Monday, November 20, 2017

Listen, Louie

So the last blog post I did on Louis C.K back in August 2016, I used the image of him appearing as a guest on a chat show over the caption (of his making, not mine) 'Comedian/Masturbator'...

In the post I expressed some feminist objections to the content of his 2015 Netflix special (now pulled), including his elaborate mime of making a female rat orgasm that was little more than an extended mocking of the clitoris - I can (and do) do that for comic effect, but he, a man, cannot - as well as his expressed opinion in that special that racism is wrong but sexism isn't, it's just 'men and women giving each other a hard time'; hard indeed.

But about that caption I wrote:

"'Comedian/Masturbator' is funny, especially as 'masturbator' is not even a word, at least not according to my spellchecker. It should be. Next to it you could write: Louis (or Louie) C.K."

Alas, the last part of this comment is now been shown to be all too true; you could write Louis C.K. in the dictionary next to the word masturbator - if it were a word.

But the first part about the caption: 'comedian/masturbator' being funny, is now very much not true. When you force young women to watch you masturbate, as he has finally admitted doing on numerous occasions over numerous years, you go from being a slightly sad funnyman who, in his middle age, still can't take his hand off his own cock, to a sick unfunnyman who gets off making women squirm in disgust, humiliation and intimidation being made to watch a man who has power over them jerk off.   

And so it seems I was right to call him out on reducing sexism to a fair fight and spat between men and women, and for making a joke of the female orgasm and clitoris, but wrong to think his sad obsession with his own penis was in any way funny. It is not, the two things are, we now know, directly connected as part of his sexist dismissal and objectification of women as tools for his own pleasure and power.

So listen up Louis (Louie), having finally confessed to this sick obsession with making women comedians watch you jerk off, so sick and offensive that some of these women left the comedy business rather than have to endure it, you said: "I have spent my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want. I will now step back and take a long time to listen." 

Indeed you have spent a long time talking, saying AND DOING anything you want, Louis, and it is time you listened - TO WOMEN. Men like you spend such a lot of time, on stage, in books, in the home, on the street and in the workplace, making fun of how hard women are to understand, often to the point of suggesting that there is something (almost everything) wrong with us, including that we don't have a sense of humour. But in fact the problem is with men not bothering, and not being made to bother, to listen to women and actually learn more than the basic outline of who we are, in our wide variety, so that you might figure out how to treat us like human beings.

Comedian Jen Kirkman, who is hilarious, and who has worked with Louis and endured his sick obsession personally because she knew that if she resisted and spoke out about it her career would be over, wrote this on Twitter in response to CK's outing as a pervert by other women:

'When women speak, don't sensationalize it and make it about naming the man. Our stories run deeper. It's our culture that damns us if we do or don't or shames us if we have made peace. It's time to listen to how women want this to be talked about. The end.'
9:43 AM - Nov 10, 2017 

The beginning, too, I hope.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The right to kill

So ONE of the too many to count reasons why I did what I could last year (and really for many a year prior to that) to fight to stop the election of this lunatic to lead the most powerful country in the world, was because of his shrill rantings on the campaign trail about how 'they' would take away people's guns and he, if elected, would make sure they didn't.

Unfortunately I was up against some slightly more powerful people, not least those that make money from selling guns in the US. The US gun lobby (the NRA) that boasts 5 million (mostly male) members, including this lunatic leader who it describes as a 'true friend and champion', spent over $30 million last year on getting him elected, more than they spent on any previous candidate.

One of the first things the NRA's political puppet did once in office was to undo the regulation introduced under the Obama Administration to make it harder for mentally ill people to buy guns.

One of the first sentences out of the mouth of the lunatic leader after the latest mass shooting in a Baptist church in Texas that killed 26, mostly women and children, was 'we're dealing with a mental health situation here.'

Then he went on to say that if it wasn't for the man who shot the killer while he was leaving the church after having killed or wounded everyone in it - that one man with a rifle against the guy with the machine gun - 'we would not only (my emphasis) be looking at 26 dead we'd be looking at hundreds.'

What a load of man shit.

There's a connection here that shouldn’t be ignored: The most common thread between America’s mass shootings is a history of domestic violence. (Rolling Stone Magazine, Nov 7)

The main reason this idiot was elected to lead the most violent nation on earth, rather than the anti-violence, pro-gun-control female candidate he was up against, is also the main reason why so many mass shootings occur in the US every year, other than the increasing availability of high-powered guns to anyone no matter their mental health or history of violence against anyone, least of all women, and that is men's hatred and resentment of women, the principal cause of domestic violence, the most common form of violence in the world.

I, who have studied the causes and consequences of domestic violence, have long known this, as have other feminists, it is something new and reassuring that a popular magazine like Rolling Stone with a significant male readership, which probably won't be accused of 'man-hating' and thereby dismissed, is acknowledging it and making it public.

Hopefully the deaths of the only 26 and the only 58 in Vegas just a few weeks earlier, both by men with a history of violence against women, and both whose victims were predominantly female, will not be totally in vain, unlike the deaths and injuries of their millions of sisters worldwide who are the victims of violent attacks by the men they know every year, whether by guns or fists or acid or anything any man with a 'mental health' problem can get his hateful hands on.

Thanks too to Chelsea Handler for listing at the end of her most recent Netflix show all the Republican members of congress and senate who have accepted donations from the NRA.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Jazz chickens?

Eddie (front) and older brother Mark in the late 60s
I've just finished comedian Eddie Izzard's book Believe Me: A memoir of love, death and jazz chickens and can recommend it, though you won't find too many jazz chickens in it, unless Eddie's the jazz chicken, which seems entirely possible; as he is indeed both funky and tasty (apologies to the vegetarians).


Moose and I have been big fans of this jazzy trans chicken with the big goofy grin and surreal comic talent for many a year, finally getting to see him perform live here in 2015 to a massive crowd and many a time before that on screen in various incarnations, both as a comedian and actor.

Acting was always his dream and, as he tells us in his memoir with great delight, he is now getting decent acting roles, including playing Judi Dench's son in a film to be released next year. But for my money he's a natural born comedian with a character that is too large and multi-faceted to fit other people's lives, though I still enjoy his acting performances, as I did Billy Connolly's, who is a similar, if less jazzy, chicken.

