Tag Archives: Sexism

Promises to tomorrow #6 Consensus Building

In response to a question on why some work had been delayed or at least incomplete the response was: they gave the job to a 23 year old woman. I sat there and didn’t call out the ageism and the sexism. Somehow implicit in the words was that it was not the fault of the person doing the work, but those who had appointed her. There was power playing at every level. I didn’t call that out either. I witnessed. There was nothing inherently wrong with stating the facts, yet why was the age and the gender relevant at all? I know some pretty amazing people who were delivering in their twenties and some now in their twenties doing the same. Maybe whoever appointed her to the work believed in her, just as someone believed in me when I was early in my career, maybe those who appointed her didn’t understand the brief or were struggling in some way themselves, maybe what was delivered back was OK, but didn’t match expectations … who knows and how relevant anyhow to my promise to tomorrow? In our parliament this week there has been abuse, defections, loss – all pointing to a lack of a shared vision for a country, and we can all see how that approach is working and spilling into fuelling fear and hatred all around the world from Syria to Moscow to Washington. Lets start naming what binds us together, not what keeps us apart.

I have lost my vigilance on sexism and ageism for the young. Going to the edge of our discomfort and acting from that place becoming vulnerable and speaking your truth doesn’t need to take others down with you. Holding your integrity and honouring difference is a quest. Consensus building takes time, requires space and demands commitment. I have served boards and been on governing bodies and in teams where consensus decision making was the only way forward – taking everyone with us. I thank the Quakers for all their teachings around this, Marshall Rosenberg for non-violence communication skills and for all the people whose arguments I endured before decisions were made. I thank the people who taught me to stop and take time for silence and to have a break in proceedings before a decision was taken and who insisted each person have time to speak and explain their position and hold the responsibility to devise a solution if they were going to block the decision.

Decisions take time to arrive. All the voices need to be heard, all the facts on the table, all the advice in the room, feelings expressed and respected.

My promise to tomorrow is to continue to practice my consensus making muscle to leave no one behind. I can’t see a tomorrow without a shared vision of where we all want to go on this little blue planet. That is going to bring me close to the edge often and on watch for baby steps that can be taken to address the divisions inherent in our language and actions to build a future for us all. I hope I am travelling with others who can hold me to account and get in my way so I can develop my consensus building practice.



Dancing with Speeches #29 Julia Gillard

When former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard gave her now famous misogyny and sexism speech, the Canberra Press Gallery barely noticed, within 24 hours it had gone viral around the world. This week journalist Van Badham gave us another course in how to address sexism. Lessons from the frontline, a flamenco to inspire us to action.

Thank you to all the women and men who have gone before and who have drawn attention to the inequalities and inequities that find their roots in sexism and misogyny. Throughout the generations, women have been subjected to abuse and violence that has its genesis in a casual remark, a throwaway line, that over time gathers more and more abuse and before long is more than a pebble in a shoe – it is a stone weighing us all down and drowning us in a well of violence. We follow the rules, even following direction of police and laws and what good does that do? Women and children are murdered and dying every week in what starts as a slap of a phrase of disrespect. A text message, a tweet, a facebook update with enough repugnancy to launch a campaign of terror. The fear of turning on your feed, matched by the fear of walking down the street alone, the fear of gang taunts, fear of rape, fear of death. Women are being hysterical we hear from our TV screens in prime time public broadcasting viewing. Will the next call be for mass hysterectomies – a surgical response? Some days I think this is just an idea away … there are plenty of examples throughout history (herstory) where surgical, clinical, cut it out and throw it away responses have been used to solve problems (don’t forget the witch hunts).

Every time we hear a sexist remark, laugh at a joke that demeans women, see women as incomplete without a man, we must call it out – name it, make it visible, not collude with it – find a way to bring it out into the open explain why you are offended and ask for an apology for not just yourself, but for all women and men.

