By Amy Gray
2016 was so tumultuous that we almost looked forward to 2017, despite it promising more of the same. 2017 certainly delivered on that promise, becoming a neck-snapping whiplash of woe, raising the stakes and stress levels in just two months.
Thankfully, for every action, there is a reaction and the world won’t disappoint, with massive protest movements, media awareness and activist responses. But it’s going to take a lot of energy to cope with the news, let alone our response as we live in an increasingly aggressive and scary world.
That’s where self-care comes in. We naturally know how to look after our body but often don’t, as well as neglecting other aspects, like our emotional wellbeing in the face of stress, discrimination and information overload.
Self-care is an explicitly feminist act, too, in a world that actively ignores women’s needs. The notion of feminine sacrifice is mythologised: the mother who tends to everyone else’s needs except her own, asking nothing in return for her work. Or black women who endure discrimination while expected to educate others. It’s almost as if conditioning women to ignore their needs is the perfect con – its easier to oppress a group if they’ve never been taught to realise they are important.
Audre Lorde, civil rights and feminist icon, knew the importance of self-care, saying “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self preservation, and that is an act of political warfare”.
Not only is self care going to get you through 2017, it’s going to let everyone know you will not take a back seat in the world.
Self-care may sound soft and fuzzy but can be hard to do – lack of time and money can make it hard to find the time and ability to care for yourself. Make do the best you can: find the cheapest healthy food you can source, find free and safe areas for exercise, encourage others to care for themselves and develop the awareness that your mental and physical health is your first priority.
But what does good-self care look like?
The first step is knowing what you need and making you the first priority in your life.
For women who have been trained to look after everyone but themselves, the ability to listen to your mind and body can be a challenge to develop but is crucial.
- Rest when your body feels fatigued instead of exhausted,
- Eat healthily when you’re hungry instead of starving, and
- Look after yourself daily instead of waiting until you’re overwhelmed.
Knowing what you need will help you realise we have different ways of meeting those needs, and different challenges in making that happen.
Feed your body
Self-care doesn’t get more basic than treating your body well.
- Eat regularly, sneak in plants, buy as many good ingredients your budget will allow, try new foods and hustle in a treat every now and then.
- Exercise according to your body’s ability and needs – a little every day (especially as you go about your business) can do wonders.
- Get as many hours of sleep as your body and schedule needs.
- Talk with your doctor about your health and make Medicare work for you, including getting a health care card if you qualify.
- Take sick leave! It’s one of the few times “entitlement” sounds good.
- Drink water
- Your body and mind do amazing things so make sure you love them
Rest your mind
In an age of information overload, 2017 is already overwhelming whether it’s everyday life or everyday politics.
Give yourself a time limit when it comes to news and social media to minimise stress. Filter the accounts and replies you see, turn off notifications on your phone and remember social media is a optional conversation, not an obliged performance.
When you feel stressed, take a step back and let your mind rest in quiet or reach out to a friend or medical professional.
Get your affairs in order
As boring as it sounds, yes, taking care of life admin is an act of self-care. That ignored homework or approaching deadline, that bill or tax return are sources for potential stress.
While it’s natural to want to avoid these tasks, the more we avoid the more we bring additional stress into our lives, which can affect our mental and physical health. It’s often spectacularly useless stress too, like avoiding making a difficult phone call only to realise how stress-free the actual conversation could be.
So yes, it may not be the most glamorous of advice but getting your affairs in order on a daily basis will bring you relief and improve your health. Plus, you’ll get stuff done – it’s a win-win.
Give it a break
This is where we get to the fun stuff – do what you love. Nothing refuels us like spending time with the people and hobbies we love. Find beauty in what you watch or read and express yourself free from social obligation.
Maintain your boundaries in relationships with others and the world.
There’s a pressure to be available for everyone – friends, workers, children and random damn strangers on the street – but just because there is pressure doesn’t mean it’s a real need. You’re obliged to look after yourself so you can continue to live and thrive.
While you may feel guilt about this, remember you take up as much space as the next person and need to look after yourself. Once you realise that, things become clearer: you don’t need to justify why you’re not constantly available, start every conversation with an apology or even broadcast it in advance. Just be yourself and look after yourself – that it has to be said shows how important it truly is.
This is why Audre Lorde maintains self care is an act of political warfare: because women looking after themselves is truly radical.
So look after yourself first and then enter the fray as we take on 2017.
Amy Gray interviews Ruby Hamad
Ruby Hamad is QVWC’s keynote speaker for International Women’s Day. A prolific writer for the Sydney Morning Herald and SBS, she often appears on the Drum to give nuance and intelligence to the daily news.
Her intelligent writing offers an education into systems of oppression happening locally and abroad, from the food we eat, things we buy and races persecuted for their nationality and religion.
One thing is clear: Ruby will challenge current notions about feminism, our obligations and what true change could look like in her upcoming speech “Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and the Global South: When Feminism and Neoliberalism Collide”.
AG: You weren’t a fan of a recent H&M advertisment lauded for being ‘diverse’ while people ignored its history of exploiting women workers. Do you think people are being sold an empty feminism?
Ruby Hamad: Yes. Empowerment is about liberation and empowering you to take control but I think the way we sell empowerment is about making you feel good about what you’ve already chosen. That’s not liberation – the idea of liberation is to be free from that.
AG: Yet instead of liberation we’re assuming a simple battle between good or bad choices, or heroes and villains. Isn’t that dangerous?
RH: The problem with that is we don’t really interrogate or examine our choices. In fact, we’ve got feminism to the point where there are no bad choices anymore, whatever you do is [considered] a good choice.
We’ve taken choice from the feminist concept of abortion and the right to control your body and broadened choice to mean that anything you do or choose is feminism. That’s not the case, because those choices have consequences, not necessarily for us but for other people.
So if we’re choosing H&M clothing (or most clothes these days) we are directly perpetuating the exploitation of other women and people in sweatshops making those clothes. We’re still choosing the oppression of women in other parts of the world that we don’t see every day.
AG: it’s not just about we’re too obsessed with choice, it’s about interrogating our choices not just for ourselves but others and examining the impact of them.
RH: Yes! What I’ve seen is when you bring up sweatshops and people get quite upset, like ‘well, you’re now shaming women who don’t have the money to buy (non-sweatshop clothes), it’s not their fault what companies do in Bangladesh and in India’.
That’s where we’ve really dropped the ball because drawing attention to these practices does not mean we are shaming individual people for making that choice.
That goes for people across the board for anything. If we’re talking about why women are changing their names after marriage, each critique of society is taken as a rebuke against every single individual and it’s not. We can still say women have the right to get married but that doesn’t mean you can’t look at the history of marriage as a patriarchal institution.
AG: How does this tie in with that superficial view of feminism that wants the easy win (like an H&M ad) rather than ongoing work and critique?
RH: It’s a shallow victory; it’s representation over structural change. Representation is important and should reflect a challenge to exploitation but, at the moment, it just gets thrown up as a substitute.
[The H&M ad] is an advertisement; it’s not going to translate into more women in parliament or meaningful change. It should reflect changes across the board rather than a token that’s meant to keep us happy but not seek change.
AG: Is the problem that feminism is increasingly seen as an identity instead of an act of resistance against oppression?
RH: Yes, and I think this is the tension. Identity is important, identity politics are important but what we really have is that we’ve bought too much into the individual.
When we talk about systemic oppression that affects the individual – it affects us all as individuals – however, it is not aimed at individuals, it is aimed at groups.
Women’s oppression is aimed at all women. I don’t think that you really can address systemic oppression at an individual level because then you have to address every individual in every single conversation and every single issue and that’s impossible.
I don’t have children and I never will, so I’m not going to be affected by attitudes to breastfeeding in public or the impact of getting pregnant will have on my career and relationships, but these are still feminist issues. But I don’t feel the need to be included in that because it doesn’t affect me as a person but it does affect me as a part of this group called women
Ruby’s keynote speech continues QVWC’s tradition of women challenging the status quo and moving feminism ahead with blistering intelligence. Last year’s keynote speaker Celeste Liddle made international news with her talk on feminism and Indigenous Australia and this year will be just as substantial and spectacular.
Book tickets to Ruby Hamad’s keynote International Women’s Day speech online: https://www.trybooking.com/book/event?eid=257214.
By Karen Woulfe
There’s been a lot of talk during the US Election about Americans potentially voting in their first female President Hillary Rodham Clinton (and avoiding certain apocalypse).
Similar excitement was shown (though more sedately) in Australia when Julia Gillard became the country’s first female Prime Minister. In the resulting fracas, Gillard’s leadership lasted three years under a constant barrage of challenges and sexist abuse from the coalition.
I’ve always found it a bit strange, particularly regarding this US Election, that a female candidate was such a big deal and unprecedented in countries that consider themselves ‘civilised’ and ‘modern’. Because, despite all of their alleged advances, the West is a bit behind when it comes to electing female leaders.
This was evident during a game of Trivial Pursuit with friends in Melbourne. When asked ‘which country had the first female Prime Minister?’ the only responses were, New Zealand and the UK. It seemed to me my friends were completely unaware on half the world’s female political leaders.
Might the West need to look further East?
Because here’s the answer to that Trivial Pursuit question, which I frustratingly knew but couldn’t answer: Sri Lanka. The country of my parents’ birth.
Way back on 21 July 1960, Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike, a 43-year old, widowed (her husband, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, then Prime Minister, had been assassinated the year before, by a Buddhist monk) mother of 3, became Sri Lanka’s and, the world’s, first female Prime Minister.
At the time of Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s election, Hillary Diane Rodham would have been a child of just 12 years old. Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, hadn’t even been born yet.
But Sri Lanka had the world’s first female Prime Minister.
I began writing this during America’s election day, and by now we know that the country self-proclaimed as ‘Leader of the Free World’ is still unable to elect a female head-of-state, choosing instead an inconsistent, inexperienced, racist, misogynist reality TV star.
No such issue in Sri Lanka (Third World, eh?). Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike served her first term as Prime Minister until she lost elections at the end of 1964.
During her first term, she implemented a socialist agenda, bringing many sectors of the economy back under public control including banking, insurance, Catholic Church-owned schools and, oil companies. Though these actions ruffled a few foreign superpowers’ feathers (US & UK), she was expert at foreign relations, moving the country closer to agreements with India, China and the then Soviet Union.
This was just the beginning. In 1970, as leader of the United Front Coalition - a coalition consisting of the party founded by her late husband, the SLFP (Sri Lanka Freedom Party), the Marxist LSSP (Lanka Sama Samaja Party or, in English, Lanka Equal Society Party), and the Communists – she was again elected as Prime Minister with a large majority.
In 1972, Ceylon became Independent from the British (still not there, eh, Australia?) and was renamed ‘Sri Lanka’, allowing Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike to again create history, instituting a new Constitution for the now Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.
While many of you may have heard Michelle Obama’s inspiring speeches in support of Hillary Clinton, thanking her for allowing the Obamas two young daughters (as well as any girl in the U.S.A.) to believe that they could one day become the American President, the US didn’t deliver on that future.
However, Sri Lanka’s first female Prime Minister delivered when her own daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga, usurped her mother’s position to become Prime Minister and, subsequently President in 1994. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was able to regain her position as Prime Minister but she was now subordinate to her own daughter – how’s that for leading by example?
So, do not despair feminists of the world. Although the US and Australia have not been particularly supportive of females in the top job, you might simply look to the Global South to see that, girls can and, in fact, do run the world.
Karen Woulfe is a Melbourne-based writer.
By Amy Gray
Our digital age is one of instant connectivity – but it comes with some issues.
One issue is time zones, which don’t exist online. This realisation arrives at 4am as my phone beeps, a friend in Dublin is messaging me because she just has to discuss Charlotte Wood’s “The Natural Way of Things” with someone. The book was so big and the conclusion so confusing to her that discussing the story with someone is the only way she’ll understand its themes.
The other issue you face with instant connectivity is the thoughtless add, like getting being added by friends to Facebook groups without consultation. It’s like to being dragged into a conversation without notice – someone adds you to a secret group on the social network to discuss some topic. I always end up lingering for a while, a churn of awkwardness: why am I here and how I can leave without making a scene?
I had the same uneasy response when someone added me to “Pantsuit Nation”.
Started as a secret Facebook group for people to show their support on election day for Hillary Clinton, the first rush of posts were jubilant. Women and children wearing pantsuits or tshirts emblazoned with HRC’s logo. They were certain her ascension was inevitable.
Until it wasn’t.
Palpable grief rolled through the group, which now has close to 4 million members. Overwhelming sadness and fear were the biggest themes, as people shared their shock.
The collective mourning was at odds with opinion editorials that angrily pointed fingers at a revolving single reason Clinton failed. It was the Black vote! No, it was Latinos! No, men! No, white women!
The group doesn’t focus on larger blame. They’re micro instead of macro, sharing stories of their scared children, ugly racist confrontations and interventions, and symbolic moments. At least one marriage has literally broken down with the reveal of a Trump voter.
Social media makes it easy to share our stories, especially in groups like Pantsuit Nation. We push stories out all the time with ourselves as the main character without considering what we’ve truly revealed. We might focus on stories presenting ourselves as a good parent, a good friend, a good ally or just a damn relatable person. When we write and edit our own stories, we build in all sorts of pretty filters to present us in our best light – like the people trying to show they are very concerned ally in Trump’s America.
These were the stories I initially read on Pantsuit Nation. A collective chest puffing of white Americans: white women sharing their ‘hero’ moments saving a woman of colour, men affirming they’re not like ‘those’ sexist men. The stories rang false, an unconscious rationalisation they were not to blame for Trump.
Reading further, however, showed different voices. People abused while shopping for food, waiting for medication for their kids or being told by scared family to hide any sign of dissent from a rising monoculture. Theirs is a genuine terror as they consider their safety within Trump’s America, which is just as fractured as before but emboldened by a jaunty red cap.
Feminists in the 70s knew the power of stories – women would gather to discuss their lives, their stories showing how they were oppressed. Others would listen, acknowledge their pain and help find a way to fight back.
While there is power in sharing a story, there is even more in listening to a story. Stories build empathy and awareness, the realisation that our lives are not always the default. Truly listening can broaden our view and give nuance to blunt understanding.
No matter our technology, we still need stories to show our fears and joys, stories that explain the world and make us feel less alone.
Stories are not gentle artifacts of a noble Left, they are political and can be savage. In an age where lies have been re-badged as “post-truth” or “not literal”, stories can be used to incite fear and aggression. They can literally take you to the presidency.
This is where the challenge lies. A story may move the reader, but it will do little but collect dust if it cannot alter them, compelling them to broader understanding and action.
Stories demand skills from their audience. People might assume basic literacy is required, but technology’s twists and turns requires greater literacy in critical thinking and media.
My friend couldn’t understand the ending of “The Natural Way of Things” because it didn’t directly reflect her experience. Placing the story within an Irish context, I pointed out author Charlotte Wood was brutally inspired by testimony of girls abused in institutions, comparing it to Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries. The ember grew. I asked my friend how many happy endings are available to women living under misogyny. She understood.
Perhaps then, it’s fitting stories are part of the fight against fascism, cruelty and oppression.
Pantsuit Nation is by invite only, so you’ll have to wait for a friend to drag you in.
By Amy Gray
Politicians often assume mothers are apolitical with no other political agenda than getting daycare rebates, or paid parental leave if they’re lucky. It’s a telling assumption that shows people often view mothers as too consumed with child rearing to even participate in political action.
Eleisha Mullane knows this all too well. Despite the fact “women have been at the forefront of activism”, their power is often ignored as it is elsewhere. “Once you have kids in some ways you become invisible”, Mullane says.
But Mullane’s group Mums4Refugees uses this invisibiliy “to our advantage, because when you arrive with a group of little ones in prams it’s a dilemma – striking for the media but its also difficult for politicians to ignore”.
Around the country, Mums4Refugees stage ‘playgroup protests’ where mothers and their kids occupy politicians’ offices (most recently Malcolm Turnbulls’) or outside government departments.
The playgroup protests are visually arresting – there’s purity in children innocently drawing on the footpath with chalk or crafting “pink cut outs of women” as mothers debate the purity in care of “a woman on Nauru being refused treatment for a metastasising breast lump”. While Mullane says the activities are “often about keeping the kids occupied while we meet or at our actions”, they often tie into the protest’s “overall theme”.
Mullane points to her Queensland group who “had a great time making lots of craft installations and installing them outside Minister for Immigration Peter Duttons office, including paper dolls planted on sticks, strung up kids clothing to remind him of the children in detention”.
It’s a different, humanising protest method that uses visibility and compassion instead of anger and satire, which can alienate people. By including children and mothers, it leverages the social stereotype of the loving woman called into caring service…and asks why the government can’t provide the same to refugees.
As the National Campaign Coordinator and Victorian Convener, Mullane ensures that the group can quickly respond to issues and plan actions. Mums4Refugees uses private Facebook groups to assign social media work, direct support for people seeking asylum and protest actions. “When we know something is coming up we will start a thread and brainstorm how we want to respond where do we fit in the mix”, Mullane says, before state groups work to share workloads and maintain consistency.
The group’s support and activism extends beyond protests and last minute requests. Mums4Reugees are working on a project called “safe play spaces”, which will recreate “pop up play spaces similar to that which the Australian Government sponsor in war and disaster zones… a safe place that kids can come and be kids away from the horror around them”.
The group will use these spaces “as a way of engaging parents in a conversation about the what is happening to families on Nauru, that preschoolers don’t have access to quality early childhood education, school kids have limited schooling options and there is nothing for these kids on an island of 10,000 people the size of Melbourne Airport”.
It’s the conversation that is most important to Eleisha, a chance to show what Mums4Refugees is all about. The group wants to “create a space for mums to organise at our own pace and level in family-friendly ways”. With every pop-up playground and protest playgroup, they aim to balance their “advocacy and activism around our families and using our authentic voice to call out what is wrong in this debate”.
“At the end of the day that is what we are about: building conversations with everyday Australians, in the communities we are in – [whether] it the local school, daycare, sporting clubs – and showing that there is opposition to our current approach to people seeking asylum and that we will not stand by and allow it to happen without a fight”, Mullane says.
Her final word of advice? “BYO toys, craft and chalk!”
You can join the Mums4Refugees Facebook group and receive online updates.
By Maeve Marsden
In news that surprises no one, the Government has cut funding to another public service. Federal Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham this month announced changes to the vocational training sector, restricting access to government issued, income indexed loans to pay for up front fees for diploma courses, specifically those deemed as not linking to specific work.
In short? All diploma courses must now show a pathway to employment and students who fail to meet this requirement will no longer be eligible to defer their fees by way of subsidised loans.
While the cuts target a number of sectors, it’s particularly devastating for an already decimated arts sector, restricting access to student loans to just 13 of the 70 previously available courses. For the perennially underfunded arts sector, the value of well-trained graduates cannot be underestimated and the availability of courses that offer fair access is integral to developing a rich and complex industry.
While the cuts no doubt impact broader society, it is interesting to look at how they affect women, especially when you consider the Government’s frustrating track record on women’s funding and services (oh hello, Paid Parental Leave).
The arts sector already has a gender problem, with many organisations implementing programs to increase the representation of women – a process painfully littered with conflict, as detractors make reference to ‘meritocracy’ and undermine the value of affirmative action. Barriers to participation and employment include the implicit history of patriarchal oppression, along with a lack of mentorship and development opportunities, workplace inflexibility for families and the structure of employment pathways. In cutting funding to subsidised arts training, the Government places another roadblock on the path of women wanting to pursue a creative career, especially those on a low income.
VET training has long been the bastion of further education for those for whom university was not an option, because of either course duration, academic pre-requisites or inflexibility of the tertiary institution. In contrast to this, TAFE and similar institutions offered a comparatively user-friendly approach to post-secondary education. More than 50% of TAFE enrolments are women, many of them well beyond school-leaving age.
In the current climate of cuts, the Government have created a quagmire that’s incredibly frustrating for an aspiring creative to navigate. Less money in the industry means less jobs; cutting student loans for training makes it harder for emerging creatives to get those jobs. So what happens? Rich kids who can afford paid training (and lengthy unpaid internships) advance in their career ahead of others, ensuring the sector’s historical lack of diversity is maintained.
Access aside, I have a fundamental problem with linking coursework so tightly to job possibilities. Educational pathways need not be literal. While the very nature of vocational training is linked to employment, many of the courses cut, especially the creative ones, provide skills and training that benefit graduates in a number of industries – even if they can’t be linked to profit. And the arts themselves have greater value than simple economics.
The Arts, like much of women’s labour, has been done for love not profit for aeons. Traditionally, the arts rely upon the suffering (artistic and fiscal) as an integral part of the process. In Marxist terms, the arts are not a productive labour; we run at a loss. But the output of artists has value, for the individual, for audiences, for culture and for society.
Romantic notions of the artist as sufferer aside, while we live under capitalism, arts workers need to be paid. This balance between value and productivity may not have been perfectly addressed with the previous system of subsidised student loans, but at least broadly available training for creatives provided the hope of a level playing field, the possibility of a diverse cultural landscape, and a small piece of the puzzle in addressing gender imbalances in the workforce.
Maeve Marsden is a writer, producer, director and performer. She is currently performing in feminist cabaret act, Lady Sings it Better, as well as theatrical comedy, Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret about Gin. She has written for Daily Life, Junkee, Daily Review, ABC Online, Archer Magazine and The Guardian, and she tweets from @maevemarsden.