His memoir is no great writing feat and is rather short on intimate moments as well as punchlines, but you definitely get to know this funky jazz chicken better than you could through his stage performances and that is a very good thing. He is a sincere chap who has wrestled with some identity demons as well as the tragic loss of his mother when he was only six, to come out the other end with a clear vision of who s/he is and a mission to make the world a better place in his own unique, unpretentious, way.

We believe you, Eddie, and wish you all the best of luck. Jazz, as you prove, is underrated.     



Friday, November 3, 2017

Miss Protest

I learnt something surprising about my father-in-law yesterday: he thought beauty pageants treated women like 'cattle' and would not have them in the house, as it were, back in the 70s and 80s when these glitzy sexist fests were all the rage the world over and only extremist feminazi man-hating lesbos protested them publicly.

He is no longer with us and when he was alive he hid his feminism fairly well (as did almost everyone, until very recently), but I am glad to know, better late than never, that he was a closet feminist of sorts, because if he was then other straight white privileged men might be too, with just a little more prodding.

When discussing with my daughter the recent protests by Miss Peru contestants who recited on stage their country's gender violence statistics instead of their bust, waist and hip measurements (cattle indeed!) her response was 'just don't do the fucking contest in the first place!' which is fair enough, I think. She is the age of these contestants who sign up to parade around in matching gold bikinis and tight dresses to be ranked like cattle - by men like Trumptard -  according to their measurements, high-heeled strut and insipid sugar and spice smiles, and she would never degrade herself (and womankind) in this way. And that is a very good thing.

However she could also see, as all thinking women (and some men) can, that this battle for women to not be treated like cattle - and much worse than cattle - must be fought on all fronts and is far from a simple matter of avoiding watching or partaking in beauty pageants.

And so she and I, and her father, if not quite her brothers - who remain in the feminist closet and declined to comment (though taking an interest in learning something rather surprising about their grandfather) - could agree that the protest was a positive and gutsy step in the right direction, not least in the direction of women standing up for women instead of competing with each other, in the shallowest of ways, for the amusement of men.

The juxtaposition of bikinis and brutality I think strikes a particularly powerful chord of protest that resonates well in the present climate of women speaking out, and together, against powerful sexist and abusive men the world over.

To fighting on all fronts and in all fashions, from bikinis to burkas.   

   

Monday, October 30, 2017

Zookeeping: women and war


The true story of WWII resistance, courage and compassion as first documented in the unpublished diaries of Antonina Zabinski, the wife of the Warsaw zookeeper during that brutalising war, then much later retold in the 2007 book The Zookeeper's Wife by poet Diane Ackerman, and finally brought to a wider audience this year in the film of that title by New Zealand director Niki Caro is a new kind of war story, one told from a female perspective.

It is a beautiful story focused on life, instead of death, and without Antonina, then Diane, then Niki, the wider world would not know of it, not know of the courage and compassion of this Polish woman and her husband who risked their lives to save as many as 300 Jews from the Warsaw ghetto amidst the most brutalising, terrifying and compassionless horror imaginable.

As most stories of women's compassion and courage and cleverness have been all but lost to history, with men's stories predominating in what is told and retold, especially of war, this change of perspective that uncovers and tells of this long obscured history is vital. That women are coming together to tell our stories, old and new, more than ever before, is one of the most progressive aspects of modern life, and one that I believe is, or could be if we don't resist it, as some are, a game-changer that moves us towards a world without the brutality of war.

Never mind lest we forget. This is a case of lest we fail to realise that women risk their lives, women resist and women care, often in ways and at times where and when men fail to. The will to war and brutality is not an essential part of the human condition and women's voice shows us this in a way that we have not been shown before.

Lest we fail - to see and to hear from women.


Thursday, October 26, 2017

JUSTICE EQUALITY FREEHELD

Justice is the juice that makes the sometimes bitter fruit of life sweet, but it doesn't grow on trees...

I have just caught up with the 2015 movie Freeheld, and want to recommend it with all my heart to anyone interested in seeing how true justice (equality and freedom) works. Justice is a fight,
a never-ending war, against the prejudice and privilege that is built into our laws and practices, our values, beliefs and social norms that were set up to protect and defend those in power against those without it. It is rarely the mere working of those laws and it is rarely ever realised in full.

The movie Freeheld produced by and starring Ellen Page and based on the award-winning documentary of the gay women who fought for equality and justice and ended up setting in motion the wheels that would legalise same-sex marriage across the US is an excellent dramatisation of one of these rare moments where justice is realised in full.

It is a real life Philadelphia adapted by the writer of that powerful and pioneering gay-rights film, though not receiving anything like the same accolades, I hope not because it's about gay women not men. I thought it was just as powerful and being based in a real-life life-changing story for me makes it even more moving, if it does lack the show-business shine of a Hollywood drama.

I read yesterday that Ellen DeGeneres is heading down under to Australia with her wife Paige to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary and support the passing of same-sex marriage legislation in that country, my country of birth, that has resisted this progression. As Ellen's so public coming out helped (and helps) so many other gay people, including Ellen Page, to come out - and then to produce and star in this important film, among other things - her courage in the fight for justice must also be acknowledged and commended. I hope she succeeds in helping to sway public opinion in Australia towards justice, because justice breeds justice and helps the fight against prejudice and privilege for everyone everywhere.

So thank you to the Ellens and to all the other women and men whose fight for justice for gay people - and for all people - help to make the world a freer and fairer place for all of us. We are all equal indeed. 
   
 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Queen making

So for a country of less than 5 million people New Zealand doesn't punch above its weight, as the macho boxing metaphor goes, it pioneers above its weight (never mind sport). And the recent election of the world's youngest female political leader (Jacinda Ardern), as mentioned as the first news item on Wiki's front page yesterday, attests to this fact.
What's more, as it is the country that was first to give women the vote, and first to award a university degree to a woman, and first to accept a woman in the role of a church leader (Anglican), and first to elect and twice re-elect a left-wing woman prime minister (Helen Clark), I am of the view that though we have a shamefully high rate of domestic violence and a significant gender pay gap and have just come out of three looooooong terms of a right-wing, male-heavy government with a leader who was one of the first to congratulate Trump, a lot of what we get right is down to this pioneering history of women being in leadership roles in government and society. We also have a number of world-leading women film directors and writers.

That said, it's still a bloody battle. The majority of New Zealanders did not vote for Ardern's Labour Party, but for a fourth term of the male-dominated and led right-wing party that had cut taxes for the rich and done everything to make worse and nothing to improve the quality of life for the majority of New Zealanders or to tackle the serious environmental issues facing the country -- and the world.

But still the majority (45%) voted for them, partly because they had SO much more money to market themselves as the good guys who will make everyone rich and suddenly turn-tack and end poverty and any other bullshit that money could buy. And Ardern and the party with a long history of caring about social justice -- fighting sexism and racism -- and countering the corrupt inequalities of modern capitalism, who had much less money and much more integrity so could not shovel the shit as their shameless opponents did, got just 38% of the vote and had to rely on the Greens and then the centrist party NZ First, which is led by a former right-wing male politician, Winston Peters, to put them into a position to form a centre-left coalition government.

Because Greens would never go right-wing, it was down to Peters to become 'king maker', as he was called by the media, and for 25 days the country was kept in suspense about which way he would go, which was too much power for one man and a party that only got 7% of the vote, even though it was kind of cool that he is an indigenous man, even if he has not necessarily been a friend to his people in the past.

Fortunately he did the right thing and became queen maker instead, but it should not have to be such a bloody battle, for women and for justice. My nails and nerves are not up to it, nor should they have to be. Hopefully Jacinda and her centre-left government will turn the tide for good.



Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Woody's Witches

So this is what a witch looks like one is to presume, as she - film director and former actor Sarah Polley - is one of the women now speaking out about Weinstein and other Hollywood men in power who abused her and other women and got away with it for decades. Indeed she describes Weinstein as merely "one festering pustule in a diseased industry."

To use Woody Allen's phrase, women like Polly who speak out about these abuses threaten us with "a witch hunt atmosphere" that is "not right either". Indeed to quote Woody in full:

“You also don’t want it to lead to a witch hunt atmosphere, a Salem atmosphere, where every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer to defend himself. That’s not right either.”

Why is that not right, Woody? My PhD supervisor used to wink at me whenever he felt like it and I did not like it one bit, it felt like and was a demeaning abuse of his power. He was Head of Department at the time.

It should not be up to men - as it always has been - to decide what is and what is "not right" in terms of their actions towards us, not least men in powerful positions, such as Woody and Weinstein and Trump - and my former supervisor. The list is long. Women need to have our say, to speak to power, and so we are, and let's hope that the men who try to silence us this time by calling us witches do not, for once, prevail.

So bring on the witches, stand aside Woody, Weinstein and all the other winking wankers.

Qualification: I do respect the more creative endeavours of these men, especially Woody, but resent the fact that they get to create and make crazy sums of money all too often at the expense of women.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Battle of the Sexes


Writing my thesis on women who kill their abusers, I was all too aware of the tendency of those who are quick to condemn these women, along with the refuge workers who try to help them avert this outcome - as well as the much more common outcome of the murder of the abused woman - as 'man-hating feminazis', I challenged the notion that these women and the feminists like me who support them in trying to prevent and fairly punish the perpetrators of domestic violence are engaged in a 'battle of the sexes' with all men.

This concept 'battle of the sexes' I - and various other feminists before me - argued was unhelpful, as it only fed into men's characterisation and condemnation of feminist efforts to make the world a fairer place for women as a battle waged against anyone, which it is not. It is a battle for justice against injustice, which is not a person or a gender but a complex system of discrimination and dehumanisation that treats male humans, even before they are born - even before they are conceived - as superior to and more important than female humans (a fundamental, all-encompassing injustice) and in doing so directly and indirectly causes the violent abuse of girls and women that reduces the human experience for everyone.

Men wage war and fight us-versus-them battles between different groups of people, including men and women. Women - at least feminists - fight for justice, a many-sided never-ending battle without winners - yet. We are all losers in that battle right now and we will all be winners if it is ever won, a possibility that is a million miles - but hopefully not quite as many years - away, but a possibility nonetheless. 

For this reason I am not a fan of the name given to the film about Billie Jean King's life and the tennis match she played against Bobby Riggs, but I do like and highly recommend the film even so. It's a moving and telling real-life story about a great tennis champion and feminist who fought against gender discrimination in sport that should have been told in film a long time ago. That it is being finally told in 2017, forty-four years after the event, is no doubt testimony to the significant strides feminists have made in the film industry and beyond in the last few years, if not this year in particular, thanks, in large part, to Hillary Clinton.

If you have to lose the battle to win the war, as she did, then so be it, but it is nice to win some of those battles too. Thanks, Billie Jean King; you are a feminist hero indeed.





 



Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Guns r US


Guns don't kill people, people do.

Never a bigger lie was told to make a dirty dollar than this one.

People (men) with guns kill and maim people by the tens of thousands every year in the divided states of America. The statistics on mass shootings alone as published here in the Guardian (1,516 mass shootings in 1735 days) are so unfuckingbelievable it is surely beyond the comprehension of any sane person with a human head and heart to grasp.

And yet we the sane and sincere of heart have to live - and many of us die - with the reality that this is our fucked up, shot up world, especially if we happen to live in the US, but we all kind of live a little in the US these days. What happens there shapes everyone's values, fates and fears to some extent.

I was in Boston (with husband and daughter) about to train through Connecticut the day of the horrifying (can't find an adequate adjective, this will have to do) school shooting there of 26 six-year-olds and their teachers ten days before Christmas 2012 by a 20-year-old with a semi-automatic weapon (he also shot his mother) and will NEVER FORGET the images and stories of unimaginable grief from the parents followed by the despicably callous and totally fucked up response from the NRA and gun lobby suggesting the answer is to get primary-school teachers to wear and be ready to use guns at all times.

Of course arming primary-school teachers is not going to stop a Las Vegas-type massacre. To stop that cowardly machine-gunning down of hundreds of people from the safety and comfort of a hotel room without restricting the sale of fast-fire guns to civilians - something Democrats have been trying and failing to do for decades - you'd have to frisk everyone who walks through the doors of a hotel in Las Vegas and everywhere else in America (and scan their luggage), every time they walk through the door not just on check-in, for guns. Because the latest mass-shooting cowardly fucktard had a dozen assault weapons in his hotel room, long guns he obviously couriered up to his room unseen. Or perhaps he carried them out in the open dressed as Rocky and no one batted an eye, because it's all so lovely and legal. So even if this level of frenzied frisking were possible, you would still need a law banning the transportation of assault weapons into a hotel, which seems inconceivable.

No, that will never happen, not in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

These reactions to the Vegas shooting from Ellen and Jimmy Kimmel should be seen by all.








Monday, September 25, 2017

Menism


So New Zealand, the country that first granted women the vote, has just shown in its re-election of a right-wing party that is essentially of and for men, that it, like the US, continues to stand at the altar of menism, the first (and last) cult indeed.

In its desperate bid to curb the rise of women - justice, equality and truth - the corrupt cult of Menism worldwide is reviving and regrouping against these ideals that women have consistently fought and voted for. Indeed they are the ideals and values of feminism alone, not socialism, not liberalism, not environmentalism.

It is a sad day for New Zealand, and for the world, that with such a clear alternative in favour of equality, justice and truth presented to us we have voted for this corrupt cult yet again, if not all of us (46%) and there remains a slight possibility of a centre-left coalition government forming yet, but only with the help of a paid up member of the cult gone rogue, a man now being called, and treated as, 'King-maker' indeed, which says it all.  

And so just like America, so like America, though we pretend otherwise of course -- English (so aptly named) has better hair and is less orange but no less hairy and white -- we baulked at the gates of freedom and showed we could not handle the truth and did not care about justice. An opportunity missed; hopefully the last.



   





Saturday, September 23, 2017

VOTE


As they say, stand up (hand up) and be counted or sit down and shut up. Your choice.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The people's politician


In the first country in the world to grant women the vote, on this 124th anniversary of Suffrage Day indeed, if ever there was a clear choice to take a country forward into a future that has any hope of bringing about improvements in the quality of life and prospects for the majority of its people and doing the opposite of that by continuing to increase the obscene income and asset inequality between the richest 1-5% of people living in that country and everyone else by cutting public education, community sector and health care funding that removes vital support life-lines to all sorts of people struggling with life, increases the debt a whole generation of young people head into their futures with while extending the length of time people wait with life-threatening illnesses for treatment in the public health system, for the sake of cutting taxes to the rich and opening up borders and loopholes to allow overseas property speculation and ownership to price the younger generation out of any prospect of home ownership in the country's cities where the job opportunities are, along with those who have underpaid public service jobs in the education and health care sectors who are unable to afford the cost of living to remain in the cities, bringing about chronic shortages of teachers and nurses in those cities that are ultimately handed over to the rich and greedy here and overseas to outbid mid-level investors and buy up large with no intention of living on the land they buy for the profits they squirrel away into trust funds that escape taxes on and or send offshore to build the economies of countries elsewhere, it is the choice between LABOUR and its new no-bullshit, let's-do-this-good-and-right-thing young leader Jacinda Ardern and the other party with its been-around-in-wrong-wing-politics-forever-and-never-done-a-thing-to-improve-the-well-being-of-his-country's-people leader in the upcoming New Zealand general election this Saturday! (Apologies for the long sentence but those buggers have been in power a long time, so it's fitting).

Lead the way for New Zealand and this worried world, New Zealand, show us, and everyone beyond our shores who has a functioning bull-shit detector, that we know what we are doing and will help you to know and do the right thing too! Let's do this!

 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Cal and Clementine

So my youngest, Cal (not short for anything) turns 19 today, which makes me feel, shall we say, less than young, but also grateful that he has reached such a significant age, relatively unscathed and happy.

He is an interesting, somewhat unusual study of a boy-man and his father and I look forward to his future, fairly confident that he will do well in the world, just quite unsure how.  But that uncertainty makes it more exciting, in many ways. At least it did...

Last night, Cal's father and I went to listen to a talk by Australian feminist online activist and author of Fight Like a Girl, Clementine Ford (who has a baby son of her own) and the issues she highlighted about the obscenely misogynistic abuse she gets on a daily, hourly basis online - examples of which she displayed screen shots of - from teenage boys and adult men made me more nervous than I had been about the future for both of my sons and, indeed, for my daughter (who is a feminist).

I have been a feminist a long time, as you know, and have faced considerable backlash from anti-feminists within my wider family and friend circle, as well as from the public at large, researching and writing as I did for many years on domestic violence and homicide, a subject that made me angry and outspoken at a time when the F-word and anger about sexism was rarely spoken of in the media without derision.

But the 'hate male', as Clementine cleverly and unflinchingly calls the online onslaught of abuse she receives from men, young and old, some of them pictured with their children, is so relentlessly misogynist and demeaning to women, wishing her raped and dead in so many vile ways, telling her how ugly and fat she is, and using their real names more often than not, suggesting they feel quite safe and sure in their community and families to be openly threatening and misogynist, that my anxiety about the future of all our sons and our daughters was taken to another level.

I was also, however, reassured that women like Clementine are out there increasingly, fighting the good fight for justice for girls and boys, fighting like a girl indeed. Because girls will stick up for boys in a way that boys will not and have not stuck up for girls, and the same goes for women and men. So few persons of the male gender have actively fought for women and gender justice throughout history and this continues to be true. Many have actively fought against it, of course, about a third of men in the western world are actively abusive towards women, while the bulk of men have remained 'neutral', which amounts to a passively sexist denial of the abuse and injustice suffered by women at the hands of men. They don't want to think about it. They get the luxury of not having to, or they have done. This must change and is beginning to.

There was Q & A after Clementine's talk but I left others to ask the questions, which I kind of regret now. But what I wanted to ask, about how to be a good feminist mother to teenage boys, I felt was too hard and too close to the bone. And I have struggled with this task, to be honest. I also felt that I should have something clearer than I did have to say on the subject, rather than to expect Clementine, at 36, with only a baby son at this stage, to speak to such a difficult and pressing issue. Because the raising of boys to not be sexist and abusive to girls and women is hard enough in an openly misogynistic world, but the harder struggle, arguably, the one I continue to fight, is to raise them not to be passive and 'neutral' or in denial about sexism and misogyny and their complicity in it if they do and say nothing against it.

And so it is to that ultimate gender-justice struggle that I now turn my pen to at length. In fact I had already embarked on such a project, but Clementine and my boys (young men) growing up so fast and practically living online where so much of the hate happens, have given the project the extra push it needed.

So thank you courageous Clementine, and a happy and healthy birthday to you, curious Cal. Together, you have inspired me and together, I hope, we can do this difficult but totally worthwhile and wonderful thing.    

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Second Kating


I came of feminist age in an era when the radical feminism of the "second wave" that was launched by Kate Millett's book Sexual Politics (1970) had been rejected by most women as patronising in portraying women as helpless victims who needed our consciousness raised to realise just how oppressed and deluded about our freedoms and choices we were, so as not to collude in our own oppression.

Many young women in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s rejected 'radical' feminism and feminists as old-fashioned, aggressive, anti-men and altogether unsexy, claiming they had power in their sexuality and the freedom to do whatever they wanted and they only had to assert that 'girl power'. The system was not the problem, men were not the problem, women whinging about it was. Indeed the battle of the sexes was pretty much won and feminism was a politics we no longer needed or wanted. Women's Studies courses shut up shop and 'gender mainstreaming' became the new, 'post-feminist' ideal. In 2010 Taylor Swift, one of the most influential role-models for young women, declared she was not a feminist. The "F-word" was officially dead.

Kate Millett meanwhile was quietly going broke, having found herself for many years unemployable, and struggling to make her women's artist collective work (by growing and selling Christmas trees).  

It is bittersweet that she died just as the feminism she politicised that argued that the personal is political, that almost everything we do, as women (and as men), reinforces the system of patriarchal oppression unless we speak out against it and resist the structures that uphold that system, from sexist cultural narratives in media and art to ongoing inequities in the number of women in positions of power and influence, is undergoing a revival. Taylor Swift now identifies as a feminist, indeed.

If Kate had to live to see Trump elected to lead her country, rather than the election of the first female president, and after he actually campaigned on threats to remove women's reproductive rights and send women who have abortions to prison, rights she had fought to set in place, she also got to see the new and similarly radical feminist wave of resistance and 'consciousness raising' that his election unleashed. The feminist sisterhood is back with renewed purpose and force.  

While I personally never gave up on the radical feminist message of a politicised sisterhood bringing about a cultural revolution, despite coming of age between the waves and being raised by an anti-feminist mother who came of age between the first and second waves, if Millett's life and work tells us anything lasting it is that the battle for the equality of the sexes and against entrenched ideas and systems of male domination in culture, law and politics, must not lose faith and force again. A wave every thirty to fifty years hardly a sea of change makes.

So I can hardly say rest in peace, Kate Millett, while there is so much yet to be done in her name. But at least I might wish that she rest in the knowledge that she was right and that her efforts were not in vain. The personal is political indeed, but with radical feminist change it doesn't have to be. Viva la permanent wave!  
 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Stood up

So last night I stood up at the Classic comedy club in Auckland and did my funny-feministish thang and got a fair few laughs from a mostly young, many-gendered crowd. Hurrah and ha ha for me!

This here is not me, however, though I do have green eyes, if mine are more green with envy than genetics when it comes to this green-eyed genius stand-up Maria Bamford who is, like, my comedy idol, although younger than me and standing up long before I could even do the comedy crawl, much less stand up.

But to be any good as a stand-up -- she is about to say from her wealth of one-year's experience -- you have to do your own thing (or thang), so envy is not really relevant, much less helpful; in fact it is certain death to a comedian. Admiration but not enviation, that is the key.

So stand up against enviation I will continue to endeavour to do to find my own green-eyed funny, though I do like (envy) Maria's hair, jacket and nail-polish, earrings, eyebrows and expression and might consider adopting all or some of those for my act. Imitation is the sincerest form of admiration, after all. Has she had a face-lift? Hmm...  

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Dombey and Daughter

Florence Dombey in ‘Captain Cuttle’s Parlour’ by William Maw Egley, 1888 
Better late than never, I have just finished reading for the first time one of Dickens' lesser known classics, Dombey and Son, and am very pleased and a little bit surprised to report that it is a feminist novel -- possibly even the first, overtly feminist novel -- that takes the '& Son' of timeless patriarchal family tradition to task head on.

This is a later painted portrait of the much neglected daughter in the story, Florence Dombey, who Dickens writes as the heroine of his first proper novel, who endures her father's near hatred and resentment of her, if he acknowledges her existence at all, as he has eyes and heart only for his son and heir and then, when that son dies, along with his mother, he lives in the hope of producing another son with the woman he next marries chiefly for that purpose, without any love or even affection for her.

But then his second wife, who knows she has been effectively bought by the rich Dombey for this purpose and considers herself no better than a commodity or slave (a challenging notion for the times with possible echoes of John Stuart Mill's Subjection that came out earlier in the same decade), refuses to submit to his will -- in bed or out of it. She is a proud, highly intelligent woman who has no time for Dombey's arrogant self-importance and assumed authority, nor his immense wealth; she married him largely to satisfy her mother and put to an end her relentless quest to marry her off.

The two-year marriage produces a final confrontation between husband and wife where she stands up to Dombey and tells him how much she loathes him, how appalling he is in his treatment of his daughter (who loves him despite his woeful neglect) and that she would rather die than remain his wife.

It is a very satisfying and dramatic scene, but one that must have been quite challenging for Dickens fans in the 1840s. As a Dickens fan myself, my appreciation of his work is in some degree despite his lack of feminist themes or even sympathies, though his range of secondary female characters has always impressed me as extraordinary and includes a number of daughters misused and taken-for-granted by their fathers.

