19 November 2011

How Can You Say You Love Australia If You Don't Know How It Works?

Yesterday saw the horrific fire at the Quakers Hill nursing home which has so far claimed the lives of five people. It was extremely hard to watch the news footage of the terrified, confused elderly residents who had lost their home, possessions and friends, struggling to comprehend what had happened to them. There certainly was a lot of graphic vision - evidently the TV news crews thought a compassionate telling of the story required them to shove cameras in the faces of the fire victims as they were loaded into ambulances, and I sure hope people are at least demanded to explain themselves for stripping these vulnerable people of their dignity at a time when they have precious little else left.

At any rate, overnight a suspect has been charged with arson. It is difficult to comprehend that such horror could have been the result of a deliberate act, but people are reminding each other that we must not rush to judge, that the slow wheels of the legal system need to turn, that justice must take its course.

I'm kidding, of course. The internet hordes are baying for blood. There are the usual calls to bring back capital punishment, with several commentators offering to take care of the offender themselves involving hot things and sharp things. The possibility that the defendant will plead mental illness is raised, with comments such as "He will claim he was mentally ill and get away with it. (my apologies to those out there living with mental illness) but too many people claim that they are sick and get away with it". We even ventured into the realms of fantasy, with one commentator opining that "you dont deserve a trial if you think its ok to murder innocent elderly people." As with comments regarding politics ("I didn't vote for Julia Gillard/a carbon tax! Bring on an election now!"), I'm no longer surprised but merely saddened that there are so many adults walking the streets of our society, so blissfully ignorant of how that society actually works.

Of course in Australia, we have a representative democracy. We elect politicians to make decisions for us, and no one voted for or against the carbon tax. Gillard did say she wouldn't bring in a carbon tax in a government she led. Her error was not one of delusion but omission - she left out the word "majority" before government. Left without a majority, she needed to introduce a carbon tax proposal in order to form a minority government. Those red-faced harpies calling 2GB to complain about the unfairness of it all can't quite grasp this nuance; that we don't have elections "for" anything, and that referenda are only held to change the Constitution, not on individual laws. They invoke the spectre of 1998 as the "GST election" - John Howard took the GST to the people and won, making it a legitimate decision - when it wasn't and he didn't. In their misunderstanding, they call for fresh elections/referenda on everything from same sex marriage (like it's anyone else's business who gay people marry) to whether we should process asylum seekers offshore or really, really far offshore. The principle of representative democracy and the process by which bills become law are unknown to these people.

It's the same with the legal system. Precepts such as the right to a fair trial and innocent until proven guilty are misunderstood and thrown aside in the rush to judgement. The notion that a trial is not deserved shows a belief that is a privilege to be earned for lack of guilt, not the right of all people to assess their guilt. The concept of mental illness is beyond them - some sort of made-up thing used by criminals to get away with their crimes. Does it matter that people have these erroneous beliefs? Of course! These are adults who vote in elections and serve on juries; they nominally control a system they barely comprehend. They would, I bet, all call themselves "proud Aussies", be proud of Australia's "freedom", not understanding that freedom confers the right to a fair trial and that the public deciding every issue which crosses the parliamentary floor is not democracy, but mob rule.

When it works well, democracy is the best system we have, but for it to work, we need an educated citizenry. Parliamentary democracy and a free judicial system can't function if large chunks of the population have no idea how they work. So what is the answer, high school civics classes? Well, they'd be a start. But even loving the details of our system as I do, I can see that civics classes have the potential to be the week's most boring subject in an already crowded curriculum; besides, such classes would be no help to everyone who's already helping to run the country, through their votes and jury service, even if they don't know how.

Let's make civics a national TV event. Let's gather up Eddie Maguire, Bert Newton, the cast of Packed To The Rafters, and Jessica Mauboy to sing the big opening number, to host Take Back Australia!, a TV spectacular with great production values, shiny graphics, and a gentle attempt to explain how the legislative, executive and judicial framework of Australia actually functions. There could be an iPhone app, quizzes with cash prizes and cutaways to members of the Australian cricket team and whoever won whatever televised talent quest the twisted mind of Simon Fuller has disgorged upon us this year. If you're groaning at the thought of watching such a spectacle, that's okay; you're excused from watching. If all this sounds heinous to you, chances are you know this stuff already.

16 November 2011

White Whining

The latest mock outrage making its way 'round the internet is the term "white whine". If one is in a privileged position - and on a global scale, having internet access and white skin is a position of privilege - than any complaints about the trivial matters of life are labelled as a white whine.

