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Posts Tagged ‘The Fucking System’

There are things I would say if I had a voice.

I don’t, you see – have a voice. Not an individual voice that is mine and that matters and can be heard over the din. Because it is put down, or written off, or labelled in a way that makes it worth less. Not worthless maybe, just worth less. I am told I am a mummy blogger, and maybe I am – but I am also not a writer, I am a woman writer. A woman who writes, predicated on gender; an aside, behind the hand, good at what I do for a woman. ;

There are moments in every woman’s life when she is both confronted by her womanhood and reviled by it – when it beats on her like a hammer, a mantra, a reminder of all that she is, all that she is not, all that is expected of her and all that is not allowed of her. To be a woman is to be mired in contradictory social conditioning that both contains us and undermines us.

(I am 13, walking to a fete on a hot day in a singlet and shorts, and some hoon drives past slowly, leaning out the window, making a lewd gesture. I bloomed late – I have no breasts, no curves, no signs of womanhood other than I am taller than I used to be. This is a rite of passage all young women face – this moment, of being unsure if this is a compliment or an insult, or somehow both. Feeling raw and slick with disgust and heat and shame and yet somehow pleased too, because only attractive girls get leered at, right? Right?)

I am a mother now, and this is an extra caveat to womanhood, an extra characteristic that defines me as Other. I am a mother with that this pertains – the guilt, the boredom, the terror and fleeting moments of joy; joy so sharp and poignant it is more like a bandaid being torn off than any permanent emotion. Like a quick rip through the heart that leaves you blinking back tears, because this joy feels almost like grief too – I get this, yes I get this joy but the compromise is so great. There is so much I lose. The cost is so high. Motherhood is another way of losing one’s voice, after all.

I had no voice today in the shopping centre – the mother rocking a wretchedly sobbing infant in her arms – while in the pram, a toddler mimics the wails of the infant. An old man walked past, staring at me like I’d ruined his day, like I’d brought my children into his space and deliberately upset them, so the shrieks echoed through the vaulted mall in a way that is perfectly toned to make your ears itch. If I spoke then, my voice would have been lost in this old man’s judgement. Mothers are not supposed to inflict their children on public spaces, THEMSELVES on public spaces. Do not be a mother in a shopping centre doing her shopping for dinner, trying to get out of the house for an hour, to make the scenery change for a moment of a day otherwise filled with childish chatter. Do not be a mother whose children are not perfectly silent and still mannequin models of good behaviour. Do not be a mother who is trying her best, getting through the day, trying to cope. Do not be a mother, because mothers have no voice.

Mothers are in the home, most often, because it makes sense after a traumatic or exhausting birth, or a c-section, to be the one to stay home. It makes sense, being the one who breastfeeds, or even bottle feeds; it makes sense when doing the night wakings. It makes sense for me to stay home now with the second baby because I stayed home with the first one, and after several years of a slow domestic tilt where everything slides in my direction, it makes sense that it is my studies that stop, my career that grinds to a halt, my earning opportunities that pass by unnoticed because I am a mother, and this is what mothers do. I stay home and contemplate the scars on my body, the medicalisation of my genitalia, the baby on my breast. I stay home because it is easier, and anyway mothers who don’t stay home are judged too. ;

If I talk too loudly about my needs and wants, if I try to speak up about equality – for any woman who speaks up about equality – there are other ways of being silenced. There is the label of ‘feminist’ – not the meaning, just the word – the label that some say needs ‘re-branding’, as though it is an item for sale rather than a thought or a need. There’s the ubiquitous, ‘but I’m not a feminist’, as though it’s a club you sign up for a membership for rather than a way you live your life, a definition of your core beliefs. So this word, feminism-in-quote-marks, it comes to represent all of these things that it does not actually mean, it becomes an insult and a pejorative explanation, a political ideal and a movement that is picked over by those against is so they can say, ‘feminism has failed’, like it were a child, when really this is just another way of shutting us up. By saying ‘feminist’ as though we don’t matter. ‘Feminist’ as though our words have no import – after all, it is only a feminist who is speaking.

(It is 2009. I am in a relationship with a man, watching the slow wince form on his face when I speak too long and too loud on the gender pay gap, on domestic violence statistics, on cases of sexual assault. I am in a relationship with this man who professes to love me but at the same time, would prefer it if I didn’t talk about the things that matter to me, the life I live and the fear I face simply by being a woman. I am in a relationship with a man who wants to play ‘devil’s advocate’ and try and tear holes in the things I say or deny my experiences because he can. And one day I wake up and realise I don’t love him, I don’t want to be with him, I shouldn’t waste anymore of my time on him because someone who would rather I be silent is not someone I can trust. I end it, but he won’t ever understand.)

