Newsletter

Feminist Allyship to Sex Workers: Part One

By Gala Vanting

This is the first in a two part series on sex work, feminism and activism.

Australian sex workers breathed a collective sigh of relief a few years ago when Sheila Jeffreys picked up her bottomless carpetbag of whorephobic rhetoric and let it whoosh her off to the UK, Mary Poppins-style. Finally, we could redirect some of our valuable activist energy away from picketing her appearances and towards building our own body of theory, action and resources that extended beyond her denials that we could even exist.

Cue: Julie Bindel, the latest craze in SWERFdom, who’s making her way through Australia promoting her latest book to ‘abolish the sex work myth’. The impossible mythological beasts of which she speaks, actual sex workers, are responding in a variety of ways, from street party protest to engaging directly to counterpoint her position that the best way for the work we do to be safer for us is for it to continue to be criminalised. Never mind that the World Health Organisation, Amnesty International and every HIV organisation ever recommends decriminalisation as the appropriate framework for the promotion of sex worker health and human rights (but what do they know anyway – they probably don’t even have journalism degrees).

It’s times like these that I get to thinking about feminist allyship to sex workers. Whilst I’m aware that #notallfeminists are anti-sex work, there’s a pretty gaping chasm between ‘not being against’ and being an ally. Being an ally means speaking her name when we hear of another woman assaulted, raped, killed – even if she is a sex worker. Being an ally means intervening in the stigma that continues to cost sex workers their lives, day jobs, custody of their children, personal relationships, fundamental human rights, and many other mod cons.

For many sex workers, sex work is just work; it’s not that complicated. I understand that it can be pretty tricky for those who are ‘not against’ us to intellectually, politically, and personally integrate all of the questions that sex work brings up in feminist dialogues. As a feminist and a sex worker, I’m here to help.

Let’s start with the basics: bodily autonomy. As feminists, we believe that individual women’s bodies belong to individual women. Not to men, not to the State, not to advertising, not to any institution of oppression. Throughout the history of the movement, we’ve had to reckon with the ways in which some bodies end up being more equal than others in the campaign for that autonomy. How is it that we believe in a woman’s right to execute supreme decision-making power over her own corporeal form, unless that woman is also a sex worker? How does a sex worker’s body move outside of our acceptable range of bodies that can be self-determined?

Oh, by patriarchal capitalism, you say.

So glad you mentioned it. I’ve got some unfortunate news for anyone currently participating in a capitalist economy: you are a victim of exploitation. It’s the name of the game. Especially if you happen to be a woman. I’m always tickled by the argument that the labour of sex work is always already especially exploitative. After having sampled the labour conditions at Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, in childcare and film production, and as a freelance writer, I can confirm that the labour conditions of my sex work are the most conducive to my wellbeing. The only other thing I’d ask for is, say, the same industrial rights as any other member of the Australian labour force. You know, mod cons.

‘But look at all of your privileges!’ you say. ‘You are the 1%.’

My set of privileges allows me to do things like have this side hustle that is writing about my experience. It also allows me to access the tools required to work independently as a sex worker, giving me control over the clients I see, the rates I charge, the health and safety practices I employ, and the hours I work. There are many, many sex workers who don’t hold these privileges. Who work under poor management, pay out at least half of their earnings to licensing fees, agencies, or pimps, are advertised with terminology that degrades their humanity, are medically surveilled, and have less power to negotiate safer sex practices, rates, or working hours. Because their work is, with only two exceptions, fully or partially criminalised the world over, they cannot access the right to safe working conditions, fair pay, non-discrimination, and the right to organise or to take industrial action. Because doing their work makes them criminals, they are not empowered to ask for better conditions.

Have a look back over the issues I’ve named. What do they have in common? They are labour issues. They are not gender issues. Neither, of course, exist in a vacuum. But the insistence that this set of labour issues is better addressed by ‘rescuing’ sex workers from their profession, the rhetorical collapsing of sex work and sex trafficking, the positioning of the sex working body as abject, laughable, diseased, duped by the patriarchy; as an object for the consumption of both men and fellow feminists, as the worksite of a ‘radical feminist’ agenda that has its roots in the denial of multi-dimensional and intersectional experiences of female and feminist bodies: that is where feminism fails sex workers. That is where feminist allyship is absolutely necessary for our very survival.

