncle and aunts in their roles in families, in dislocation. Poverty is not personal. Violence experienced by an individual and perpetrated by an individual is rooted in power and privilege.

Moving from cover ups to naked truth involves a big reveal. This is the precipice I think we are on in Australia in this moment when it comes to gendered violence. I also think we are nearly there on racial justice but not quite. We are arriving though in numbers to the precipice and the sheer weight of it all will see the cliff crumbling below our feet. When we go into this unknown all kinds of possibilities await, and the trick will be not to make another cliff, but an expanse of empathy to create new horizons, where truth can turn up not looking for a shawl to be wrapped in, but clearly visible in all her colours where we all live to the point of tears induced by joy and justice.

If you are in Adelaide the #March4Justice details are here and national details here.

Photo by Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

2021: Meeting the moment #10

I’m tired and weary from a week where it feels like women of Australia and a few good men have had enough. I have rambling thoughts and I have a few facts, it doesn’t hang together well as a post, but that is the point really.

One in four women have experienced sexual abuse or assault of some kind and the rest of us are connected to these women, they are our friends, our sisters, our daughters, mothers, aunts, cousins. They are more likely to tell a friend than a police officer. The rate is three times more for indigenous women. Data from 2017 shows, one in three victims of sexual assault cases hospitalised, identified a spouse or domestic partner as the perpetrator. In 2018, the rate of police-recorded sexual assault was almost 7 times as high for females as males. Almost 2 million Australian adults have experienced at least 1 sexual assault since the age of 15. Surely this is enough of a reason to want to increase what we are doing to educate, train, support and heal? Why does it take deaths and public figures to be in the news to draw attention to these crimes? This is an epidemic, it is an everyday assault on our communal health and wellbeing. COVID measures are called for to change behaviours, physical distancing, policing of good hygiene, check-ins could all take on a different shape. In this epidemic there has been too much of washing hands. As more people share their #metoo stories, triggers are inevitable, accidentally causing what were safe spaces to not be so safe any more. I know I am avoiding and monitoring where I am going, what I am reading and listening too.

I have been heartened with the work being done in schools on consent. Remember the meaning of consent: the mutual agreement properly attained freely with an understanding decisions have both immediate and consequential effect. Children are rarely able to give consent that is fully informed, having little or no access to knowledge of the potential of actions. As we get older we learn more deeply the value of consent and why being explicit is necessary, and how it can be revoked at any time. If a sixteen year old did not give consent then that is rape of a minor. If an eighteen year old or eighty year old is in the same position, it is rape. No child can give consent, that is the point about the age of consent, so it is always rape if the victim is under the age of consent. In the state where I live, the age of consent is 17. There is a lot I don’t consent too. And in the political and legal contexts I don’t care if our societal standards and expectations have changed over decades, I am reminded that consent can be withdrawn at any time, and I am hoping those who voted for a national government that seems bereft of basic HR practices will withdraw their consent to being governed by them the first chance they get.

If there is a whiff of an inappropriate behaviour and before it is proven to be true or not, individuals are stepped down, directed to HR to resolve and then the investigations can be explored in light of policy, the law and health considerations. This happens every day in workplaces everywhere. It is proper practice, nothing special. I am completely perplexed why this has not happened in Parliament or at the direction of the Prime Minister.

I need a lie down and a good cry, my anger muscle is worn from over use, my compassion index remains high and I am grateful to those picking up the mantel and building the pathway of this reckoning. The avengers will be taking to the streets in pursuit of justice. This is personal, this is political and at scale. There are consequences and accountabilities to be had. You don’t need to be a father or a mother to have a conscience as so wisely pointed out by Grace Tame at the National Press Club this week. I have been musing for the need of a national helpline – let’s call it the Jenny Support Line and any one not quite sure what to do can give a Jenny a call. The Cornish don’t need to have a mortgage on Cousin Jenny’s to provide sustenance and comfort for those down in the coal mines. Maybe some men don’t know what to do and need some guidance, a quick call to Jenny will give them the confidence and strength to take a public step forward and help build a place where everyone is safe and those that groom and misuse their power are nipped in the bud of their blossoming predation.

While every possible channel I am connected to seems to be blinking, buzzing and bleating to get my attention. The calls and messages are from the re-traumatized, the vicariously traumatised, solidarity sisters. There is sadness. There is fear that sharks are circling around complicity with someone else’s story, or the shame of your own story surfacing. There is pain and deep aching for a time when safety and care for the victim will out weigh the privilege of a man’s position or career. There is her family, there is his family, friends, children – all innocent – being dragged into dark and confusing spaces as they are alienated from the world they knew. Hearts are broken. Lives destroyed. Martyrs are made before revelations.

Trust is sacred. When trust is broken, like shards of glass strewn on the floor, being careful where you step lest you cut yourself on a sliver, your fragility stocks grow. Delicate and careful placement of words, actions, attention to where you tread is heightened. This is not a time for casual or loose language.

Like so many others, I am tired and want to sleep and crawl under the covers and get it to go away. I turn off feeds, and don’t watch news, and still it seeps in with calls and conversations, uninvited and consistently. I am finding it hard to be angry, it feels more like resignation and grief to me. Time for truth telling and bearing witness is here for all who cane bare to speak and listen. Time for compassion too, making spaces and moments for quiet, rest, recovery. Please be kind to yourselves and your friends, take a break from it all if you need to and be compassionate to those who need to tune out from it for a bit. Be confident that we have each other’s backs and will act in solidarity when the time comes to take to the streets, the ballot box, the legislative chambers, the courts and be creative with our voices in music, song, dance and visual arts. Our bodies are sacred are to be honoured as the vessel of the soul, meeting this moment with our most sacred selves will invite more of the divine energy we will need in and from each other to shift these moments into the tsunami of change being called for right now.

At Womadelaide last night listening to my favourite drummer and his band as they played one of their best known numbers the lead singer said: Change happens by those without short memories. On the eve of International Women’s Day 2021 I pay my respects to all the women who have gone before who have enabled progress by putting their bodies on the line, and to their male allies. The bow is bent, the arrow poised, we are in warrior pose.

NB if you are in Adelaide details of the March 4 Justice can be found here

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash