Monday, September 26, 2016

Should I teach my son about female empowerment by shaving my head?

When my small family moved to my hometown of Newcastle in 2012, I did a grown up thing I'd been wanting to do in the many years since I became a grown up: I got my own hairdresser. I mean a proper hairdresser where we knew each others' names, and I returned regularly, and she knew my quirks and didn't mind if I stared and my lap, and she didn't even make me feel squirmingly uncomfortable, like all the hairdressers I'd visited previously, from $10 cuts at Central Station to the time I spent $120 for a basic haircut in Newtown (oy vey, those were the days of plentiful disposable income - I want to go back in time and slap myself silly for not saving). Hair length went up and down. A fringe was acquired. I looked presentable - a small miracle.

But at the end of 2014, I made the fateful decision to accompany my husband to Sydney to try and save our marriage. It didn't work, and as if that wasn't bad enough, I lost my hairdresser. And until I finally got the split ends seen to a few weeks back, I haven't had a haircut since. 

My hair is now midway down my back, and with my sensory issues, pissing me off. I hate washing it. I hate brushing it. I hate turning over in bed and having my head yanked back by my plait. My sister is getting married this week, so I figured I'd leave my hair so as to look respectable in the photos, but then, well...

 It hit me. I was going to shave my head!

A few reasons for doing this. I want to try everything once, and this has been in the back of my mind for many years. Also it would mean discarding my bleached-and-coloured-over-and-over locks hair! Oh, the possibilities! Platinum! And all those gorgeous tints. (Of course this would create a fresh bleached mess, but we'll get to that). Alas my hair is too damaged to consider donating, so I was just going to do it at home, maybe filming the whole thing to post here.

There's just one problem. Mister G, who is now five (can you fucking believe it), refuses to let me. He says my hair is pretty and if I shave my head I'll look like a monster. He won't be budged.

I have mixed feelings on this. As a child, I hated when my mother got her hair cut, which she did a lot (it was the 1980s and like every other young woman, she was trying to emulate Princess Diana). My tears when she returned from the salon have passed into family legend. And I may or may not have - oh God, this is embarrassing - cried when my ex got his first haircut of our courtship. So I get it. I don't want to upset him unnecessarily. We practice respectful parenting. He has a voice. We respect his opinions. And he's still so young.

Or am I just teaching my son, who will grow up to be a man*, that he has the right to control women's bodies? By meekly obeying his order not to shave my head, will he learn women's appearances are his to judge, monitor and control?

Am I over thinking this? I'm over thinking this, aren't I. I'm leaning towards waiting a couple months and seeing if his view changes. Six months ago, he was so into Transformers the teachers and kids at preschool called him Bumblebee at his request; now he has moved on to a world of Mixels, the Transformers sitting in their boxes. And it could well be the same for my hair. Shaving my head to teach my son a lesson about empowerment seems a bit unnecessary. Growing up with two Greens voting parents with degrees in the humanities, I'm hoping he won't be exposed to misogynist views too much. But you never know. I don't know. Respond to the poll in the sidebar or leave your comments below (or be a devil and do both, treat yourself).

* Despite his age, we're fairly sure he's cis.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Tiahleigh Palmer - hard questions and heartbreak

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about the failures of the child protection system, including the worrisome process of vetting and approving foster parents. I couldn't have imagined that those fears would be realised in such a heartbreaking way.

Eleven months after her death, the former foster family of 12 year old Tiahleigh Palmer were charged with offences relating to her murder. The allegation is that her former foster father murdered Tiahleigh to cover the fact that his 19 year old son had sexually assaulted her and feared she was pregnant. Her former foster mother and the couple's other son have been charged with perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice. 

Tiahleigh Palmer was in foster care because it was deemed her mother could not look after her, and she required protection. Protection. So how the hell was she sent to live with a family who did this to her? An adult son who allegedly raped a child, and a father who allegedly murdered that child to cover up his son's crime? Who made the decision that this was where Tiahleigh would be safe? What the hell happened here? 

There are many people asking these questions, such as Hetty Johnson from the child protection group Bravehearts; so hopefully the answers will come out. The Queensland foster vetting system seems fairly thorough. Unlike NSW, where as I wrote vetting and assessments are performed by a private, for profit subsidiary, in Queensland the procedure seems to be carried out, in its entirety, by the governmental child protection department. It is a complex process, taking from three to six months. All adult family members must submit an application form, disclosing all criminal and child protection history, domestic violence and traffic offences. All adults must then successfully apply for blue cards, Queensland's equivalent of working with children checks. There is then a household safety assessment, health and well being checks, and referee checks. All adult family members are then interviewed before, finally, completing pre-service training. 