Julie, Sheila and their comrades-toting-carpetbags believe that their work IS allyship. That they’re only looking out for us feeble prostitutes. That ending rape culture requires putting sex workers out of work. That we all want the same thing: women’s liberation, and that they’re in a far better position than we are to lead the way there. All of this without even talking to us or learning what we experience or think about our work. The bags of tricks is bottomless, and it isn’t afraid to bottom out – if you can’t attack the argument, attack the woman making it (or here).

We need our own allyship toolkit, which you can use to help women retain their personal autonomy and rights. I’ll take you through the steps next month, with the facts and examples you need to be a feminist ally.

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Gala Vanting is a sex worker, writer, educator and activist living and working on stolen Gadigal land. She aims to create compassionate, intelligent, and justice-driven dialogue about sexuality and sexual cultures with an intersectional queer feminist approach. More of her work can be found on http://galavanting.info/ and https://www.patreon.com/galavanting.

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    5 things we can learn from Dr Constance Stone, Queen Victoria Hospital founder

    Dr Constance StoneDr Constance Stone

    by Amy Gray

    As we threw open the doors for Melbourne Open House on the weekend, we took the opportunity to throw open the history books and learn more about this building’s amazing history and how feminism can truly build something magnificent.

    And it all starts with one amazing woman: Constance Stone.

    In the 1890s, there was no vote for women, limited job options, less education and success in life depended on which man you married. That was the world Constance lived in and defied.

    Along with her husband, Constance wanted to study medicine. Back then, Melbourne University wouldn’t admit women into their medicine course. So she took herself to Pennsylvania and Toronto and came back with a dream to create a hospital staffed with women to help all women in Melbourne.  Constance was certain that specialist and empathetic care from women doctors for women patients was crucial – to provide women with compassionate care.

    When Constance came back to Melbourne and became the first woman registered with the Medical Board of Victoria, she immediately reached out to other women doctors and formed the Victorian Medical Women’s Society (VMWS). This professional association became the headquarters to band women together, plan their own career development and help women in the community, and has since become the longest running women’s medical association in the world.

    Together, the VMWS immediately set up practice in a hall at the Welsh Church where Dr Constance Stone’s husband was pastor. The women doctor’s faith that women needed their services was proven when 2000 women came for treatment in the first three months. Many of the women patients were unable to pay for treatment, so it was provided free of charge.

    Still committed to her vision of hospital for woman, run by women, Dr Stone and the VMWS created the Queen’s Shilling Wall, where all Victorian women were asked to donate a shilling to fund construction of a hospital. The fund helped them build the Queen Victoria Hospital in Mint Place a year later, before they moved to the much larger site where QVWC is located today.

    Dr Constance Stone’s story gives us lessons that still ring true today:

    1. Before expecting work from others, work on yourself
      Constance knew that to build her dream of a women’s hospital, she needed to get educated and experienced. Which is exactly what she did.
    2. Go around when you can’t go through
      There are always going to be barriers – in Dr Constance Stone’s case, rampant sexism preventing women from participating in public life and receiving adequate care. She didn’t have time to wait for Melbourne University to start admitting women students, so she went around them and got her education overseas. This is where you weigh up your priorities to decide your best action – in Stone’s case getting Melbourne women access to medical help was greater than getting women into Melbourne Uni, even if the two were connected.
    3. Use your privilege to help others
      Despite the limitations of the day, Dr Constance Stone leveraged the privilege available to her – an understanding and relatively wealthy partner – to get the education and experience she needed so she could help others.
    4. Build it yourself if society won’t
      Dr Constance Stone dreamed of a hospital run by women when women were not even permitted to study medicine, let alone run a hospital. Her dreams transcended the narrow discrimination surrounding her and wanted more than society would even give. So with a group of other educated and committed women, Dr Stone built exactly what society wasn’t going to give – and in the short amount of time she had, she watched it prosper.
    5. Act individually and collectively 
      The history of the Queen Victoria Hospital shows just what can happen when people act individually (like getting an education) and collectively (opening clinics or donating to build a hospital). This was shown again in the 1980s when women in Victoria campaigned to save part of the Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital from demolition to become today’s QVWC.

    Dr Stone and others never wavered from their vision of helping women. This can be seen in their coat of arms we found in the QVWC archives: Pro Feminis, A Feminis (For Women, By Women). Today’s definition of womanhood is more inclusive than it was previously, but the commitment to serve and help all women is something that we should all work towards.

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    Amy Gray is a Melbourne writer whose work focuses on feminism, culture and parenting. She tweets via @_amygray_

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      Dr Cathy Kezelman – The Blue Knot Foundation

      Queen Victoria Women

      Dr Cathy Kezelman

      by Nicole Smith

      Tragedy struck Dr. Cathy Kezelman almost twenty years ago when her niece Angie died in a car accident. Working as a General Practitioner in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, Cathy thought she had a comprehensive understanding of grief.

