Twasn’t Ever Thus

My ideas of early human society and gender roles were shaped by that popular documentary known as The Flintstones, in which men went to work, taming and operating dinosaurs like cranes on stone-age building sites while the Wilmas and Bettys shopped and gossiped on horn-shaped phones. So I believed, as the patriarchy (and the Hollywood storytellers) would have it, twas ever thus.

Incidentally, the word ‘gossip’ used to refer to older women who, in the absence of twitter, reliably disseminated important information within their communities. God’s sibs (or gossips) were respected, trusted and obviously well networked. Gossiping is still regarded as the province of females, but trivial and usually breaching trust. Devolution.

Lately, as I observe the patriarchy crumbling around our ears and the patriarchs scrambling to retain their privilege with the most overt kind of bullying, I wonder how it came to be. Even our Greens politicians here in Victoria, who we feel ought to know better, have been exposed as verbally abusive and bullying, calling female workers ‘hairy legged feminists’ and ‘power pussies’ which, I hasten to add, I find hilarious because raindrops on roses, whiskers on pussies, hairy legs and feminists are a few of my favourite things, to misquote another iconic role model of mine, Sister Maria. If they called me a hairy legged feminist I’d say, ‘Thanks.’

Talking of power pussies, did you know that the uterine muscle is arguably the most powerful muscle in the human body? It’s three layers contract in multiple directions and, I can assure you, it’s a crazy, strong feeling to have muscles like that when pushing out a baby. When my uterus did it’s thing I felt like I was superwoman and if I could do that, I could do anything (after a smoked salmon sandwich and a nap, of course.)

Anyway, back to the patriarchy. These apoplectic buffoons clinging to their power would be hilarious if they didn’t actually have so much power. But things are changing. The #MeToo movement has drawn attention to who has been controlling the Hollywood stories. Women are leaving the Liberal party and exposing the awfully aggressive culture. Many people are suggesting that patriarchal values are destroying the planet and I’ve been feeling the need to imagine what life was like before the buffoons took over. I hope this might help to unravel this pickle the patriarchy has got us into. Oi, such a pickle. A planetary pickle. An emotional pickle. A gender role pickle. A political pickle. But I’m being unkind to pickles. It’s a tragic mess.

It seems to me that the actions that sustain communities are undervalued while the actions that sustain individual material growth are given an unbalanced, damaging amount of credibility and status. Divide and conquer. What I know is that, for a start, hunting isn’t what sustained the tribe. Gathering did (not to mention birthing and nurturing human life). That’s right. Killing a bison once every financial quarter was a treat and a reason to party, while the seeds and berries, although duller to the palate and obviously less celebrated, kept everyone going.

I’m not one hundred percent sure that gender roles were, in fact, divided into male hunters and female gatherers because I’m starting to doubt everything I’ve been taught in this patriarchal language with this patriarchal view of history. But I am sure that females were once worshipped. (And some deities were gender-fluid). Women were scholars, they led armies and they ruled.

I don’t believe women would have just handed over their power or that they were too busy wiping baby bottoms with pre-historic bio-degradable baby wipes to notice while the men decided to make laws to exclude them.

I read somewhere on a toilet wall that, “War is menstruation envy.” This could be true. What could be more powerful and enviable than giving life?

So maybe the Neanderthal guys needed some attention, I don’t know. Killing the bison felt good and everyone was appreciative and they got plenty of positive reinforcement for their triumph standing around the BBQ that they fired up once fire was invented. They received appropriate accolades protecting everyone from the sabre-toothed tiger but the appreciation wasn’t enough.

I figure the only way they gained control in the first place was by force, doing what they did best; the same brute force that killed the bison and the sabre-toothed tiger and probably left them in a post-traumatic state of hypervigilence so they continued to consider everything a threat, including women. And they’ve been doing it ever since. Yes, yes, not all men. I know lots of fabulous men who are big advocates of dismantling the patriarchy. It’s not so much about gender as about privilege, so of course not all men but how about all patriarchs? Regardless, like all oppressive regimes, it began and is perpetuated by threat and force.

There was a time when collectivism was probably more the go, but the one-God religions, like Christianity, managed to convince everyone to try the hierarchical model. (I’m being very generous when I use the word ‘convince’.) Somewhere in the process of creating a hierarchy in which men were at the top, they turned activities that women did, such as cooking everything except the BBQ and healing, into professions that became the provinces of men with new rules to keep women out. (They’re still doing that, too.) They also re-wrote the mythological stories, disempowering goddesses like Medusa so the power in her snakey hair was cut off, while developing new legends that connected men spiritually with weapons. Pointy, swordy weapons that were, of course, a little bit phallic. Excalibur and all that.

I heard a female political commentator suggest that the Australian Liberal party were in a constant state of trauma and their behaviour could be viewed as post-traumatic. What about all politicians? Well, have you listened to Bob Katter? Every time someone suggests he has a Lebanese heritage he says something like, “My mother would have slapped me if I was so rude as to ask where she was from.” This, to me, sounds like denial and trauma, and the need for more mental health care funding rather than an intelligent contribution to the immigration debate.

And I’ve read a bit recently about inter-generational trauma and the way stress can modify our genes. There was one cool study that exposed male mice to a particular aroma while doing something ouchy to them. The descendants of those male mice, two generations on, still reacted with fear when exposed to the same aroma (even without the ouchy aspect.) I got to thinking that maybe the whole patriarchy is based on trauma. Maybe, in this hypervigilant state of PTSD, they have to make up rules in a panic, to keep perceived threats at bay, crazy rules, like ‘women aren’t allowed to do stuff’ and then a couple of thousand years later the rules are that ‘women simply can’t do stuff because they’re not capable’. ‘We patriarchal chaps are better at killing sabre-toothed tigers than our womenfolk. They’re a trifle fuzzy headed, too, after all that shopping, gossiping, embroidery, spinet-playing, child rearing and whatever the little ladies do when we’re out doing important things like building our meritocracy.’

Oh boy, the meritocracy. They’re really struggling to hang on to that old chestnut in the Liberal party. It’s utterly ridiculous to suggest that women can’t do it, or that they’d be better placed in the home or that they don’t have the strength, resilience or ego to withstand the robust debate (which is code for ‘private schoolboy bullying’). It’s also ridiculous to suggest that anyone who isn’t a rule maker can get into the system just as easily as anyone who is a rule maker – because the rule makers decide what is meritorious. So, der, quotas are going to be the only way. It must be quite unnerving for the (apoplectic, buffoon) patriarchs to imagine that there might be a different kind of meritoriousness. A different way to communicate in parliament? Preposterous.

Of course women can rule. It’s not like they haven’t done it before. Look at Jacinda Ardern with a baby in one arm, running the country with her free hand. Six weeks after she had the baby she even went to address a teacher’s strike rally unscheduled (possibly in her slippers) – and the country is still going.

Meanwhile, those guys in the Australian Liberal Party were so busy power-mongering that they clean forgot to represent their constituencies. While they were playing not so nicely, “I’m the king of the castle and you’re the dirty rascal,” they even closed down parliament early. Just for a few moments we had no prime-minister, no government and no parliament. Since then the women have been leaving them in droves, exposing the remaining conservatives-evolved-from-traumatised-bison-killing patriarchs as bullies. So who do they imagine they are now representing? Not even the blue ribbon electorates are populated only by wealthy, white men.

Twas not ever thus. Twas different. Things need to change. Things are changing. Men and women are realising that we are all in the same pickle. Not just men and women, but the people who identify as non-binary who are audacious enough to suggest changing the language of the patriarchy, they’re in this pickle, too.

To change the language is unsettling and uncomfortable to our core; our way of understanding. Can we even understand without the words to articulate? Remember how we all resisted the word ‘chairperson’? I mentioned power pussies before. I hate the word pussy, even coming from Mrs Slocombe in ‘Are You Being Served’. But did you know that the word ‘vagina’ is Latin for ‘scabbard’? Uhuh. Somewhere to rest your sword. In the language of the padre, of course. I don’t know about you but my vagina has better things to do than fulfil it’s nominal function as a hilt. Squeezing out a baby to perpetuate the human race, for example. How dare they.


Where Have All The Yonis Gone?

We’ve just come back from beautiful Bali. Wherever there were tourists, there were penises. From day one, my twelve-year-old daughter couldn’t turn her head without being confronted by a penis. Penis bottle openers varying from petite to mega-schlong, beautifully hand-painted floral penis key rings, penis sculptures in stone and metre-high polished wood penises with legs. Ruby’s friends begged her, via Skype, to bring them back a penis but I refused, not just because I suspected their parents might not feel entirely comfortable with the gift of a penis for their pre-pubescent girls, no matter how many pink flowers are on it, but also because the penis has never been my favoured go-to object for opening bottles or hanging keys, and I couldn’t bring myself to enter into the expected bartering over something I felt less-than-enthusiastic about. There’s nothing like bartering to make me go all floppy.

We visited Tirta Empul, the Temple of the Holy Spring where people go to be cleansed of their past transgressions and purified before returning to their everyday lives. Nick took a few tourist snaps of each of the statues at the back of the temple, one of which was a short dude happily clutching his body-length lotus-knob. I found one small, plastic-covered information sheet that told us the temple, first built in 926 AD, housed one of Bali’s oldest artefacts, a yoni-lingam. And there’s a little photo. That’s all. No more. No yoni-print sarongs. With due respect to women and penis-sellers, it seems to me a yoni would be a better shape for a bottle opener.

Bali is a fascinating mix of tradition and tourism. Ritual and ceremony are an important part of everyday life regardless of tourists who are only there for the Bintang. In every corner and on every street there are fresh offerings to the gods and goddesses, the spirits and ancestors. Woven banana leaf baskets with petals, grains of rice, lollies, fruit and incense as well as the more elaborate offerings for special ceremonies made of coloured rice and intricate weavings and the magnificent bamboo penjor that arch over the roads. Fresh flowers adorn statues and carvings. There is beauty everywhere.

Their belief system is predominantly Hindu with a mixture of animism and Buddhism. I love the fact that, unlike Judeo-Christian belief, there is more than just the one, punitive authoritarian male god. Gods are male and female. Yes, females are worshipped. That’s got to have some influence of daily life. Surely there is some trickle down effect to their attitude to women? And it’s not just their gender, but Hindu gods and goddesses make mistakes, they’re naughty, sexual, destructive, wise, greedy, impulsive and remorseful. They’re just like humans, really, but with more powers. And in fact, some of them seem to be gender-fluid.

But still I have to ask, where have all the yonis gone? Is it just another manifestation of the imbalance that occurred with the rise of patriarchy? I read a great book by Merlin Stone a long time ago called, ‘When God Was A Woman.’ It’s the kind of book title that causes people on public transport to raise their eyebrows and shift away from you while you’re reading. One thing I’ve never forgotten is the story of some archeologists finding an Egyptian tomb – the biggest in the area. To everyone’s surprise, it housed the body of a woman. Instead of interpreting this to mean that she must have been the most important person around, those Christian fellows thought, ‘Oh, there must be a bigger pyramid down the road somewhere with a guy inside.’

This kind of archeological interpretation has influenced our understanding of history and civilisation to the point where goddess icons and old sculptures, statues and carvings of females have been reduced to having the significance of pre-historic Barbie dolls, rather than the fact that god was a woman. That is, women were revered and idolised.

Of course there are gender role restrictions in Bali, as there are everywhere in the world. But to my western, feminist eyes, it seems that there is a sense of the empowered feminine. It follows from the domestic through to the business world. The feminine, in Bali, isn’t necessarily equated with weakness. In my Melbourne world, to have power and respect women often take on more masculine qualities. Even our female newsreaders are expected to have deeper voices in order to carry authority. Feminine is low status.

In Melbourne, you don’t have to look very far to see lingam worship. I used to play music in pubs and the band rooms were covered in graffitied cocks and balls, usually in texta. In those days there weren’t so many women musicians, but even if there were more of us I’m not sure we’d have bothered scrawling yonis on the walls. My favourite bit of girl graffiti was, ‘War is menstruation envy.’

Serious gender disparity and the disruption of thousands of years of patriarchal thinking aside, I wonder if the Catholics had got into a bit more overt lingam worship and a bit less furtive, clammy lingam clutching behind the altar, they might have had a healthier culture. And if they hadn’t taken those almighty and active goddesses and rolled them into one, mild mother Mary, maybe she’d be able to give them all a good talking to. ‘Take a good look at yourselves. Have a think about your behaviour and when you’re ready, come back and say sorry for the last two thousand years.’

I wonder if there had been yoni key rings, bottle openers or big yonis with legs, would I have let Ruby buy some for her friends? In the end we got dolphins and turtles of indeterminate gender and returned to our monotheistic, patriarchal, wintery home with only the lingam that accompanied us (attached).

I hope you enjoy this month’s BONUS SONG. ‘What is it about the V word?’



Schnitz n Tits

           I can’t drive past the wall-sized bill poster ads for Schnitz ’n Tits without developing a twitch. As reluctant as I am to draw further attention to the place, I feel the need to workshop this.

            Firstly, I can’t believe there is a successful business out there in this post-Weinstein-hashtag world that specialises in serving crumbed meat while displaying women’s wobbly, bouncy, perky bits. Do they serve anything else? Or did they decide to serve only schnitzels because of the rhyme? Do they serve vegetables? Could they have other rhymes on their menu? Spuds with no duds? Beans with no jeans? Brussel sprouts with wet-lipped pouts? Or is it all just crumbed, fried meat? Without any fibre on the menu I’m worried that their patrons might be a little bit constipated.

And another thing, as an Australian with a European heritage I’ve always noted that most Aussies can’t say ‘schnitzel.’ The usually say, ‘snitchel’. Snitch n Tits just doesn’t work. It certainly isn’t satisfying to a poet’s ear. Maybe they’re motivated to educate their customers in pronunciation. Who are their customers? Who are these constipated, cosmopolitan men? (I’m making a HUGE assumption here that they are men).

There are no pictures on the ads. Just two big words ‘Schnitz’ and ‘Tits’ with a little ‘n’ in between. I’m relieved to report that at least they don’t spell tits with a z. Classy. I find the overuse of Z irritating (as in ‘Sizzaz n HairKutz’.) If there were Zs in their ad my reaction would probably develop into a full-blown seizure.

I hate that my twitching might draw my daughter’s attention to the wall-sized ad as we drive past. She might see it and think it’s a normal, regular, acceptable everyday thing for people to ogle womens’ breasts while being served crumbed meat.

I wonder am I legally entitled to complain? Do I have the energy to seek out the advertising standards bureau and trawl through all their Industry Codes? Probably not. I’ve had issues with other big signage but I’ve never officially complained because there seem to be too many obstacles to Official Complaining. I didn’t like those huge pictures of Tom Cruise on the side of the tram pointing a massive gun towards the vicinity of my daughter’s head. I didn’t love the big billboard for longer lasting sex because I had to explain things I wasn’t ready to explain – but I could live with that one. I’m not a total prude and I’m not a total party pooper. But there are some things I’d like to spare my eleven-year-old daughter for at least another few years, because for me it’s not OK. I don’t want it to be a normal, regular, acceptable everyday thing for men to ogle womens’ breasts while being served crumbed meat. And I bet those oglers with eleven-year-old daughters wouldn’t find it OK, either. Well, at least I hope they have the decency to have double standards.

I just read that there is a newish fast-food schnitzel chain called, ‘Schnitz’ that forced Schnitz n Tits to change their name to Schnitzel n Tits. This must be very sad for them. There goes their fabulous rhyme. I have a suggestion. What about Schnitzel n Titsel? Or Food with Clothes? Oh, hell, they can do what they want with their stupid business, which I’ve just promoted for them.

I wonder if they feel just a little bit embarrassed by the whole little boy bosom obsession. Granted, breasts are lovely. They’re symbolic of such power that at one stage medieval Christians attempted to exploit feminine representations of Jesus with milk-giving breasts in order to reach the pre-Christian Goddess market (well, that clearly didn’t catch on). And let’s not forget St Agatha, who cut off her breasts for God. Unfortunately someone misinterpreted the paintings depicting her sacrifice and poor old St Aggie’s breasts on the platter were mistaken for bells. She inadvertently became the patron saint of bell founders.

So, yeh, I know breasts are great. I’ve got some. They performed brilliantly when I was breastfeeding my baby. I don’t even mind a private, intimate ogling. But they’re not objects for public ogling consumption. They’re not objects at all. They’re part of the bodies of sentient beings who really don’t need their thoughts invaded by some superficial primate yelling, ‘Great tits’ from across the street. It’s not really a compliment. And I’d rather my eleven-year-old not see the big wall-sized posters that only exacerbate her pre-pubescent self consciousness and perpetuate the belief that it’s OK for women and girls to be objectified, dissected and judged. Because it isn’t. How about, ‘A balanced meal served to you by friendly humans with no tops on.’ OK, not catchy enough. Serves n Perves? A little more embracing of the possibility of gender diversity, not dissecting body parts, honest. I could live with that.

What Makes You Feel Old?

Arrested 01

A couple of years ago I suddenly realised I was an old person. It wasn’t from taking on the responsibility of parenting my parents, which is undeniably a milestone in growing up. It wasn’t the wiry, wilful, grey hairs or the fact that I needed a magnifying mirror to see my little moustache. No, not sagging flesh or the way lipstick runs into my lip wrinkles defined me as old. It was my utter incomprehension of the fashion that teenage boys were wearing – those jeans that make the phrase ‘the seat of your pants’ completely defunct. You know those jeans that were designed to sit so far below the hips that the seat of their pants in no way aligns with where a seat would be, unless these boys have developed new joints between the hips and knees in some evolutionary quirk.

I can understand that some young folk wear the waistbands of their overpants below the top of their underpants. Some folk’s pants are just falling down. Some young folk are showing off their BONDS or their Calvin Klein waistbands. That’s a brand getting consumers to advertise. Though who would look at that, asks my inner old lady let’s call her Agnes, and find it so desirable as to dash out and get ‘the look’. But not the whole underpant, surely. ‘What is that seat-defying fashion all about?’ cries my inner Agnes. ‘What used to be termed a waistband and still has tabs to slot a belt through, is underneath the whole buttock. It’s not even half-way!’ Agnes is bewildered and incensed. ‘Not even a roadie’s cleavage. A full buttock.’ There seems to be no functional or aesthetic reason for this terribly unflattering fashion choice. It’s not just one nerdy, genius boy whose family pays attention to academic matters but not appearances. It’s not one kid who has simply neglected to pull his pants up properly. It’s several youths walking around on the streets, in shopping malls, everywhere. The kid that brought out my inner Agnes for good was travelling up an escalator in front of me so I had time for a good ponder.

These boys weren’t scary to me. They weren’t seeking to look intimidating, like some youthful hairstyles and fashion statements in the past. Not mullets or mohawks. They’re weren’t sporting the hairstyles of generational defiance that boys have worn in different decades, first long, then short, then long and short at the same time, then all gelled up, then swept forward in defiance of their follicular destinies. These poor youths didn’t seem defiant at all. Just unfortunate fashion victims.

Anyway this isn’t about them. It’s about me. It’s about the moment that defined me as old. I’ve had an inner Agnes lurking all my life. I used to pretend. I joked about that suburban, fearful, critical, narrow-minded old lady that stereotypically peered out through the slats of her dust-free venetian blinds. But now I am her (although with considerably more dust). And since she emerged the others have crawled out of my internal woodwork. I now have multiple old lady personality disorder or maybe I shouldn’t pathologise it. Maybe it’s a syndrome rather than a disorder. I’ve also become the Beryl who makes ‘oofing’ noises as she stands up from the sofa, and Cynthia, who complains about her aches and pains. Not just any aches and pains. Arthritic pains, that are worse in cold weather and bunions that change the shape of her shoes. And Eileen who wears loose, patterned tops to conceal her ever-expanding girth and has become a big fan of elasticised waistbands. And Nancy who squints at all writing not just the fine print, whose arms are never long enough to hold anything at a legible distance but who is fortunately tech savvy enough to make the text on her mobile so large that a single phone number is too wide to fit on the screen.

After 50, Agnes, Beryl, Cynthia and Nancy get sent a poo sample collection kit from the government to test for bowel cancer. Once every five years we all get a little bit of stage fright, getting out the plastic sheet, the little tube, the little brush and the instructions and then putting it all away again repeatedly until our natural urges finally overcome the fear of having to really face our own shit. We have to do not one but two different samples on different days. And they don’t give us much space to write our names and the date on the tube, especially with our deteriorating eyesight. You under 50 year olds have no idea why we’re so cranky around poo sampling time. This year I did my sample on February 14th so I wrote ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’ on the form. I was feeling successful and happy after completing the task and filled with empathy for the people whose job is to be on the receiving end.

You might be feeling sorry for us old ladies by now. Those ridiculous young man pants seem to have faded from view to be replaced by my stretchy old lady crankypants. Fashion fads may have come and gone but Agnes and her friends are here to stay.