So how - assuming the process was followed correctly by trained and experienced assessors - did the Thorburn family slip through? Were there no warning signs, no red flags, nothing to suggest just how very unsafe Tiahleigh would be there? Nothing to suggest she might be safer in the care of her mother, Cyndi, who after a troubled past was heartbreakingly trying to get her daughter back?

Some commentators may opine that the solution to child abuse is to take children from their families at the earliest opportunity and place them with permanent carers - but this is fraught with difficulty. As well as cutting children off from their kinship groups, culture and community, as we can see, it does not guarantee a child's safety. This is especially difficult in the case of Indigenous children, who are removed from their families at a much higher rate than non-Indigenous children, and despite departmental regulations, are often placed with non-Indigenous carers when kinship carers and Indigenous foster families cannot be found. It's worth noting, perhaps, that Tiahleigh Palmer was Maori, whilst her foster family apparently was not - what connection to her culture was she able to maintain? 

And we see endemic racism rear its head, again, in the narrative of her disappearance and death. Police took six days to investigate her disappearance; she was, after all, a brown girl from a troubled background. Media report her as being "sexually involved" with her stepbrother; non-white girls are fetishised, seen as less pure, less innocent than white girls. The truth that a twelve year old girl was allegedly raped by a grown man who was supposed to protect her - who was sanctioned by the state to protect her - gets lost.

Oh Tiahleigh you poor baby, you never had a chance. I'm so sorry you were failed in such a catastrophic way. I hope your killers are brought to swift justice. I hope those who allowed you to be placed in such peril are held accountable. I hope your family can find some measure of comfort from that. Rest in Peace sweet girl. 

Photo: News Corp.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Shopping Mad

So I went into a city outlet of a national health and beauty retailer. A staff member greeted me brightly at the door. "Hi! Welcome to national health and beauty retailer. Can I help you with anything today?" 

"Uhh...I was just after some nail scissors."

So she walked me over to a display of such implements and took a packet off the shelf. "We have these ones, they're twelve dollars. Was that what you were after?"

Tired and grumpy, and expecting a pair of nail scissors to cost about four bucks, I replied with possibly less grace than was warranted, "not for twelve dollars I'm not."

We looked at each other for several uncomfortable seconds.

We then looked at each other for several even more uncomfortable seconds.

I spoke first. "This is why it's for the best if I do my shopping on my own", I said before me and my long toe nails made our exit. 

Am I the only one who just fucking hates this? I know from working in retail that a few customers will head straight for the service counter and want to be walked through the entire transaction, but most people are happy to figure it out themselves. Why can't shop staff just leave us alone? I'm not talking about small and specialised businesses here, but the large retailers who seem to think customer service involves herding you around like sheep. Or they have staff randomly standing around the store, and you have to awkwardly respond to their greetings as you consider your purchases. 

As someone who is picky, cranky and broke, I need to do my shopping alone. If your stock is too expensive, or not what I was after, or just a bit shit, I shouldn't be forced to explain it to you like the problem is on my end. But how do I get staff to leave me alone? I've tried various tactics - headphones, looking like I'm about to burst into tears - but it doesn't work. And it's worse now that I'm well into my thirties, which makes me look, to a 19 year old, like I'm middle aged. Help.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Fighting Pauline Hanson with facts is just feeding the beast

Following Pauline Hanson's appalling maiden speech to the Senate last week, there were those who, whilst abhorring Hanson's views, disagreed with the Greens' decision to walk out on her in protest. Don't walk out, they said - stay and fight her with the facts.

This seems a reasonable thing to do, but we are not dealing with reasonable people here. You cannot fight them on the facts. It goes beyond that. Facts are not merely irrelevant to them; they see facts as a product of the left wing universities and socioeconomic systems that oppress them.

Hanson supporters tend to be older, have fewer years of education, to be economically disadvantaged - and overwhelmingly white. Ms Hanson herself left school at 15. This was typical for young, working class Australian women at the time, and I don't mean to disparage her for that, but without further education she had missed the opportunity to develop logic and critical thinking skills, the ability to assess the validity of sources before reaching a conclusion. Reading the policies on One Nation's website, you see a grab bag of copy and paste from Wikipedia interspersed with Ms Hanson's own febrile rantings. 

And so it is with her supporters, unable to distinguish the validity of a Facebook post with a research paper. So if they say on Facebook, for example, that Halal certification payments are funding chemical weapon manufacture in Syria, or that global warming is a scam run by the Chinese to make all Westerners wear knicker bockers, and you provide a link to a credible source showing it's all bunk - they take it as an insult. Their mind flashes "you think you're better than me?". You think your information is better than my information? Where's your information from? The ABC, which is full of lefties, universities, where you have to watch every word you say because PC, scientists, well aren't they in the pockets of the knicker-bocker loving Chinese? None of it can be trusted. And they become even more convinced of the righteousness of their position.