      However this untimely death triggered previously buried memories and emotions to surface in her conscious mind, “I started having panic attacks and sank into a deep depression.  After two decades, I had to leave medicine, because I wasn’t functioning. At the time I thought I was going mad; my medical training didn’t help.”

      A survivor of childhood emotional and sexual abuse, Cathy began experiencing flashbacks where she was reliving fragments of what had happened to her. She had no concept of time and would re-live the sensations and the fear without any understanding of what was happening to her.

      Cathy became very unwell; virtually bed-bound and experiencing suicidal ideation. Married with four children, she retreated into herself and everyone else ceased to exist.  She became detached from reality and suffered crowding of thoughts, describing like a marketplace in her head. She believes dissociation has been sensationalised in the media, but at the core it is an amazing defence mechanism to prevent the psyche from becoming overwhelmed.

      Cathy’s road to recovery began when she started therapy and writing a book, published as Innocence Revisited: A Tale in Parts in 2010. During her period of recovery Cathy began reading every book she could find in the library around psychology and trauma. This research led to her involvement in Adults Surviving Child Abuse (ASCA). Although the organisation was fledgling at the time, it provided a place for survivors to belong: “You can often feel like an absolute alien, so it was invaluable to learn that although I was terrified, I wasn’t mad. Indeed the way I’d survived made total sense in the context of the trauma.”

       

      Volunteering for close to a decade until the organisation could afford to support paid roles, Cathy held leadership roles within ASCA for the past twelve years, becoming the org’s president in February 2012.

      ASCA was eventually renamed The Blue Knot foundation to be more inclusive for those who have experienced trauma and to symbolise the intricacies of childhood trauma. And the blue? It’s a calming colour symbolising the opportunity for recovery, which was important to Cathy – “We wanted to embody more than just surviving – it’s about recovery and resilience.”

      The Blue Knot Foundation supports the 1 in 4 Australian survivors of childhood trauma with information and resources, like their helpline. Cathy says “we have found there is a lack of specific understanding from generic helplines, despite their best intentions. One phone call with the right person who understood, changed my life.”

      Since early 2013, a Royal Commission has been held into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The investigation has looked into why the system has failed to protect children in public, private and non-government organisations from abuse. As part of this enquiry over 7,000 victims of institutionalised sexual abuse have told their story to a commissioner, victims who Cathy notes “need to be acknowledged for their strength and resilience in surviving”.

       

      In 2015 The Royal Commission’s consultation report, recommending a redress scheme for victims, totally $4.37 billion. These funds would go toward improving psychological and counselling services for survivors and financial compensation for survivors. If requested, survivors would also receive a response from the institution responsible

      The Commonwealth Redress Scheme is an ‘opt-in’ proposal for all states and territories, and non-government organisations and charities will be later invited to join the scheme. The Federal Government pledged $33.4 million in the 2017 – 2018 budget to establishing the scheme, which will last approximately a decade from 1st July  2018.

      Cathy says the establishment of a Royal Commission, and in turn more conversation around family violence and sexual abuse, has encouraged more survivors of abuse to come out of the shadows to courageously share their experiences.

      “The Royal Commission has changed the landscape not just in this country but globally. However the positive legacy needs to grow and flourish; we need to see ongoing changes to legislation, to improving survivor support, justice, and child safe organisations.”

      “The Commonwealth Government is certainly showing leadership with the scheme but it’s a work in progress, not the be-all and end-all. In fact, the stories the Commission has heard in the private sessions are the tip of the iceberg”, she says.

      Educating the wider community about the reality of abuse is one of the most important determinants of positive outcomes for survivors: “All humans should be traumaiinformed; the media tends to sensationalise abuse and focus on worst cases, which can cause shame and silence victims. Therefore, it is critically important to educate people about the long-term impact of abuse, how to talk to people who disclose their experience of abuse, and how to access pathways to support”.

      Training around the impact of abuse needs to be improved within the legal and justice sector, and the medical community, particularly for General Practitioners. In addition, the Government needs to invest more in training for those working directly with survivors. Often this trauma is inflated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, so it is critical that survivors are made to feel safe, and are assisted to regulate their anxiety and emotions. Access to appropriate services is essential because people can recover from this disabling condition.

      On Australia Day 2015 Dr Cathy Kezelman was awarded a Member of the Order (AM) of Australia for her services to mental health. While she is deeply honoured by the recognition, for Cathy the key driver is recognition of the cause, “the AM helps me open doors and be listened to. My aim is to keep the issue of childhood trauma on the national agenda.”

      If you are a survivor of childhood trauma or abuse, please reach out. Contact the Blue Knot Helpline on 1300 657 380 or visit https://www.blueknot.org.auBlue Knot Day is  October 29 2018.

      This article was republished from Nicole Smith’s website Blank Pages & Empty Spaces website.

       

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      Nicole Smith

      Nicole Smith is a Melbourne-based writer who dreams of talking to interesting people and working on her laptop in hipster cafes. A recipient of a Write-ability Fellowship from Writers Victoria, she hopes to shift society’s focus to people doing good for her community.

      You can follow her Facebook page or website for more information.

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        Feminism’s Rituals

        We have to plant the seeds or tomorrow’s harvest will never come.

         

        By Amy Gray

        History is crowded with forgotten rituals. When times were unpredictable, communities would conduct elaborate affairs to bring a good harvest. These were big events and everyone would turn up, knowing they would all benefit.

        On the surface, we don’t have a place for many rituals today. Crops are engineered to never fail, and science continues to cast light on the shadows but the need for rituals remain.

        The recent “Reclaim the Park” in honour of Eurydice Dixon and 29 other women killed this year was an example of a purification ritual. People came to a place tarnished by a horrific crime and paid their respects, feeling warmth and community among strangers. It’s an important ritual that transforms a site that has shocked the community, reminding it of our vulnerability, to one of strength and positivity.

        But, as Jenna Price asked in a recent editorial for the Age, these are rituals for the statistical anomalies – fatal violence against women is rarely from strangers on isolated streets but by people they know in isolated homes. Those women get no vigils, there is no congregation to light candles for them.

        Even then, what comes after the ritual? Today’s white feminist practice can often place huge importance and social worth on a personal performance rather than a community one – a case of “I went to the vigil” instead that it happened – a one way broadcast simulcast across social media rather than a collaboration.

        It’s a collaboration that is needed as both Ruby Hamad and Nayuka Gorrie have noted that these flashpoints are often racially biased towards white women, while women victims of colour are ignored by the commentariat.

        As Hamad also said on Twitter, those same commentators may unwittingly seek to leverage these tragedies and focus for professional and political gain, no matter what side of the political spectrum they may lie. It takes on a literal turn when you see Turnbull and Shorten lit by the vigil’s candlelight; able to say they were there but unable to show what they do to protect women.

        These rituals are impressive but they don’t cover the many women continually killed by men, men who are often protected by political inaction, or the garbled use of funds that will bankroll a new domestic violence initiative but not welfare or safe housing. It’s a moving vigil but about as politically potent as a depressed woman hanging up a “Good Vibes Only” poster.

        Here’s the thing about those old rituals: the farmers may have prayed for good harvests but they still planted the fields. Not only that, they focused on the entire crop, rather than one rare plant. They still did the work of tending grounds and using the knowledge they had because they knew the ritual was only one part of a long process.

        This does not mean women should be saddled with more unpaid labour to prove some measure – men are more obligated to challenge the systems and abusers who surround them, some of whom also attended vigils. But it does mean making gender equality a measurable path that spans more than news cycles and social media trends.

        Yassmin Abdel-Magied often finds a way to balance visibility and action, marshalling action and momentum via social media. When the long campaign to repeal Noura Hussein’s death sentence was successful, Yassmin noted “Never let anyone tell you that an action is too small and that it won’t make a difference”. Even still, she took the time to ask others to support SEEMA Centre which worked on the ground to support Hussein. There’s a ritual, but it is backed with meaningful work and support.

        This is the early morning hard graft, of making women’s safety a political priority, one that has agency and freedom at its core. Far too often our knee jerk response to protecting women is to restricting rights rather than expanding space and liberty. If one tragic park can fill with 10,000 people, imagine if that turned into sustained political campaigning? What if 10,000 people demanded increased funding for actual services to protect women? Like the farmers, putting in a season or two of sustained work, imagine what we could grow.

        There are many doing the hard work of planting crops for tomorrow’s women. But we can’t let them labour alone. It’s time to do more than appear

        We have to plant the seeds or tomorrow’s harvest will never come.

         

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        Amy Gray is a Melbourne writer whose work focuses on feminism, culture and parenting. She tweets via @_amygray_

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          What Ireland’s repeal means for Australia

          MASER's Repeal Artwork, DublinBy Louise Omer

          Over the weekend, I witnessed Dublin in the midst of revolution. A revolution where grins of solidarity were shared between strangers wearing Yes badges or where you could see the tense hope of Mar canvassing at Dublin Connolly station twenty-seven years after campaigning for an illegal condom machine at a university. The moment when Ilaina cheered gregariously, a Malaysian woman fighting for the visibility of migrant women, rang out. The moment we all literally felt the electricity of triumph at Dublin Castle as people poured and kept pouring into the cobblestone courtyard, the roaring crowd celebrating the activists and politicians onstage – almost all of whom were women.

          It’s hard to describe the rage and hope and relief, the sense of power toppling, of a new world unfurling. Instead, here are the facts.

          On May 25, Ireland voted Yes in an historic referendum to legalise abortion. The vote was to repeal the eighth amendment, a 1983 addition to the Irish constitution that gave “the unborn” “equal right to life as the mother”.

          As many advocates for women’s rights know, outlawing reproductive healthcare doesn’t stop women seeking abortions, but instead makes them harder to access. It increases the suffering of women in crisis.

          Each day, 12 women travel from Ireland to England to seek reproductive healthcare; at least 170,216 women and girls have done so between 1980 and 2016. A further number order abortion pills to take at home without medical supervision, under risk of breaking the law. This carries a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment under 2013′s Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.

          But on Saturday May 25, the country staged a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment, with 66.4% voting Yes. The 2:1 victory was a surprise to the entire country – even prominent Yes activists on the day of the referendum feared it mightn’t pass.

          In a country emerging from the stronghold of Catholic values, testimonies of women’s experience have been tantamount in changing the hearts and minds of voters. The story of Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist who died in 2012 from septicaemia after she was denied an abortion, galvanised the movement, and her image has come to represent the pain of Irish women.

          Similarly, Not at Home is an art project that published the testimonies of women travelling to England. The group Terminations for Medical Reasons campaigned hard to make the lived experiences of women who had a termination in a case of foetal abnormality heard. On Twitter, in newspapers, and in conversations across the country, the taboo was broken as women bravely revealed their stories, provoking emotional responses, and educating about the personal impact of the abhorrent laws.

          The punishment of female sexuality is the historical context of the referendum. Throughout the 20th century “fallen women” who became pregnant out of marriage were pushed into Mother Baby Homes or Magdalene Laundries. These state-sponsored institutions were run by the Church, with incredible evidence of slave-like conditions, starvation and abuse.

          Young women I know told me a No vote would have signified that Ireland doesn’t care about women (well – stronger language may have been used). They spoke about leaving the country, or if they were expats, about never coming home.

          The evening the results were announced, the streets of Dublin were jubilant. Repeal t-shirts were everywhere and pubs were packed; a group of women decorated their car with colourful “YES”s and drove up and down Dame St, shouting from a megaphone and beeping at pedestrians who whooped in return. Locals were not celebrating, as conservative Catholics claimed, because they wanted to “kill babies”; but because it illustrates a shift in the Irish attitude towards women. By successfully fighting for bodily autonomy, women in Ireland have claimed their freedom.

          The day after the victory, I spoke to Kathy D’Arcy, editor of the anthology Autonomy and Chair of the Cork Together for Yes campaign. “I felt in my heart that the country hated me,” she said. “A lot of women felt that. But we woke up this morning and we realised this country belongs to us.”

          She was in her office, already sending emails to politicians. Legislation, for terminations up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, is hoped to be passed within six months. That’s not fast enough, D’Arcy says. It’s important to remember that women are leaving the country on planes this morning to access abortions.

          This has similarities to Australian reproductive healthcare. In January the last clinic in Tasmania to provide terminations closed, forcing women to travel to access abortions. Michelle Thompson, chief executive of Marie Stopes, told the Guardian this year that 10-12 Tasmanian women are visiting the Melbourne clinic every month. This is only five years since abortion was decriminalised.

          As well as being an incredibly stressful experience, travelling to access an abortion is expensive. There is the cost of the surgical procedure itself, add up flights, accommodation, and time off work; this is an economic issue.

          Australian laws are different in each state. In Queensland and NSW, abortion remains illegal – unless a woman’s mental or physical health is threatened. Seeking a solution, many women order the abortion pill and take it without medical supervision. This situation puts the health of many at risk.