There are things I would say if I had a voice, but I don’t by virtue of being a woman. By virtue of being a mother, a feminist. I am categorised and allotted a certain space in this world, slightly over and above those who do not have the privileges that I have (the right skin colour, the right gender identity, the right sexuality, the right socioeconomic background, the right abled body, et cetera, et cetera), and I, like most women, am told I will be assigned someone to speak on my behalf, to choose my reproductive rights, my pay grade, my career opportunities – and when I look up to see whose voice will actually be heard, it is usually a man.

As it has always been men, a whole establishment of them. Calling us ‘feminazis’ with a sneer. Legislating our bodies. Marking us down on a list, splitting us into little categories, some with more privilege than others, deciding our rights and where we fit, writing us off as good at what we do ;for a woman. ;

Telling us where we fit. Mummy blogger. Woman writer. Just a stay at home mum. Just a woman. ;

Which might as well be nothing at all.

;

;

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I have been feeling angry at the world lately. Namely, I’ve been angry at the hate and violence directed towards women. From the tragic death of Jill Meagher (I used to live right near where she was taken) to the kind of everyday street harassment that I hear about all the time. I’m shielded, somewhat, from that kind of harassment, because I’m pregnant and it seems there are some lines even street assholes won’t cross… but I did notice a man staring at my breasts quite openly today when I was having lunch with my toddler, and he didn’t even bother to look away once he realised I knew he was watching me. This, despite being six months pregnant with a small child next to me.

I often feel angry at a society that belittles, degrades, oppresses and humiliates women, and then denies there is anything wrong. I feel angry that there’s still a substantial pay gap between men and women in the workforce; angry that there are websites that collect and post exploitative photographs of women that have been taken without their knowledge, and angry that it’s so damn hard for women to have children and a substantial earning potential in the one lifetime. All that anger just becomes exhausting, doesn’t it?

But today, I saw two articles that lifted my spirits – Why it’s been a great year for women by Clementine Ford, and the photo essay The 20 Most Influential Female Voices of 2012 by Sarah Oakes. It reminded me that there are good things happening – you women learning about feminism as they enter adulthood with genuinely positive role models in the public forum; women writing and talking and teaching about feminism; women speaking out for their rights (Julia Gillard, anyone?); and men who are doing all of the above too.

Both pieces mentioned above came from The Daily Life – click the pic to link through to a kickass feminist magazine.

It reminded me that there is a positive space for women that is all around us, a community of voices that is slowly gaining volume. It helps me feel less angry. Or maybe, it helps me feel like that anger is useful and not just frustrating and fruitless.

So. Who is your feminist role model for 2012? What did they achieve that inspired you?

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I have never met a bad Centrelink employee. I think it is just bad policy that exists. I have met tired, impatient, bored Centrelink employees, but ultimately they are just doing their jobs. I have also met incredibly kind, helpful and concerned Centrelink employees, either over the phone or in person.

Because I earned enough money at age 18, I was declared financially emancipated from my parents – this allowed me to receive benefits when studying and living in shared housing or by myself. It also assured my benefits at times when I was sick or injured. But having a legal right to benefits doesn’t make them easy to get.

For years, I had to justify my illness to a governmental body that does not particularly like it when you present a medical certificate for a problem that isn’t visible, like a broken leg. At least when I broke my spine and was unable to work, I could show up wearing my back brace and walking with a cane. My injury was pretty obvious, even if the crushed vertebrae in my spine was not.

Explaining why your invisible illness, mental or physical, cripples you to the point of being unable to study or work to a stranger at Centrelink is uniquely humiliating. Only the kindness of those employees makes it bearable. I once had a meeting with a social worker to explain that, while my back was relatively healed, the inactivity of my recuperation had caused a Chronic Fatigue Syndrome relapse, and I’d had to leave my job as a roulette dealer with the casino. I could not work, I could not study – I lived in a share house with a lovely friend who didn’t mind that I mostly sat around all day. The point of this meeting was to decide if I was eligible for temporary disability benefits for another 12 months while I tried to get my life back together.

The man was very nice. We sat in a tiny office at Centrelink in Preston. I had to explain my life to him – the physical pain that was at times unbearable, the numbing exhaustion, the relentless insomnia and the depression that resulted of all of this. I had to go into great detail about the medical treatment I was seeking – both what I tried before, and found did not work so would not pursue again, and the new theories on treatment I had heard about but could not afford. I explained that I needed to be classed as disabled (temporarily), because the only thing that could heal me was time. Time to eat well and try to sleep and gradually increase my strength, time to try new medications for depression and pain, time to organise my life and try to feel useful again. I confessed to him that I often felt despair, and although the medication I took for depression and illness didn’t work particularly well, I was scared of changing the drugs because the period of wash out between an old drug and a new one had, in the past, led to suicide attempts.

The drugs do not work, I told him, but I do not work right without the drugs. There is something wrong with me. Without medication I try to hurt myself. I don’t want to die. I don’t know what to do.

I think I cried, in that room, with that strange man who told me I was brave when I felt weak. He signed off on a certificate of temporary disability. This meant that I did not have to keep presenting medical certificates to Centrelink; they would just pay me each fortnight without me needing to contact them. That certificate was for twelve months. It was supposed to provide security of some kind.

In that time, Centrelink cut off my payments around three times, for what essentially came down to computer error. Getting those payments reinstated was exhausting.

I don’t know how Centrelink works internally – I have an idea of the processes, but I’ve never worked there myself. But the impression I get is that the computers run on a set of rules and regulations, and anything even slightly outside the norm can create a tumble of paperwork and error that, in immediate response, cuts off your payment until the problem is resolved. This has been my experience, anyway. The Centrelink employees I speak to regarding these problems are almost universally bewildered by how such errors occur in the first place, and frustrated that it is so difficult to fix. They do not run the system with computers. The computers run the system using humans as conduits.

Now I receive fortnightly payments as part of the Family Assistance program. This is because we have a small child and the government likes to help. They say. However, I’ve had a lot of problems with these payments – when I was pregnant I was receiving Newstart (the job hunting payment), with a medical certificate to say I did not have to look for work because my problematic pregnancy crippled me. However, I somehow incurred a $500 debt for being paid money in July of 2010 without reporting what activity I had done to find work. It took almost a year to retrieve that money (which Centrelink automatically garnished from my parenting payments).

The reason I didn’t hunt for a job that week, or report my lack of activity, was because I was in hospital giving birth.

Some glitch had happened, and the computer had decided they shouldn’t have paid me as though I were medically unfit (when I was in the damned hospital bleeding on the operating table and full of drugs and stitches), and the computer took that money back. The Centrelink employees I spoke to about this were damn near helpless to reverse that situation. Eventually, I found out I could reverse the debt by handing in some obscure paperwork that outlined my activity and lack of job hunting for that period. I think I wrote ‘GIVING BIRTH TO MY CHILD, COULDN’T ACCESS JOB SEEKING WEBSITES’ angrily. But finally, I got the money back.

Recently I’ve been furious all over again because a minor mistake was made with Sebastian’s immunisation records, and our child care benefit was cut off, and it looked like I might have to pay his daycare $850 for the care already given (almost all of that should have been covered by Centrelink). If the problem wasn’t fixed that sum wouldn’t go down. If the sum didn’t go down then I could no longer put Sebastian in daycare, which would mean I couldn’t work, which would mean I wouldn’t have the money to pay the daycare. A horrible cycle of crap. It took three weeks just to find out what the problem was and get it fixed, including phone call after phone call to Centrelink and Medicare.

I get angry at Centrelink because I try so hard to do the right thing so these payments will run smoothly, and in return some computer blinks a few times and I’m told I owe them money, or they will not pay me, or pay daycare. I am angry that I have to talk endlessly to strangers about the minute details of my daily life. I am angry that this is a system designed to catch fraud, not help people. I am angry that I cried in front of that strange man in that tiny room because I had an illness that was invisible. I am angry that my financial stability depends on a system that fails at every turn.

I wish I could blame Centrelink employees. But they’re just people. It’s the machines that make the mistakes. I like to imagine their central database is called Skynet.

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When it comes to the arguments against same-sex marriage, I like to play a little game. Remove the word ‘gay’, and either replace it with the word ‘human’, or ‘people’, or switch some words around, or do without it altogether. Would you like to play? Here’s the gist of some of the anti-gay marriage arguments, in original form:

  • Gays don’t need to get married, they have all the same legal rights now with civil unions. It’s just attention-seeking.
  • Gay marriage only effects a minority, so therefore it’s too much effort to change those laws.
  • If gays can marry it’s just the start of it… next people will want to marry their dogs.
  • I have lots of gay friends and they don’t want to get married so why bother?
  • Being gay is a choice.

This does not, of course, cover the full idiocy of anti-gay marriage arguments, however we’ll get to that later. First, lets play word swap and examine how these statements change.

  • [People] don’t need to get married, they have all the same legal rights now with civil unions. It’s just attention-seeking. Of course, everyone has the same legal rights without marriage. Being officially partnered (that is, the government recognises that I am in a long-term, de facto relationship with my partner), I have pretty much every right that a married couple does (I could even take his last name, without ever signing a marriage certificate). I am my partner’s next-of-kin, his medical authority, all our assets and income are joint, and if we (for some unforeseen reason) were to separate at this point, it would be the same complicated mess of asset-division, joint custody and other unspeakable horrors. So if everyone has access to these rights without the necessity of marriage, then clearly nobody needs marriage. It should be abolished.
  • [M]arriage only effects a minority, so therefore it’s too much effort to change those laws. If you remove the word ‘gay’ from the above sentence, you see the angle here. Not everyone is married. Or going to get married. Some people spend most of their lives not-married. Some get married, then get divorced, then get married again. Children are too young to marry. And so on and so on. Basically, because marriage does not affect the entire population, no laws should ever be made that change it. Ever. And maybe we should repeal some of those much, much older laws – we’ll go back to the golden era where women were property and divorce was impossible without some sort of decree from the Pope and you had to read the banns for a month before you wed to prevent Mr Rochester from bigamy (and oh, poor Jane Eyre…)
  • If [humans] can marry it’s just the start of it… next people will want to marry their dogs. This argument is too stupid to exist, and yet it does. I mean, same-sex marriage… REALLY. If humans can marry humans then soon we’ll want to marry a cow or an inanimate object or a child or some other poor thing that can’t consent. Or we’ll want to marry our siblings on reality shows, because people like to watch train wrecks, and produce genetically deformed incest-children, which we’ll then marry. One consenting human marrying another consenting human is a stepping stone to hell.
  • I have lots of friends and they don’t want to get married so why bother? I have simply removed the word ‘gay’ from this argument, and it still wallows in its stupidity. See also: above argument about changing laws for minorities. So if not everyone wants to get married, NOBODY should get married. This argument has the added bonus of presenting the speaker as someone who isn’t discriminatory (I have gay friends! And black ones! Sometimes I listen to reggae!), they just don’t see the point. The reality is this: if your straight friends don’t want to get married right now, they can change their mind later. Your gay friends can’t.
  • Being [human] is a choice. You see how this argument turns itself around by replacing one word? Saying your sexuality is a choice is like saying your chromosomes are a choice. Granted, some people go through periods of confusion about their sexuality (as a teenager I decided I was a lesbian, but clearly since then I have had sex with a man). While I may not be entirely heterosexual, I have made a choice to be in a heterosexual relationship, because I fell in love with a hetero man. But we have to be careful about the distinctions here – it’s my choice to be in a relationship with him, but I did not choose who I fell in love with. I didn’t choose his gender. I am happier in a relationship with him, so here I stay. People who are only capable of having romantic or sexual feelings for one gender, whether it be the opposite gender or the same gender, also do not choose who they fall in love with. To say you can choose who you love is like saying you can choose whether to be a human or a chimp – your opposable thumbs aren’t optional, you are what you are.

(As a side note here, I’d like to point out that there are some people who are attracted to both genders, or more one gender but occasionally the other, and they don’t choose that either. And in fact, it’s damn fucking hard to figure out who you are and what you want and who you’d like to sleep with when there are societal pressures saying that you must be either Column A or Column B.)

But marriage is about family!

I’d like to move on now to address one of the biggest anti-gay marriage arguments: that marriage is about procreation, the protection of the family unit, the safety of children – you know the rest.

I am not married (gasp!) but I have a child. Alex and I live together as a family, and as I said above, we have all the rights of a married couple. Therefore, I seem to breaking the cardinal law of family life – we are a happy, functioning unit, and yet our child is a bastard. I said it. He is illegitimate. However, I’ve read enough historical romance novels to know that because Alex gave our son his last name, he will be recognised as his heir according to primogeniture, unless another son shows up in the future that’s born of the marriage bed.

OH WAIT IT’S NOT 1815.

We intend on getting married, someday. At the moment we’re too busy twiddling our thumbs and rearranging the furniture or something. But that’s our choice. As a heterosexual couple, nobody decries our lack of marriage certificate. Although I’ve looked very closely, I’ve seen no sign that Sebastian is aghast at the lack of a piece of paper. He sees only two parents, that love him very much and love each other. What would the child of a same-sex couple see? Exactly the same thing, but with one major difference – we have the choice to marry, and his or her parents do not.

Some gay marriage objectionists state that having gay parents is a disadvantage to the child. This is bunk. In fact, studies show that children of gay parents are just as well-adjusted as children of hetero parents (here) and in fact, that children of lesbian parents (because more studies exist on lesbian parents) are more likely to be less aggressive and nurturing (boys) and the girls are more likely to aspire to traditionally male-based professions (article here). Some objectionists decry the bullying that may result for a child of gay parents. Well, amazingly, bullying exists, and you know what? That’s not the parents’ problem. That’s society’s problem. Bullying and discrimination occurs because of race, socio-economic status and gender anyway – and yet nobody says that only white people should be allowed to marry and have children, or only wealthy people.

I was raised with every advantage – a child of hetero, married parents, with jobs and education, who are intelligent and raised me to think intelligently, with a comfortable socio-economic background. And I was bullied in school. This is society’s problem because society teaches us to be competitive and critical, to form elitist groups and exclusionary practices, to lower someone else’s status in order to elevate our own. Children emulate their parents’ behaviour, and if a child is raised with love and understanding, is taught ethics and morals, is shown to be kind and accepting by example… then what does it matter if those parents are a Mummy and a Daddy, or two Mums, or two Dads? In fact, wouldn’t same-sex couples, having probably been discriminated against themselves at some point, raise their children with tolerance? Don’t we all want to raise our children to be better than the previous generation? And exactly how does same-sex marriage make that ideal crash and burn…?

And if marriage is only for protection of the family unit, what about couples that never have children? I mean, you have to give childless couples leeway, at least until the female passes child-bearing age – but do we revoke their marriage licence the minute she hits menopause? Does that mean that the elderly couple, both widowed, who find love and comfort again in their old age, should be denied the right to marry?

I’m sure we all know single parents. What about them? The truth is that marriages break down. Or pregnancies happen unexpectedly, and sometimes one of the DNA contributors chooses not to stick around. Single parents aren’t single-handedly destroying the notion of family – they’re loving and raising their kids as best they can. We all make do with what we’ve got – we have kids, and fumble around in the dark trying to make those kids happy and healthy, and some parents find that their relationship break down and staying married would do their kid more harm than good. It’s better to be from a broken home than living in one, and raised with tension and despair chipping away at the child’s sense of the family unit. Happy families make happy children. So if a couple are in love, and want to get married and have kids and raise those kids in a loving environment, who the hell cares what genitals they have?

And if a gay couple get married and choose not to have children, how is that any different from a straight couple getting married and choosing not to have kids? Why is it anyone else’s business at all?

But waaah, marriage and religion!

This is possibly the most infuriating argument against same-sex marriage. The 2009 in Australia the ABS showed that secular marriage ceremonies had overtaken religious ceremonies in frequency (here) at 66.9% – about two thirds (how do you like being in the minority NOW, religious anti-gay marriage folks?!)

And if religion gets such a dominant say in marriage, does it also get to influence legislation on slavery and women’s rights and so on? And if marriage is dominated by religious, primarily Christian, beliefs, then how is that marriage is older than Christianity? I’m sure Christ didn’t just wake up one day, see a bunch of people living in sin and start rounding them up to take vows. The institution of marriage used to be primarily about the joining of families for alliances and land and goods. Men married for children and heirs and dowries, women married for protection and children and households of their own. So do we return to these old traditions? Imagine if you could only marry your potential spouse if she brought a comfortable enough dowry, or if he possessed enough goats to ensure wealth. In fact, there is a long and comfortable history of nobody getting to choose who they married – marriages were arranged for political reasons, and suck it up if you didn’t like your spouse (here).

These ideas are antiquated, and so is the idea that marriage is centralized in religion, property or heirs. Modern marriage is product of love, trust and belief in your future happiness, and these ideas are not gender or sexuality specific. Gay marriage does not destroy the family unit, it simply expands its definitions.

I can choose to marry my partner only because he is male and I am female. Disallowing same-sex marriage is discriminatory, and therefore a matter of the human right for equality. This is the core of my beliefs right here: even if I am heterosexual, I am still human. Marriage is a basic human right for all adults as a matter of expressing love and commitment. Making same-sex marriage illegal infringes on my human rights. Making same-sex marriage illegal infringes on everybody’s human rights, even if you are straight or asexual or confused, because saying that one sector of the population has less rights as a citizen than another is to try to make them less than human.

Women’s rights are human rights.
Children’s rights are human rights.
Racial equality is a human right.
Equality for the disabled is a human right.

Gay rights are human rights.

And in summary… if you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get one.

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