But I didn't expect overt feminism from Dickens -- certainly Dickens is not reviewed or advertised in these terms. Indeed I hardly expect it (and almost never find it) from modern male writers. And considering Darwin wrote his deeply sexist Descent of Man detailing his theory about how men have evolved to a higher level of intelligence and ability than women more than thirty years after Dombey and Son was published, it would seem that Dickens was a man well ahead of his time and a much braver (smarter and more honest) man than his famous countryman and fellow writer whose name also happens to start with the letter D.

And if Dombey and Son had been promoted and embraced as a feminist text at the time it was published in 1848, perhaps it might have had more cultural influence and curbed Darwin's readiness to put his sweepingly stupid and culturally ignorant sexist claims in print, claims that have provided the basis for countless sexist theories committed to print ever since.

But it remains reassuring to know that Dickens knew the dangers of male arrogance and sense of entitled superiority over women, their wives as well as daughters, even when hardly anyone else did -- or at least hardly anyone else braved the topic in print.

So I strongly recommend everyone read it and for those that can, especially the men, write a modern day Dombey. Heaven knows there are enough real-life examples around still to inspire one.

Just btw, it's my father's birthday today. He would have been 96; almost as old as Dickens, and almost as cool. Happy birthday, Dad; we came right in the end, just like Dombey and daughter.





     

Monday, August 28, 2017

Pig politics

So the day after Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern delivered a flawless speech on the party's policies and values for the official launch of their campaign to be the next government after three terms of a right-wing government, the leader of some trumped up, self-styled party promising classic attention-grabbing but woefully unrealistic small-party policies, such as a universal basic income, calls her - in a tweet of course, where all the serious politics happens - 'lipstick on a pig.'  

At the time Jacinda had only been in the leadership job three weeks and had already been made to deflect an interrogation by the male media on her baby plans. Then this rich businessman of 63 who has only just now decided he might like to give politics a go (sound familiar?) thinks he can tell this woman who has been politically active since she could vote and a member of parliament for almost a decade, though she is only 37, that she needs to prove she is more than lipstick on a pig. 

Well I say he needs to prove he is more than a dipstick and a prig who has trouble seeing beyond the lipstick to the P.I.G. -- Professional. Intelligent. Game-changer.  


Jacinda having the last laugh

Oink oink.   

Monday, August 21, 2017

Let's do this, indeed!


On Sunday we did this, attended the official launch of the NZ Labour Party's election campaign at the Auckland Town Hall, with comedian Michele A'Court MCing, former LP leader and record three-term New Zealand PM and nominee for UN Director General Helen Clark in the audience, as well as the leader of the Scottish Labour party, Kezia Dugdale, and last but very much not least, Labour's newest and youngest-ever leader, Jacinda Ardern, the keynote speaker who together drew a crowd that packed out the Town Hall and two neighbouring halls and theatres. It was fantastic! They, and we on the left-wing of politics, in Aotearoa, are doing this indeed. Change is a-coming and about fabulous fucking time.

After Ardern's moving, savvy and entertaining speech, delivered without notes, I watched from my vantage point on the mezzanine floor, as Helen Clark in the front row stood with the rest of us ordinary mortals and her fellow politicians to applaud this wonder woman who came from small-town New Zealand and the classic 'simple' beginnings to deliver hope and inspiration and forward-thinking leadership, at the age of 37, to this small, but politically-world-leading (in the past) nation. It was a rousing experience indeed.

There were extended greetings by all speakers in Maori, as well as an official Maori welcome waiata to bless the proceedings, and briefer greetings in many other languages besides that spoke volumes about the left's core commitment to going forward into a multi-cultural future with all its challenges and rewards, without which there will be no future, and to acknowledging the mistakes of colonial arrogance and ignorance in the past.

Economic success is to be measured not in numbers, says Ardern, but in lives lifted out of poverty and in the closing of the ever-widening chasm between the rich and poor in this country, as in all other western nations, that once talked tough and true about egalitarianism but have increasingly fallen for the convenient illusion that if you leave it to the market, in other words if you do nothing to help people to help themselves, equality will magically prevail. The opposite is true, as they know as well as anyone, so to this corrupt hypocrisy the left must, and is, saying no more!

Climate change and mental health and education and jobs too must be taken on as core challenges rather than dismissed as secondary to the economy, measured in GDP numbers alone.

So we have HOPE and HEART in this new and vibrant political leader and message, with polling suggesting that she and Labour could well win the election next month and put New Zealand back on the map as a forward and fair-leaning nation.

Let's do this!      

 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Winter Down Under


This was the cover shot published in the Sydney Morning Herald during our recent trip to Australia in the depths of winter. The following week it was even warmer and the wet-suits were off.

Not to make light of global warming or to diminish the charms of a proper winter -- for starters it kills off the bugs and without that we're up the creek without a paddle, to use a popular Aussieism -- but this looks kind of fun (for those who like a bit of wet, salty terror), even if one of the two women partaking appears to have lost her footing.

Aussie in any season indeed is not for the faint of heart of foot, which is kind of what I like about it, if it is also why I moved to New Zealand; a little bit of Aussie heat goes a long way.  

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Labour gains

So, I think I should leave the country more often...

While flying back yesterday from my dance-reunion trip across the ditch on a plane piloted by a woman (my first - and a bloody smooth flight it was too), reading Inferior, a book about how science has got women so woefully wrong (review to come), I learnt that the political party I have long supported and almost stood for at one point in time has appointed a new leader - a woman - to fight the upcoming general election in seven weeks. All this is very good news indeed.

I have met Labour's new leader Jacinda Ardern and, along with my daughter, have done some campaigning with her, and I reckon that if anyone can turn this country to the left, where it needs to go, it is she. She represents the possibility of real change towards a country that cares and creates, rather than a country that struts and cuts, a change the party, the country - and global politics - sorely needs.

Jacinda is the fourth leader the Labour Party has appointed since Helen Clark, the country's first elected woman PM, left NZ politics for the United Nations when Labour was ousted in 2008. But she is the first woman leader since Clark, after two disastrous Davids and one ordinary Andrew were appointed to the job. And even though she only has seven weeks before the election to turn Labour's poor poll results around, I think she can't help but improve the party's and the country's outlook whatever the election result, and if not this time, then next she will be New Zealand's prime minister.

Good luck Jacinda; Labour gains indeed.

     

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Beyond the Bone

As a ballet dancer in my youth I was naturally obsessed with my weight and did some pretty extreme things to keep the weight off, including eating nothing beyond breakfast for six days of the week and binge-eating on the seventh, as well as using laxatives when I broke this strict diet even with just a spoonful of food beyond breakfast. And I exercised more or less all day. I weighed 37 kilos from when I was 15 to 17. I loved my hip bones and my thigh gap, though I wanted more of a gap, as well as bonier shoulders and arms.

To the Bone
This extreme dieting kind of worked for me at the time, as it does for many ballet dancers - and models and actresses - which is a problem for these art forms and one that is reflected, with slightly less intensity, in the wider experience of growing up female in a culture that values the aesthetic of female thinness and bones.

If I'm honest I still value this aesthetic to a degree, though I have not dieted - nor been thin - for many decades now, and I think my values have changed somewhat since I was a skinny teen. I can see that Keira Knightley is too thin here. Much too thin.

The Netflix movie To the Bone tackles this issue head on, with a story featuring a girl struggling with anorexia who is played by an actress who is clearly too thin (she lost 20 pounds for the role), and who has suffered from eating disorders in her past, as have the women who wrote and directed the film.

It's a pretty common female story to be sure, and for this reason it should be told in film. But the fact that the actress had to dice with this disease by losing so much weight when she was thin to begin with and had experienced eating issues in her real life, is rather problematic, as it kind of suggests that the disease is not as serious as it is, if you can just come in and out of it like that, an assumption all too easily made when the cure seems to be to just eat.

But the disease kills a high number of sufferers and the cure is far from simple. Indeed the only real cure is prevention, which is the opposite of easy as it means undoing all those messages that tell us in Western culture that thin girls are prettier than not-thin girls.

The film's inclusion of a not-thin girl as one of the patients in the clinic for treating eating disorders was a progressive - if slightly awkward - move in that it helps us to see that thin and fat are really the flip sides of the same disordered, food-preoccupied mind that is the reality for so many western girls and women, a perspective that shows, indeed, that eating in itself is no cure.

I don't think I have been a particularly good mother to my daughter in her struggles up and down with weight, no doubt partly because of my own weight issues and preoccupation with bones as a young dancer, but I think I am getting better at seeing it is preferable for women to be overweight than underweight, or at least realising that this mental adjustment is the first step towards developing a healthier perspective on women and weight.

To the Bone is, on balance, a story worth telling on film, largely because it shows the unattractiveness of being a thin and bony woman, in contrast to its usual glamorisation, without simplifying the cure or blaming the thin woman - or deflecting blame, either. There is no finger-pointing; 'blame' is diffuse and shared, a novel concept in itself.

I hope this cutting-edge, female-centred film helps anorexic girls and women - indeed all girls and women - to move beyond anorexia and other eating disorders, including bulimia and obesity. It has helped me already.  





  

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Make me

So I was in our local department store (Farmers) recently trying on a black woollen skivvy because my existing one has lost its elbows and at my age you need elbows, and the lights in the changing room were so harsh white they were practically racist.

Indeed these lights judged my skin as cruelly as white-pink skin ever was judged, which might be fair enough, if it wasn't for the fact that it was clearly aimed at women of a certain age, and our skin has had more than its fair share of harsh judgement.

You can't enter these giant glaring glamour stores, most of the stock of which is aimed at 'older' women, without passing through a gauntlet of white-lit makeup stalls staffed by an army of heavily made-up and uniformed women who glare at you as a drill sergeant might glare at his (her) soldiers to see if their kit is up to muster.

Only soldiers sign up for that level of scrutiny, we don't, and it is our skin wrinkles, the work of mother nature, being judged wanting, not our clothes wrinkles, the work of sloppy laundry. There is only so much we can do to improve the situation, and whatever we do is only a stop-gap measure, and a bloody expensive one at that. So we have much more to lose than to gain by going down that made up road.

And the only reason I can think for why they continue the glaring lighting beyond this vast cosmetics gauntlet into the changing rooms where it simply cannot improve your response to the clothing tried on there, is that the money to be made in convincing middle-aged women they need a full facial cosmetic upgrade is so much more than they can make in selling clothing that they are actually willing to sacrifice their clothing sales to sell cosmetics, by reducing your self-esteem far enough in the changing rooms that on your way out, back through the gauntlet, you succumb to the pressure and stop to ask one of those heavily made-up manikins to make you up a face. Then, once you see your made-up self in the mirror, there's no going back to the old, low-resolution, blurry, blotchy you.

And after flinging my skivvy in disgust at the assistant on my way out and telling her: 'Those lights in there aren't helping!' refusing to buy the thing on principle even though it fit, I passed through that glaring cosmetics gauntlet and despite myself found my feet hesitating: perhaps just an eyebrow pencil? But no; it's a slippery eyebrow slope.

So its no eyebrows or elbows for me for now. However I do fear that as I am trying to return to the stage at a rather advanced age, it is only a matter of time before I do go down that slippery eyebrow slope. But not yet.

   


Monday, July 3, 2017

Animal sex?

Not as animal as all that
When I read recently about the female star (Emily Watson) of the latest BBC drama series Apple Tree Yard having ‘hot, animal sex’ on screen with a stranger at the age of 50, my first thought was: what do they mean by ‘animal’? 

Unfortunately I was unable to find out because this so-called 'animal' sex occurred in the first episode that we missed on account of attending the comedy performance Feminists are Funny. Clashes do happen, sometimes they are a little ironic. 

The performance was great; feminists are funny indeed, but even so I was disappointed to have missed episode one of the series that I had planned to watch and have since watched subsequent episodes of (no animal sex in those, at least as far as I could tell).  

It's not that I wanted to watch 'animal' sex especially, only that I am curious about the term, because, as it happens, during the course of my advanced political research, I have had occasion to watch sex between creatures we more routinely describe as animals, if not as the king and queen of the animals, namely lions, and the sex they had was not what I would call 'hot' or 'animal', indeed. Very little heat seemed to be involved, it was all but perfunctory and over in less than ten seconds, though often repeated in the course of five minutes, and each time it was the female who initiated it - by squatting down on her front - and ended it by roaring over her shoulder to get her chap to look lively and hop off (he would otherwise have stayed there all day and fallen asleep; that bit seemed quite animal, actually) so she could stretch her legs, circulate his semen, and begin the whole sequence over again.

My second thought was: 'Is she really younger than me?' Emily Watson, that is, not the lioness in the video. She was definitely younger, having animal sex five times in five minutes. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

On being both - and much more

It was Virginia Woolf who 100 years ago wrote that it was not enough to be man or woman, that we have to be both, but it is Ali Smith, no doubt with the added vision of someone who lives a non-heterosexual life, unlike Woolf, who has given that idea contemporary teeth in her extraordinary body of work, not least her 2014 Women's Prize for Fiction winner - How to be both - that tackles the issue directly,  if very creatively, and which I've just finished reading having only recently discovered Ali Smith - better late than never.

For Smith it is not just about being male and female at once but also the idea that those who die live on in us, as does their art and many of their traditions, while we all play many roles in our lifetimes, indeed more and more, and that that is how it should be and we need to embrace that idea of 'being both' much more than we do.

I won't say I understand all that Ali writes on this challenging idea, but I think I understand enough to say that she gets at the crux of what it takes to have effective experiences living in, behind and beneath all the moments of our lives, and especially in living in relationships that are not based on preconceived polarities but allow us to experiment more with open feelings and deeper connections with each other, between the generations and across cultures, as well as the sexes, which is surely the challenge of the modern age, if not of all ages.

I am heterosexual, as far as I know, but in my marriage I believe I am in a way both woman and man, as is my husband in return, and then we are neither too, or in being both we are neither as far as any kind of preconceived notions of what it is to be a man and a woman go. I mean not entirely, but in essence we are kind of both. He is a university librarian and blues guitarist (to name but two of his roles), I am a political theorist and dancer, to name but two of mine.

By contrast, reading recently about the Uber CEO and general company practice of being aggressively greedy and bullying and sexist, in other words classic macho male behaviour, it seems to me that the problem with that situation could be described as men being too male - a problem not unique to this 'man's world', indeed that which defines its essence and essential problem.

Equally, but with a little more complexity because in a man's world women's choices and options for getting ahead are generally more constrained than men's are, Kim Kardashian could be said to be too female in that she has built an industry around her appearance and the hyper-sexualised display of her womanly assets and nothing else, as if to be woman is just to be, and always to be, on show.

Thus I think the Uber men and the Kardashian women alike could learn a thing or three from Ali Smith's idea of being both, and also neither, in moving beyond the heterosexual gender extremes of learned behaviour that accentuate the innate tendencies and weaknesses of both sexes. Instead we should try to develop different tendencies to overcome those weaknesses and in doing so, it's possible that homosexual and transsexual insights can provide clues as to how we might better do this.

To being both and much more than the sum of those polarised parts.

  

 


Monday, June 19, 2017

24 years ago today


Face to face for the first time.
Photo taken by the midwife.
It was twenty-four years ago today
Following thirty-five hours of pain
That the doctors said at least you tried
But baby's had enough, baby's tired

And giving me a form to sign
To waive responsibility if I died
A needle took the pain away
As the midwife took out the razor blade

Which was guaranteed to raise a smile
When she shaved off a mole and cried:
'You didn't tell me you had a mole, child!'
And I said: 'I forgot, I've got a lot on my mind'

But what's a bit of blood between wives
In the best cause of furthering lives
And the mole was forgotten in a flash
When to the surgery we did together dash


For the show to end all shows to begin
Applying the weapons of mass reproduction
Under bright lights with a tug and a cry
He did emerge finally, he did arrive

And they said I'd like to introduce to you
Your firstborn babe, he's bloody but brand new
And it certainly was a big thrill
Though I was shivering all over with a sudden chill

Then a week later, it didn't take too long
They said: you can take him home, go on, go on
And so we did twenty-four years ago
And today he still lives at home

Which is fine
We're all good with that
When we go away he looks after the cat


Happy birthday, Conor James, there's no pleasure without labour pains.









  




Friday, June 16, 2017

Handmaid hope

So I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I didn't make it through Margaret Atwood's book The Handmaid's Tale, though I had enjoyed several of her other books before that, not least the brilliantly named - and written - The Edible Woman.

But Handmaid's I found not only unnecessarily bleak but too heavy-handed in its depiction of the dominating female characters who perpetrate most of the day-to-day suffering inflicted upon the handmaids, at least in the first third of the book that I read. Even the institutionalised rape of the handmaids seemed to be blamed more on the wives who watch than on the their husbands who perform their role in a perfunctory, almost reluctant way.

So I was a little reluctant to invest time in the TV series based on the book and again nearly gave it up after the first couple of episodes that did nothing to relieve my original misgivings. But I persisted, and I'm more or less glad I did, for the story ends on a note of some hope, with the women collectively refusing to stone their fellow handmaid to death - 'They should never have given us uniforms if they didn't want us to be an army' and the wife, an almost entirely unsympathetic character to that point, standing up to her husband when he tells her 'You answer to me; now go to your room!' by raging at him that he is weak and because of his weakness - the usual infidelities with his handmaids, plus scrabble - God has made him infertile, the ultimate insult and impotency in Atwood's dystopian world (if not the ultimate real-world fantasy).

And although it doesn't really give us anything to hope for in terms of resolving the real-world gender oppression and conflict that undermines the pursuit of those values of love, equality and freedom on which the happiness and health of all depends, the message of female collective action is empowering and the creative exposition of the gender corruption and crap that lies at the heart of all patriarchal religions is effectively done if, at times, all too real: there but for the grace and graft of those who resist fundamentalist religions go each and every one of us.

But I am recommending the series and thinking about re-reading and finishing the book; I just might have to wait till Trump is impeached first; it's a little too close to the bone right now. Hopefully Melania watches it and realises she is little more than a handmaid herself then files for her freedom and the public humiliation is enough to bring on the ultimate Trump tantrum that finally reveals to the world what a sorry excuse for a man he is. Now that would make for a good fantasy novel.