          As we’ve seen in Ireland, campaigning for abortion is not about the ethical legitimacy of the procedure; we know that women will seek the reproductive healthcare they need, whether it’s legal or not. Instead, the provision of safe and easy access to abortion is about prioritising the medical care of women. And Australia needs to keep fighting.

           

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          Louise Omer, photographed by Bri Hammond
          Louise Omer writes on feminism, religion and books, with work published in The Guardian, The Australian, The Saturday Paper and The Lifted Brow. In 2017 she was a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellowship recipient and shortlisted for the Scribe Nonfiction Prize. She is currently working on her first book, Holy Woman

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            The life-changing magic of actually listening to women


            By Amy Gray

            The past 12 months has taught us that stories can change the world. #MeToo has sustained itself into an ongoing movement through the power of personal stories, traumatic testimonies and calculated action.

            When you listen to what women have to say, it is truly extraordinary.

            Yet, when it comes to publishing, we still aren’t listening to women, let alone printing their stories. For an industry overwhelmingly staffed with them, it is still men in positions of power and higher salaries.

            This has a flow-on effect to what gets published…and guess which way it goes? More men will submit or pitch their manuscripts, more men will get signed up or commissioned, more men will get reviewed by the media, which will lead to greater promotion budgets, stock levels, then sales and, finally, literature prizes.

            Taking it further, most publishing professionals across the US, UK and Australia are white, generally heterosexual and cisgendered. It has exactly the sort of impact you’d expect: we are left with bookstores stocked with the same characters written by the same writers all coming to the same conclusion.

            Sunili Govinnage discovered the impact of this when she spent 2014 reading nonwhite writers: it was bloody hard to access recommended, reviewed or rewarded literature in the usual sources in mainstream press or even online bookseller lists.

            For women writers of colour, this is further complicated by the racial bias they face. Not only are they published less, but they are often forced to perform their race within their work for a readers the industry assume are white, forcing them into dual roles of artists and translators.

            As Nayuka Gorrie wrote in a speech for ACMI’s screening of James Baldwin doco “I Am Not Your Negro?”, this often translates into forcing writers of colour to perform their trauma to entice a white audience to believe white supremacy exists, despite a bounty of daily evidence doing the same.

            The art of trauma – whether highlighting white supremacy or misogyny – is the literary cul-de-sac where women writers reign. The dominance is a combination of trauma memoirs’ popularity with readers and editors, plus…it’s easy to cover your trauma when you’re a woman living under a white supremacist patriarchy.

            There’s something decidedly uneasy about this. Women’s stories are being fenced into pens with restrictions on what they can discuss for a marketplace already conditioned to dismiss women’s work as niche novelty. Whether fiction or memoir, we want trauma, a performance of womanhood and race.

            Even if these works are amazing and informative, it places a standard or stereotype on writers which is impossible to escape and limits their ability to tell stories. It can even hamper careers, with writers defined by their trauma rather than their talent.

            Perhaps it comes back to whether we actively read broadly and entertain the radical notion that white male writers are not the default in either expression or experience. It’s rare for a male writer to be tokenised – his issues are considered universal, his interpretation rational rather than emotional. White male writers are given an access-all-areas pass – their work is considered universal and will be sold to all audiences.

            The rest of us are not so lucky. Neither are readers, who are missing out on a universe of stories through this restriction

            If there is power in a story, there must be power in a reader. Because if sharing your story is a radical act, seeking out those story tellers to listen is just as radical.

            Join 2018 Stella Prize winner Alexis Wright and artist, writer and researcher Evelyn Araluen for a special conversation about the process of recording and crafting history that is both intimate and national. June 12 – QVWC – Waitlist available here.

             

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            Amy Gray is a Melbourne writer whose work focuses on feminism, culture and parenting. She tweets via @_amygray_

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              Vote like a girl

              Gabriel Hackett

              You know who is amazing at voting? Black women who came out in force during the Trump/Clinton campaign.

              By Amy Gray

              We asked an interesting question over at the QVWC Facebook page the other day: do gender rights and feminism change your vote? Everyone said it was a large factor.

              Over in America, this positivity doesn’t hold much water.  A Washington Post survey into American feminism found 58% of women would not vote for a politician based on their position on women’s rights. When questioned further in the survey about what prevents women achieving full equality with men, answers were split: 44% believed sexist discrimination, while another 44% maintained it was because of “the choices women make themselves”.

              While we may not be identical, it’s safe to assume some similarity between (generally white) women voters in America and Australia view womens’ rights and voting…and it’s not a great view, to be honest.