Sure, most of these complaints are trivial. But does that mean we're not allowed to have them? This morning I got up, after a fitful few hours sleep with a ten week old baby, to discover our fridge seals have died, so the fridge door was essentially open all night and all the food inside went bad and had to be thrown away. Whilst I was cleaning it up and throwing out food we could financially have done without having to replace with a new baby, Christmas coming up, and a bunch of unforeseen expenses, BabyG added abundantly to the mess as only a baby can (I'm trying to be delicate), requiring a bath, change of clothes, and to scrub his bouncinette. And the ground coffee I'd bought to help cope with the lack of sleep turned out to be decaf.

Petty? Trivial? Hell yes. I know I am lucky to have a fridge at all, and a roof over my head, and BabyG a healthy baby; most people on Earth can't rely on any of these things. And yes I have had genuinely bad things happen in my life. But none of that makes cleaning up baby poop or rotten cheeses with a caffeine deprivation headache and chronic lack of sleep more fun. I like to think I'm not a selfish person. I've chosen a career in helping others. But dammit, it's important to let this stuff out; I'm cranky and exhausted. Accuse me of white whining and I won't deny it, but let me have it, please. As long as one remembers how good one really has it, the white whine is a harmless way to let off steam every now and then. Otherwise I, and others like me, will hoard all our anger in a tight little ball until it is released at an inappropriate moment, possibly whilst drinking. And we can't have that, can we?

11 November 2011

Fighting Misogyny - What's Wrong With Men Call Me Things

When I first heard of the Men Call Me Things campaign on Twitter, I was deeply concerned. Not because I disagree with the aim of the campaign - feminist writers using the #mencallmethings exposing the vile misogynistic comments, including threats of rape and murder, they receive from pieces of distended monkey rectum who hide behind the anonymity of the Internet whilst calling themselves "men".  I was horrified at the sheer extent and nastiness (if that is not too mild a term) of the abuse that some of the victims, including Mel Tankard Reist, Emily Maguire, and Nina Funnel, have been subjected to. I am not denying for one second that there is an undertone of misogyny to much of our culture or that there is great structural inequality inherent in our society. It manifests in the most horrific way on the Internet in the cowards who hurl women-hating abuse at the women who dare to speak out about it.

Given all that, I just can't help but wish that those involved in this worthwhile campaign had called it something other than Men Call Me Things. There's the problem - men. Not some men, awful men, men who disgrace the rest of them, but generic men who are carrying out these acts. I think in the long term, it does the cause of feminism more harm than good to paint "men" as the enemy. Please don't misunderstand me - I am not suggesting men are the victims here, nor am I saying that we have to be nice to men in the hope they will decide to let us share the power.

Tarring all men with the same brush, however, only serves to perpetuate the belief in some sections that hating women is what men do. Confusing misogyny with men in general helps to normalise these attitudes.If hating women was stigmatised as the view of a disturbed subsection of the male community, more young men would be driven to reject it. If boys grow up hearing the message "men are awful" there's a very real risk some of them will internalise it; say to themselves "yes we are and yes I am". This is the last thing any of us should want. The message I want my son to grow up hearing is not that he is a male (working on the assumption for the sake of this post that he will self-identify as male) and males do awful things; but that he is a male and he must join in upholding attitudes and behaviours which respect women and disdain those few males who do not have that respect.

Twitter is great, but it has it's limits (140 characters, in fact); so I hope I've been able to make myself a little clearer here.

02 November 2011

Why Retail Is Dying

Yesterday, I was attempting to purchase a breastfeeding bra when the sales assistant approached me and said "You look lost".

"No, I'm not", I replied. "I'm simply trying to buy an attractive, yet supportive and comfortable feeding bra, something I would imagine there would be some demand for, and as stunning as it may be to you, the perplexed, dismayed look on my face is not one of astonishment at the breadth and complexity of your product range, therefore requiring the expertise and mastery of one such as yourself to gently guide me through it. It is sheer fucking frustration at your mediocre little range of maternity bras in this, purportedly Australia's largest lingerie retailer; annoyance that all you can offer are a few dull, unsupportive bras in a choice of beige or black only, and in a completely inadequate range of sizes - I'd make an educated guess that at least 40% women require a bra larger that what you have on offer. I guess stocking a decent range of maternity bras would reduce the amount of floor space available to sell your french maid and naughty nurse costumes. Sure, maternity bras aren't as sexy as the outfits you flog to fake-tanned twenty year olds to titillate their gormless boyfriends with the perpetuation of female stereotypes, but given that I would hope many women would spend at least as much time breastfeeding as following the advice of Cosmo articles on how to excite your man, then providing a decent maternity lingerie range would make sense form a business point of view, even if it did detract somewhat from your desired "naughty", hip young image. And given all this, I find it frankly condescending and a little rude that you act like the problem is on my end, not yours."

Well, that's what I should have said. Instead I said "Sorry, you don't have what I'm after", and walked out. Damn.