As Tim Dick wrote in the Canberra Times, we are living in an age of unreason. It has been a long standing sentiment of conservatives that lefties are ruled by emotion, not fact. But these days it seems the alt-right have the lock on "feels before reals"; evidence of global warming can be dismissed because it's been a cold winter at their joint; same sex marriage must be harmful because they find the whole thing so icky.

So what do we do from here? I'm in favour of teaching logic and reason in school (start with asking that, if global warming is a scam and 97% of the world's scientists are just making it all up for the money, why, since said scientists have no scruples, why wouldn't they get more money telling the truth on behalf of fossil fuel producers than lying for governments?). But what do we do with the grown ups? How do we underpin the national debate with the basic premise that you really can't have your own facts? I'm not sure from here. Laugh at Hanson, refuse to countenance her views, try to engage - no one seems quite sure what to do from here. But I've a feeling that saying "hang on, actually what you've said is incorrect - here is some peer reviewed research" just won't work.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Why The Greens' Hanson Walkout Meant So Much

Wednesday afternoon I picked G up from preschool. He was finishing off a Lego creation, which his teacher deemed of such structural integrity as to merit being placed on the display shelf. And I was thinking of that lovely lady later that evening, who has taken my son under her wing since my husband and I separated a year ago; cheering him up on his sad days, gently integrating him into the group, always there for a cuddle. I was thinking how much this hijab wearing lady and my blonde son love each other, because that's Australia isn't it?

I was thinking of her, and thousands like her, as newly elected Senator Pauline Hanson declared, in her maiden speech, that "we are in danger of being swamped by Muslims, who bear a culture and ideology that is incompatible with our own...Australia is now seeing changes in suburbs predominantly Muslim. Tolerance towards other Australians is no longer the case. Our law courts are disrespected and prisons have become breeding grounds for Muslims to radicalise inmates. Muslims are imprisoned at almost three times the average rate. The rate of unemployed and public dependency is two to three times greater than the national average. Muslims are prominent in organised crime, with associated violence and drug dealing. Antisocial behaviour is rampant, fuelled by hyper-masculine and misogynist culture. Multiple social surveys find that neighbourhoods of Muslim settlement are suffering from collapsing social cohesion and fear of crime. Australians, in general, are more fearful...There is no sign saying 'good Muslim' or 'bad Muslim'. How many lives will be lost or destroyed trying to determine who is good and who is bad?"

I was thinking of her, and the Muslims I've worked with, studied with, talked and laughed with, and how they must feel listening to this, not welcome in their own country because of an elected representative who makes a living peddling hate, and I felt like crying.

(Incidentally, I've never been told I should be blown up, burned alive, or had a picture of my then baby son posted with a caption calling me a dopey breeding cow by a Muslim. I cannot say the same for Hanson supporters).

Is this what we have become as a nation? Recycling racism, views best left to alt-right blogs being proudly proclaimed in Federal Parliament and in the pages of national newspapers?

Which is why it was so important that the Greens senators, in protest of what Ms Hanson was saying, walked out on her speech.

Photo: Fairfax.

In five years of Greens membership, I've never been so proud to be part of the Greens. They stood up and said we will not legitimise your views by sitting here and listening to them. They stood for decency, cohesiveness, an Australia of tolerance and diversity - an Australia I love. Disrespectful to Ms Hanson - no. They went in, prepared to listen to what she had to say. But they were prepared to leave if they had to. Ms Hanson disrespected herself, and millions of Australians, by her words accusing Muslims of being criminal terrorists, and accusing victims of intimate partner violence of being responsible for their own deaths,  (someone wiser than me said, should men who kill people out of frustration be given custody of their kids?). Disrespectful to one woman to walk out? It was disrespectful to many more to sit and listen.

Some labelled the walkout childish, a stunt, but walking out is a traditional form of silent protest. The parliamentary Liberals do it all the time, such as during the apology to the Stolen Generations, or when Bill Shorten spoke of closing the gap, or the time Abbott and Pyne absolutely covered themselves in glory by sprinting out of the chamber to avoid accepting Craig Thompson's vote.

But I was proud, proud to be part of the party that stands up against this bigotry; and I hope the people who were the targets of this venom felt some pride and comfort too. We are all Australians, you are not alone, and there are people, good people, who will not let this hatred stand. There's a nasty fight coming up in the next three years, we will not give up.

I'll leave the last word to Greens leader Richard Di Natale: