I’ve been too busy to write – but here’s what I did in my spare time:
I’ve been too busy to write – but here’s what I did in my spare time:
If you were new to the world of occupations, you might think that social work involved handing around devils on horseback at cocktail parties and assisting with small-talk, lubricating conversations with a little bubbly. You might imagine innovative social workers developing new ways with bacon and prunes. But the reality is that there is more emphasis on the ‘work’ than the ‘social’. It’s not so social, except in the lunch-room, sharing stories of people’s devastating hardships over a gluten-free salad. I’ve been hanging about the lunch-room and this is the healthiest lunch-eating workforce I’ve ever seen.
Social workers are often criticised as ‘do-gooders’, but I’d rather be around them than do-badders. My experience is that social workers’ hearts are in the right place (which is literally a bit to the left). What’s wrong with a do-gooder? Why is the road to hell paved with good intentions? If I were to predict who might be going to hell at the cocktail party I’d say it isn’t going to be the do-gooders but the canapé eaters. The do-gooders just lay the paving because they need the extra money. That’s why they’re handing out those canapés. Do-gooders often aren’t high-earners.
I’ve recently been involved in two workplaces: Odyssey House and the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre (ASRC). Both places are full of do-gooders and I have to say there are fewer wankers per capita than any other workplaces I’ve ever been in. When you walk in their doors you can assume that you will be surrounded by people who are driven by compassion.
In fact when I first walked into the ASRC at lunchtime, where they prepare and serve a meal for 200 people every day, I was moved to tears by the palpable feelings of kindness and safety. No-one is ramming their political canapés down anyone’s throat, although everyone enjoys any opportunity to stick it up Peter Dutton.
It’s probably the same critics of do-gooders that use ‘PC’ as an insult. I find it hilarious that various politicians dismissively and disparagingly use the term ‘politically correct’ when they’ve been caught out being racist, sexist, homophobic, selfishly non-inclusive and obliviously privileged. I find it even more hilarious to discover that Tony Abbot and Alan Jones launched a book last year by Kevin Donnelly, called ‘How Political Correctness is Destroying Australia.’ Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. I have to laugh out loud, like the humorous feminist that I am. A whole bunch of guys got together at the Sofitel Hotel last year to talk about it. I imagine that launch to be populated by lots of men in beige shorts with long socks and Brylcreem in their hair. The kinds of chaps who, if they do any cooking it’d be at the BBQ and if they’re super cheeky they’d have a BBQ apron with breasts on the front. That sort of thing isn’t offensive, is it? It’s all a bit of a lark. The kind of humour that makes Australia GREAT and that Political Correctness is destroying. Alan Jones apparently said, ‘It’s a crisis.’
These guys use the term Politically Correct to imply zealous over-policing, censorship and humourlessness when it comes to bigoted, hurtful and dangerous language – the kind of language that hairy-legged, humourless feminists won’t stand for. But actually nor will the ones that wax and laugh often and loudly til they piss themselves (the smooth-shinned, humorous but slightly incontinent feminists).
Don’t you think these long-socked, shorts-wearing dudes are making a mistake to put themselves in opposition to ‘correctness’? A semantic, metaphorical and political mistake? What’s the opposite of politically correct? Surely it’s politically INcorrect? Are these Brylcreemed fuddy duddies unwittingly setting themselves up as the bad guys? It often comes down to their inflexible, unthinking, insensitive, old-fashioned use of language and, perhaps, a lack of the smarts in understanding that language changes. I can’t believe this old Kevin is still employed as an educator in a university (albeit a Catholic university).
Language evolves. I’m old enough to remember when we struggled to call the person who ran a meeting anything other than a chairman. And we couldn’t even think of the people who put out fires as anything other than firemen. Maybe these wallies don’t need to remember that far back because they’re still stuck in time. They tend to be associated with political parties that are still debating quotas. They possibly think of women as a minority group (because in those parties, they are).
At his book launch, Kev told them all a story, that he said was true, about a school banning the great Aussie song, ‘Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree’ because of the last line, ‘Gay your life must be.’ If his story is true, then that would, of course, be ridiculous. I suspect that story is an urban myth of their own making because the only people who’d think of banning the song would be people who are uptight about the word ‘gay’ which probably wouldn’t be the PC people that are making Kevin, Alan and Tony so unhappy, but maybe some hard-done-by kookaburras who need to explain that life is neither merry, merry, nor gay and that they’re not really laughing. The humourless feminists of the bird world.
It brings to mind the extraordinary over-reaction of the un-PC community last year when people spoke up to say that they found Mark Knight’s cartoon of Serena Williams offensive. The thing is, dear entitled white wallies, no matter how much you protest that the intention wasn’t racist and no matter how much you feel the need to band together to protect your journo, cartoonist club buddies, you simply can’t deny that someone felt upset by that image. A whole community of people. Not PC people. People with a long history of being oppressed and derided. The grown-up, kind, compassionate thing would be to say, ‘Oh, that wasn’t my intention, but I’m sorry to upset you.’ Instead of, ‘I’m not racist.’ ‘He’s not racist.’ ‘Australia isn’t racist.’ Oh, please. Put on your big-boy pants and act your age.
Entitled people don’t get it. They haven’t had to. But the louder the previously silenced voices are, the more they’ll be heard. They’ll have to get it eventually, because the tides are turning. We are evolving. Humans are choosing to be kind and compassionate. People are realising that everyone can be do-gooders. Even right wing humans. Not just social workers. Social workers have a lot to do, patching up the damage of the patriarchy and everyone’s realising they need to pitch in. Women are calling out the behaviour of men in their own political parties and leaving them to quibble about quotas and merit in their echo-chambers. There will be no-one left in, or at, their parties. No-one left for them to re-produce with, so the species will have to evolve. Survival of the fittest and all that. Survival of the kindest. Survival of the most flexible. The only female-like company they’ll have will be the guy with the BBQ tongs and the boob apron.
Anyone can be PC with their language if they want to be. Even entitled, right wing people. And everyone’s going to want to be PC when the witty, shiny-shinned-but-slightly-incontinent feminists take over the world. It’s just a matter of time. At Kevin’s launch party they stood around talking about the crisis, the zealots who are imposing ‘groupthink’, the march of the left. They cited feminism, gender and marriage equality as destroying our great country while omitting to mention the destruction of patriarchy, capitalism and colonialism and the values that perpetuate violence against women, drug and alcohol addictions, homelessness and the stuff that social workers deal with every day. The Kevins, Alans and Tonies of the anti-PC ilk, unashamedly professing their white, male superiority seem unbelievably naïve and childishly petulant yet old enough to know better. They’re clearly floundering with change. It’s no march, old chaps. It’s evolution. It’s intelligent people speaking up. It’s long-oppressed people having a voice. And it’s going to make Australia greater though it will upset your status quo. It’s going to poop your parties. The canapés are changing. Finger food is diverse and delicious. Devils on horseback have galloped away.
Deck the malls with boughs of holly. Fa la la la la la la la la. I haven’t had time to write because I haven’t had time to think. I haven’t had time to think my own thoughts. Whose thoughts have I been thinking, then? The post-colonialist, capitalist, patriarchal Christians, that’s who. They take the reins in my brain in the lead up to Christmas (note sleigh reference) and I’ve come to realise that a secular, Southern Hemisphere Xmas is one of the most stressful kinds there is. In fact stress is one of the few Christmas traditions that is truly ours.
Firstly, you may have noticed I equivocate between writing the full ‘Christmas’ with the capital ‘C’ and ‘Xmas’ which is quicker and less confronting for an atheist, though apparently the X is the first letter in the Greek word for Christ. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against Christ. I feel sure he was a very nice fellow, I just don’t feel that he is my lord or saviour. Equivocating is exhausting and takes up unnecessary brain space that could be spent ordering roller skates online or at least thinking about ordering some ideologically sound, feminist presents long enough ahead to accommodate our postal and delivery service, which leads me to another pre-Xmas source of stress.
The dog barks at every delivery person. I’m ashamed and guilty. It’s my fault. I can’t stop him from protecting me. Actually, he’s much more my saviour than JC, albeit a noisy one. I can barely hear myself apologising to those brave couriers on the doorstep for my aggressive dog let alone my terrible, spiky, unrecognisable, on-screen signature on their little electronic proof-of-delivery machines. This occurs a lot more in the lead up to Xmas if I’m lucky enough to be at home when the well-planned, engineering-gifts-for-girls are delivered and I don’t have to conjure non-existent time to visit the post office during opening hours, which is challenging because I’m so busy equivocating about the spelling of the event to which the build-up is so stressful.
I know Jesus Christ was a good guy, though I don’t get how his followers came to be called Christians when he was Jewish. It all started with a confusing mish-mash of Jewish Christians that I’ll never understand, though they seem to have at least one thing in common, besides Jesus. Guilt. There’s lots to be guilty about, too. The excess wrapping paper, for a start. I try to recycle. I’m sure Jesus would recycle. If I buy, I aim to get a pattern that can be used on birthdays, but white snowflakes and red baubles are a bit of a give-away. Don’t even think about Santas. Which brings me to one of my main gripes.
Almost all of our Xmas traditions are from the Northern Hemisphere. The whole visual and musical aesthetic involves cold weather and snow. Santa’s fur-trimmed outfit, pine trees with snow-flakey decorations, sleighs that apparently have jingly bells, eating stodgy hot food with gravy and puddings with brandy. And what about Santa? What does he have to do with the Jesus Christmas thing? It’s as bizarre as Easter bunnies laying chocolate eggs. When you’re secular, the Santa myth is all you’ve got. My Muslim friend said, ‘What’s with that lie? You just set your kids up to disappoint them, and for what?’ The belief in a fat, old perv with a manic laugh that hangs around shopping malls and is in cahoots with creepy stalker-elves who spy on kids, that’s what. He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. I was getting Indian take-away on one of the nights leading up to the big day because I had no time to buy or prepare food or live my life with any semblance of normality. There was a really freaky Santa in the restaurant making balloon animals and he stooped down to poke his ruddy face in the face of the smallest member of a Muslim family entering the restaurant. Santa yelled, ‘I bet you didn’t expect to see ME here tonight, HO HO HO.’ The cowering child was clearly thinking, ‘No, I don’t even know who you are, Mister, with your non-matching cotton-ball beard but I wish you’d back off.’ Then Santa bellowed, ‘You sit down and I’ll come over in a moment, OK? HO HO HO.’ The child shrank into the drapes of his Mum’s burqa, whimpering, ‘Do we have to?’
I grew up in a secular Jewish household so JC wasn’t a thing (despite his Jewishness). We had a little plastic Xmas tree that we danced around, pretending we were fairies and we had pillows that got stuffed with gifts on Xmas eve until my big sister, thinking she was arming me with wisdom, told me at age 4 that Santa couldn’t possibly get around the whole world in one night. I remember staring into the darkness. The feeling of betrayal. But I still enjoyed opening my presents the next day. I got a twinkie doll with a set of molded plastic clothes.
Still a-religious but wanting to fit in, I felt I had to make up a more elaborate hoax for my daughter. I didn’t want her to go blabbing to the other kids about Santa’s existence, because no one thanks you for that. Having only heard ‘Jesus Christ’ as an expletive in the car, she actually believed the name of the nice fellow was a swear word and came home from kindergarten in shock, whispering, ‘Mum, they’re teaching us to sing Jesus Christ in songs!’ I had a bit of explaining to do about the little lord Jesus, his virgin mother, the three wise-guys who could’ve waited a couple of days before visiting the poor woman who must’ve been surprised as anything to be having a baby, though the myrrh probably helped her burning holy vag after squeezing out a watermelon-sized son of god, and all the other razzamatazz that they show you in what Ruby calls a ‘naivity’ scene. These days, thanks to Shrek, she’ll sing, The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Farquar, no crying he makes. That’s my girl. And she has no fear of being struck down. (I still hang onto a slight fear of smiting.)
In Ruby’s early days I’d post her polite letters to Santa in the North Pole (always asking how Mrs Claus was). We’d set out a big rope to tether Rudolf and his tireless cohorts, and leave a plate of carrots, some hay (from the guinea pigs’ cage) and a thermos of tea for the man in the red suit. For years I’ve been out the front at 11.30pm making a hoofy mess in the tan bark and spitting out chewed-up bits of carrot. And I gathered solar-powered lights for the garden which Ruby rarely saw because we have daylight saving down here and small children aren’t up after 9pm to behold the twinkling. I’m sad to confess I couldn’t be bothered climbing the trees again and getting spiders, twigs and dead bottle brush stuck in my hair so the lights stayed out all year in 2018. Not a single bulb flickered this Xmas. They’re just adding to my stress and guilt, strangling my native trees with perishing, pointless plastic. All is neither calm nor bright in my garden.
It’s not just the lack of warm weather Southern hemispheric, Aussie traditions. The stress is exacerbated by the fact that we end our school, university and working year, so the build-up to Christmas coincides with clambering towards a climax so exhausting that the sparkle is a little bleary-eyed. It’s not the end of the school year in England, is it? Over there, they just take a small break for festivities, having coolly made their puddings months ago, unflustered and familiar with the traditions of their own making. Here, the roads get busier making it harder to function, the shops explode with Xmas musak that echoes in our heads through all our activities, cotton wool balls become unavailable because all the shops are using it to decorate their windows with snow and everyone is trying to get closure on things that are not naturally closure-able.
This Xmas I discovered that there are endless work parties that prevent you from getting any work done during working hours to get closer to any kind of closure. Tis the season for enforced jollity so you don your gay apparel for long lunches, kris kringles and secret santas while your schoolkids are transitioning between year levels or schools and saying tearful goodbyes while you’re trawling the internet arranging a last-minute holiday, a house-sit, someone to water the garden, making lists so you don’t forget gifts for the poor old specialist subject teachers again not to mention the gatekeepers who work in the office whose thankless task it is to administer to our germy, sick children and protect the principal, sometimes with a ferocity similar to that of my saviour-dog.
Also, my daughter finished primary school with a graduation for which we had to make two extra trips to a shopping mall, dodging massive, shiny baubles to buy new shoes and a dress, after which I could not get ‘Deck The Halls’ out of my head. Still can’t. While she was having big, emotional farewells, my partner seriously sprained his ankle and lost mobility and I spiralled back into grumpy carer mode while participating with requisite merriment in the new workplace, achieving the closure effect on a project I’ve barely begun, planning the road trip towards Xmas with my Mum, who has dementia and arranging to meet staff where she lives to discuss her cognitive deterioration, using ‘Who Gives A Crap’ recycled toilet roll wrapping paper to appease my environmental guilt where possible, envying my neighbours for their functional strings of xmas lights when arriving home late from end of year choir gigs, trolling ancient yuletide carols without mention of our lord and saviour, cooking what food was left in the house, cleaning, packing and walking the saviour. Fa la la la la.
One of our great antipodean traditions is to get sweaty and red in the face roasting things on a hot Xmas morning. For some, the temperature rises with the anticipation of the annual family gathering of people who are politically and ethically opposed in a small space and the biting of the tongue to keep the heavenly peace for the oldest surviving matriarch or patriarch who doesn’t remember what anyone said five minutes ago but remembers every slight or perceived put-down in their ninety-something years. My little family goes against tradition by being relatively harmonious and only a little bit dysfunctional.
Then as soon as we’ve dealt with the wrapping paper and wiped the greasy baking dishes, fast away the old year passes and we’re compelled to reflect on the year that was, and prepare to hail the new with lads and lasses and not to forget our non-binary friends, too. My new year’s resolution was to get my Xmas blog written before next Xmas. I resolve to be more confident about writing and working. Just try not to undermine myself.
This year Ruby was old enough to stay up for the midnight fireworks and we were walking distance to one of the best viewing places for the fireworks on the Sydney harbour bridge. We were so close that the dog was utterly terrified by the noise and Nick stayed under the couch with our poor, trembling saviour. When we returned we watched some of the 7.30 report’s compilation of 2018 and I had to agree that a highlight was Scott Morrison and the team that organise him, totally embarrassing themselves by sending him on a bus trip (that he actually caught a plane to be on) to meet ‘the people’, be filmed saying ‘fair dinkum’ repeatedly and literally shove a meat pie into his gob indecorously, as if he has been told that ‘the people’ will like him more if he has no manners or respect. He is no Good King Wenceslas. If he and his unwise men think that voters will buy that behaviour and believe he is a man of ‘the people’ then things are looking very good for the labour party in 2019. Bill Shorten need do nothing while the liberals insult and underestimate Australians. Fair Dinkum.
There’s a build-up to NYE as well. There’s a minor panic about what to do, how to spend the few hours before midnight and which lads and lasses to say happy new year to. On the back of the Xmas stress and the unfulfilling closure, I can’t help but feel that the way I start the year will be indicative of how it will continue. Pressure.
And that’s why I’ve had no time to write. After NYE I indulged in some real Aussie Xmas holiday traditions, swimming in the sea, eating mangoes and cherries and hanging out with friends and family.
With the benefit of some really heavenly, summery peace, I’ve had time to add to my new year’s resolutions. I resolve to mock Scott Morrison several times during this election year. And I’ve already achieved my first two resolutions. Number three is to bring down the patriarchy.
I’d love to say that I’m unashamed of my age. I’d love to say that I’m proud of every untamed grey hair, every wrinkly path on my mappy-face showing just how many adventurous road trips I’ve been on. I wish I didn’t feel a little bit hurt when an innocent-but-irritating child asks me how old I am and, when I tell them, gasps, incredulously, ‘You’re as old as my grandma!’ wondering how I still have my own teeth at fifty-five. But we live in a culture in which adults will still splutter behind their hands at that question, ‘You can’t ask a lady her age.’ And avert their gaze.
Why is everyone so cagey about it? At what age do you stop being proud of being one year older – of having a birthday? Forty? Is it when people stop being astounded at your precocity? Thirty? Is it when you can no longer get away with cute? Seven? And then at what age do you pick up the pride again, just because you’re still breathing albeit in a wheezy, puffy way? Eighty? Just before you lose track.
I’d love to be proud but unfortunately I’ve been applying for jobs that are inevitably in fun, fast-paced environments and I feel the need to apologise for my age despite the fact that it comes with more experience than those youthful, fast-paced funsters could poke a stick at. More skills than they’ve had hot neo-paleo dinners (and by the way, those dinners were chewy and flavourless the first time around). What young people don’t realise is that ‘fast-paced’ is code for ‘produce ten days work in five’. Quantity over quality. Fast-paced means impatient, hyper-caffeinated people who jiggle their knees while you take time to think. ‘Fun’ is code for ‘we have mugs in the office kitchen with swear words’.
I agonise over whether or not to dye my hair before interviews or to take the dates off my CV that go back thirty years. Admittedly, that was before the internet which makes me a dinosaur, but the things that engage us and govern human communications are still basically the same. We like to laugh. Too much text on screen sends us to sleep. Zzzz. Hey, wake up, I haven’t finished yet. Prod. Have some respect for your elders. Respect for your dinosaurs.
I was once acclaimed and funded as an emerging artist. Charming, precocious, clever and confident. Youthful potential and all that. Perhaps I peaked too early. Then I became submerged. Life. A spot of bad luck. I was forced to take time out from the world of work. Let me tell you, there are no grants around for re-emerging artists as I drag myself, squelching out of the quagmire, dripping with stagnant river weeds in my hair. Yeh, nah, not so charming.
I had an unexpectedly easy pregnancy and labour, giving birth to a healthy baby when I was 43. It was unexpected because every newspaper, magazine and conversation seemed to be telling me that it’d be hard to get pregnant at my age and that everything else would be harder. The lead up to turning 40 was tragic and fearful, because I really wanted to have a child, I wasn’t in an appropriate situation and I was filled with envy and longing when I saw small children holding hands with their parents. In those years ageing felt like diminishing. Diminishing fertility in particular, but we also fade a little in our hair colour and our lip colour. I never revelled in the joy of excelling in the workplace, although I was kicking goals, winning awards and getting gigs. I was too busy diminishing.
After a few years focused on bringing up the aforementioned healthy baby while running a couple of choirs, followed by a few years almost entirely out of the workforce as the carer for my acutely unwell partner, I went back to uni, blitzed it with an HD and a vice-chancellors award as I’m told older women often do, and started to look for work again.
The first job I applied for interviewed me at length over the phone. I mentioned my age three hundred times in 30 minutes, that’s ten times a minute or once every six seconds. I felt I needed to explain why there was a gap in my CV. And when they said, apologetically, that the salary was only a junior salary starting at $70k, I spluttered and said, ‘Well anything’s better than the carer pension.’ A word of advice for anyone looking for work. Don’t mention the word ‘pension’. It’s unattractive. It’s synonymous with ill-fitting dentures.
I was employed for a year or so working in schools as a ‘senior artist’ referring to my experience, of course. When I was, again, called by a potential employer, the woman on the phone asked me, ‘What is your experience in the leadership and management space?’ I didn’t know if she meant what was my experience in writing resources for leadership and management or what was my actual leadership and management experience. Having recently been referred to as a ‘senior artist’, I thought this might be helpful in explaining to her that I had a lot of experience in both, but then I remembered that it wasn’t an arts job so I shouldn’t say ‘artist’. I said, ‘I’m a senior…’ and then my brain jammed and nothing else came out of my mouth for several seconds that seemed like minutes to which she replied, ‘There’s nothing wrong with that,’ in a voice that sounded like she’d definitely made up her mind that she didn’t want to employ a senior and there was, indeed, something undesirable about employing seniors.
Since then I’ve had quite a few freelance writing, training and learning design jobs but each time I go for one I’m older. Despite accruing more and more experience it still feels like there is something wrong with being a ‘senior’ whatever I am. Another word of advice – put something after the word senior. Senior full stop won’t get you the job.
The choir I run recently posted a few songs on Face Book that I wrote in response to political events. For example, I wrote a marriage equality song to contribute to the lobby for the YES vote, the choir learned and recorded it in a night and FaceBook analytics told us that the song reached over 44000 people. We just did the same with a song rhyming Dutton with glutton and Sco Mo with FOMO, again reaching a surprisingly large audience. It makes me feel proud and successful. Face Book analytics told me yesterday that the choir page is popular with women between the ages of 55-64. ‘There’s nothing wrong with that’, I thought, although I could feel, even in myself, the same quaver of doubt that job interviewer had.
Actually it’s great. I wouldn’t mind if women in that age group were my only audience, ever. There must be heaps of us. We are a desirable, money-spending, worldly-wise market. So why are we so undervalued?
Not long ago I was rejected for another job and felt doomed and demoralised. In my dejected state I Googled something that was bound to end in tears, something like ‘older women and employment’. I came across an article, written by a woman who was very quick to point out that she isn’t ‘older’ but how awful it is in our patriarchal world that women, who are past their fertile years and not valued as eye-candy or for their child-bearing potential, are not valued at all. Shit. It’s true. It’s bad but it’s true.
I watched Q and A on TV. They were talking about unemployment. One of the panellists said, ‘Let’s not forget about the elephant in the room.’ And went on to say how hard it is for anyone over 50 to get a job. No one really wanted to discuss it, mind you, and they quickly moved on. But I didn’t. I stopped listening and obsessed with the realisation, ‘I am the elephant in the room’. This big, old, grey, wrinkly elephant that can’t get a job, in spite of immense experience, solid qualifications, a fabulous sense of humour and my own teeth.
Maybe part of my elephantine problem is that I’m a tad cynical and unconvinced by corporate speak. I don’t aspire to be ‘lean’ or ‘agile’ in the business sense of the words. Agile. OK, maybe elephants are just a bit large for bending over backwards indoors, but it doesn’t mean we can’t be flexible. So what if we squash the gas out of your office chairs? It’s a small price to pay for deep, broad knowledge. Everyone knows the last one in the office gets the worst chair, anyway. There does seem to be a bit of work around in corporate training but I’m hesitant to take on the change management culture. I suspect that ‘change’ is code for ‘downsizing’. Training people in change management somehow puts the onus on the employees to be cheerfully flexible (not to mention fast-paced and fun) while taking on more roles and bigger workloads, because half their colleagues have taken redundancy payouts.
Out of desperation, I started putting together a proposal for a PhD. If I can’t work I might as well study (but shoosh don’t tell them I said that). Academia is another traditionally patriarchal institution. It’s full of stuffy rules and big words. In the process I’ve been reading, wavering between brain spasms where I think I’m not smart enough to understand a single sentence or get the referencing right, and inspiration at discovering research by a whole bunch of amazing women. A veil is being lifted from my eyes. While I was child-rearing, feeling insulted by being referred to as a grandmother, caring for my partner, feeling worthless and isolated and being told that feminism was dead, these women have been questioning everything we’ve come to value in this neo-liberal, capitalist, post-maternalism world of ours and they’ve come up with reasons why I feel so unvalued. They’re not personal reasons. They’re social and political.
I read an Anne Manne article written in the same year that Nick got sick. I’ve fallen in love with her because she’s helped me see that my problem is not my own. How does she do that? Live in the world, have children, be in a straight relationship and still have the ability to think and articulate ideas that are critical of the prevailing culture where I’ve been a hapless victim, accepting that this is the way things are and that the onus is on me to get over my miseries, adapt and improve my game.
Since having a child, I’ve felt outside of feminism because I bought the whole package that Anne Manne sees as ‘one version’ of equality. Convinced that women should be striving for equal representation in workplaces and boardrooms (and this view of equality doesn’t account for carers or maternalism as valuable yet women are still doing more than their fair share) while, in fact there is actually another possibility of equality that I didn’t really know about. I felt like I was being unfaithful to the cause by choosing to be a dependant primary care-giver and long-term breastfeeder. I felt guilty about letting Ruby play with Barbie dolls (but they were cheap and waterproof and I felt as long as I reminded her that women’s feet and breasts aren’t really like that, she wouldn’t grow up hating her own body.) I moved to predominantly heterosexual, gender binary suburbia with my male partner and found myself surrounded by straight, white, middle-class, younger mums who wore solitaire diamond engagement rings and had neat hair and I wanted Ruby to fit in because who wants their child to be a misfit? I thought I was a bad feminist (and found comfort in Roxane Gay). And I was a guilty feminist (and found company in Deborah Francis-White.) My only rebellion consisted of complaining about wisp-free ballet buns on Saturday mornings.
But, as I’m re-emerging into the world of creative work and ideas from the unvalued world of caring, things are shifting in seismic proportions. Around me, in politics, inside my head and my heart there is a growing awareness of what’s valued, what’s fair and what will actually help communities thrive. Guess what? It isn’t patriarchy. It isn’t corporate weasel words. It isn’t neo-liberalism. It isn’t the emphasis on economic growth at any cost. It isn’t negating the value of unpaid care (without which no market work would occur, as my new best friend Anne Manne says).
I was interviewed for a job by two grey-haired women. And got it. They were head over heels with enthusiasm about my skills, my experience and even the years spent as a carer that have developed my emotional intelligence and empathy. This elephant is leaving the room. I’m hoping there might be a stampede in the near future. There are a few things in our world that need to be trampled on.
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.
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 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.
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.