Become vigilant and keep your ears and eyes open, because some of these comments and images, phrases and insinuations sneakily find their way through cracks accidentally created in times of less vigilance. Sing through the pain and find your voice. Click through the trolls and press report, delete and bring them out from under their rocks. Play your guitars and cross the rivers of oppression with tambourines like Miriam. Tap on the wood and hear the hollow bring a death knell to the words of abuse being tapped on other instruments of communication. Hold onto the edge of your skirts, jackets and vests with the kind of precision that tells everyone around you – you have arrived and ‘ain’t goin’ anywhere soon. Look to the floor to make sure you are not treading on others as you make your way, and to the sky for inspiration and to give you cover when you need it.

There is a woman in Downing Street and in Edinburgh, another one making her way to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave and many more to come, however women in leadership is not enough. Sexism leaving us, is for the girls who want to go to school in Pakistan, for the girl who needs health care when she has been raped, for the girl who is lost at sea when fleeing from violence, for the girl who is lonely and afraid of her father in her own home, for the girl who is saving to go to university by working as cheap labour in a fast food chain.

This is a flamenco and a fury of singing, guitar playing, dancing, vocalisations, hand clapping and finger snapping – nothing less – we need it all – where the dance calls us to attention. The tune and the lyrics born from sadness to rise in a flurry of stomps and clicks and bring a new way of dancing together. This is not a time to dance alone.



Playing with Fire

Learning how to play with fire is one of the essential lessons on the path to adulthood.

There are so many lessons to learn:

–       don’t stand too close or you’ll get burnt

–       begin with small combustible items to get the fire going

–       there needs to be space between each piece of kindling so that air can circulate

–       air is fuel for the fire

–       a good wind can get the fire going in places you weren’t expecting

–       it has the power to burn

–       it has the power to destroy

–       it leaves a pile of ash after its over

–       some seeds can only explode and come to life in a fire

–       green shoots look amazing on the burnt out black stumps after a bushfire

–       it can kill everything in its path

–       it only takes a spark to keep the fire burning

–       it glows, gives warmth and inspires

I am sure there are many more lessons fire teaches, but these are some of the ones I have learnt. I have learnt them over the years from campfires in the desert, standing by for evacuation during bushfire season, listening in to the news and operation rooms where wild fire disasters were unfolding, watching my own children learn their own lessons (sometimes very anxiously).

Hildegard for you, the fire was within, you combusted with passion and for generations we have been basking in that glow and been fuelled by it. Your Fire of Creation is stunning and this is a little taste for readers who haven’t ever had the treat of listening.

The fire can burn brightly to show us where to go, and guide us to a safe place as well. The eternal flame, a long time symbol of remembrance and reflection of hard won battles and promise of a peaceful future.

And so it was that theidea of playing with fire that lit me up this week when Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard  (who had certainly been flame grilled) gave her post  parliament interviews to adoring fans in Sydney and Melbourne. Around the campfire of our TVs and twitter-feeds women like me who weren’t there in the flesh, hung every word, seeking our own closure to the circumstances of her demise.

As a “first” Ms Gillard had a baptism of fire.  The fact she is a red head was mentioned more than once.  We heard her speech that ricocheted around the world, denouncing misogyny as the theory and sexism as the practice. And with the fire in her belly, many others if us were warmed – many of us have stood to close to those flames and been burnt.

Gillard urges us to have a sophisticated conversation and to look for the shades of grey in the issues. There maybe shades of grey for the educated and resourced, but it is pretty black and white if you don’t earn equal pay, if you face domestic violence, or if you are being sexually harassed at work.

And then there are all the women and girls who won’t ever get to make or hear a speech like that, murdered at birth because of their gender, not getting to school because of their gender or being sold in a market place because they are female. For these women and girls it is shades of blood red.

There is still plenty more to do before there is the inclusion, respect and equality frame that  Anne Summers kindly put around the analysis of what we all witnessed and for some also participated in (nb Germaine Greer).

I want to fan the flames that will grow up more women in leadership, that will inspire,  warm and comfort us all. I want to fan the flames that will bring down institutions and practices because their patriarchal foundations are crumbling. And I want to do all of that with songs of joy, with justice in my heart and having learnt the lessons of playing with fire.

PS  Hildegard, I love that your scribe was a man.

Hildegard channelling the Holy Spirit and her scribe taking it all down!

Hildegard channelling the Holy Spirit and her scribe taking it all down!