              To be fair, it’s hard to see a place for women’s rights in politics given how male-dominated the space is.  While some political parties may try to boost the number of women candidates, most election campaigns are simply the sausage fest before the sausage sizzle: bland men in bland suits spouting bland talking points.

              Where are the women in all of this?

              Normally, women are seen when paternal politicians grab a nearby wife or woman candidate, head to the local kindergarten and talk about childcare rebates or paid parental leave.  The subtext is clear: progressive or conservative, most politicians think the women’s vote can be snared with a childcare rebate because women only care about children.

              If childcare, baby bonuses and paid parental leave is all geared towards the “women’s vote”, it’s tempting to see all other policies as either male or gender neutral – you know, they’re considered generic or affect all people equally. But when we erase gender (and race and class) from view, we’re often left with the “default”, which is often viewed as a white, heterosexual man.

              It’s hard to argue that any policy or ministerial portfolio is truly gender neutral. The economy may not be explicitly female, but the economy impacts women in very specific ways from which men are immune. Yet, these issues are rarely discussed in our analysis or addressed in political campaigning.

              But what if women’s rights truly became a voting issue? The Washington Post survey highlighted that around 60% considered themselves either fully-fledged or somewhat feminists – if we can assume the same percentage for Australian women, wouldn’t that make a giant vote politicians would have to take notice of?

              More so when you consider what has taken place since that 2016 survey, where the world has become far more political thanks to the actions of black women. Black Lives Matters (created by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi) has thrived and become a colossal movement. Tarana Burke unleashed #MeToo upon the world, and millions of people have taken it as the moment to say “Time’s Up”. All of this has combined to forge activists out of apathists and there’s never been a better time to be a loud woman demanding more for her vote.

              But only if women seize this chance and demand answers from politicians and media. Emailing candidates and standing politicians for policy statements and letting them know what you want and why. Campaigning every minister and collectively working to let them know just how powerful women can be.

              This means more than questioning them about the gender pay gap or what they did last White Ribbon day.

              • It could mean pressing them to address environmental issues, which should be a feminist cause given women are far more affected by climate change than men.
              • Depending on your economic bent, it could be campaigning for an end to the free market system which has removed services for women and tends to reward already privileged men more, because they are unburded by unpaid labour.
              • Your feminist vote could be for the indigenous matters that mean the most to you, or in solidarity with Indigenous women – a reminder for any white or ethnic woman that feminism transcends individual choice; it is a vote in solidarity for other’s liberation. This could be elevating the issue of racial profiling and high incarceration rates, the continuing forced removal of children, reduced access to health services and ongoing discrimination and oppression.
              • Foreign Affairs? Foreign Feminism. What are the candidates or ministers doing to ensure there are more women negotiating in matters of Foreign Affairs (yes, more than one)? This is a central focus for the UN, looking to increase representation in the hopes women are actually represented in peace talks and deals. What about foreign aid that specifically focuses on women, an approach that often yields greater stability for their local communities. Refugees are another feminist issue, as is our treatment of asylum seekers in Australia, many of whom require protection from sexual assault and are often blocked access to medical services and their human rights.
              • Workers rights – oh you better believe that is a feminist issue. Women’s work can often be precarious and the gig economy is not just about Uber drivers – it is  definitely affecting women, particularly those working in hospitality, child care and cleaning. More women are working more for less money and entitlements, with little career progression or superannuation. But it’s not just local workers rights – don’t we have an obligation to ensure women around the world hold similar rights and start to question the amount of sweatshop labour performed by women to give Australian’s everything from fast fashion to the tinned tomatoes on our supermarket shelves?

              There are a lot of elections coming up and there are even more issues than the ones mentioned here, which means that women’s rights are a huge issue for politicians…if we make it one.

              Go out. Demand answers. Elevate your questions and the voices of women around you.

              Vote like a girl.

               

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              Amy Gray is a Melbourne writer whose work focuses on feminism, culture and parenting. She tweets via @_amygray_

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                There are no sorries here

                By Nayuka Gorrie

                Queen Victoria Women

                I haven’t participated in team sports since my Mum’s friend invited me to play netball in 2008. Mum, forever confident in my abilities, told my Mum’s friend that I would be excellent at netball, “put her in goal attack, she can shoot!” It turns out, I could not shoot. Mum ended up throwing a bib on, screaming from goal defence, “fucking shoot Nayuka!” It didn’t matter how much I tried I was, quite simply, shithouse.

                A few months ago I moved to the country. Have you been there? It really is lovely. I moved to the country mostly to get away from people. I’m a freelance writer and work from home. There are many benefits of working at home, you get to wear pyjamas during the day, you can have wine and work at the same time and not be judged by your colleagues because your colleagues don’t exist. On my first weekend I ran into a friend, another black woman, at the local market in town. We hadn’t seen each other in about five years but one of the first things she told me was that she’d joined an AFL team and maybe I should think about it.

                It took me few months and a few different invitations before I finally said yes. Organised sport is very binary, there is a men’s team and a women’s team. During the first training I found myself reverting to old conditioned behaviour.

                I felt a familiar shame that I hadn’t felt since childhood; doing a “boys” thing and not doing it particularly well. I was, and still am, afraid to scream and make noise for the boy. The only time I really make noise during training is to apologise for kicking or handballing badly (which is often).  While there is the waking of a dormant shame, it is not met in the same way anymore. During my first training all I said was, “imsorryimsorryimsorryimsorry.” After one too many apologies, my coach yelled at me, “there are no sorries here!”

                Though I only joined a few weeks ago and have only been able to attend a few training sessions but no games, I have already learned a few things. I felt trepidation about joining. In all honesty, I don’t spend a lot of time around white people and try to spend as little time because largely the sexism, racism and queerphobia i have experienced has been at the hands of white people. Beyond that though, I think deep down I was worried about how they would see me. Some black weirdo that they don’t know what to do with. It turns out people don’t really care if you don’t shave your legs or wax your moustache, and they don’t care what your politics are – they just want you to kick the ball.

                Sport does not exist in a vacuum and has not been immune to racism, sexism and transphobia. The AFLW came under fire last year for excluding Hannah Mouncey on the basis of her being trans. On a local level, my friend told me there are teams that hate our team and that a young black woman was racially vilified all season last year by a particular team. It heartens me though that the coach is black and there are other black people on the field. In a world becoming increasingly siloed, it is refreshing to be part of something with women I know nothing about, to share camaraderie with other women over something that is low stakes.

                There are a few mothers on the team and I have heard more than once these mothers talk about how important the social aspect of the game is and, for someone who spends most of her time online at home alone, it is refreshing to be part of a team in the flesh. It has also helped me connect with other mates on the internet. My Mum and I facetimed and she showed me how to tackle people. Other friends have helped me pick a ball to train with at home and have shown me how to handball.

                All of this is just to say, if you’ve ever thought about doing something new, do it, even if it’s scary. Don’t be afraid to recruit mates to do your thing, you just might have to ask more than once.

                 

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                Nayuka is a Gunai/Kurnai, Gunditjmara, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta woman working in the youth sector. Nayuka writes about black politics and feminism. And plays a bit of footy. She tweets at @nayukagorrie.


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                  Feminism’s man problem (spoiler: no, absolutely not)

                  Vivia Hickman, our previous CEO, once shared a story of a man found wandering the building. Asking her about the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre building, she told him how it houses many women’s organisations and hosts women’s events in its mission to help all women in the state – through research, referral and reasoned debate.

                  This angered the man, outraged that prime city real estate would be squandered on women. “What about the men?”, he demanded. “Where is their special space?”

                  Vivia pointed outside – “it’s all out there”, she said as she ushered him to the world outside.

                  This fabulous story popped into my head when I read a recent article over at Bloomberg. “A Big Concern in Norway, a Country Now Ruled by Women: Male Anger”.

                  With more women in positions of political power, the article frames Norway as a utopia for women, but dystopia for men. Until you read on and discover men still control the other favoured avenue of power: money, with a gender pay gap and more men running banks and financial organisations.

                  But still, the article persists, there’s a problem with angry white men with the suggestion this is a problem women will have to fix.

                  Over in New York City, the local Human Rights Commission is investigating the Wing, a women’s social and co-working space, for potential sex discrimination. The discrimination? Men aren’t included.

                  Also in America: people are suggesting students should have been nicer to Nikolas Cruz, so he wouldn’t become a mass murderer, killing 17 students and wounding 17 more.

                  Appearing in the space of a week, these articles all point to a broader issue: won’t someone think of the angry white men? Those men unable to accept responsibility for their actions because its everyone else’s fault, mainly women.

                  It’s a curious notion that some (oh, not all) men feel they must be a priority in all life, amply evidenced by anyone who had to pause their enjoyment of International Women’s Day to answer “but when is International Men’s Day?”. It’s as if they are worried people will forget men exist, which shows an almost-charming ignorance of statistics and the Patriarchy.

                  How possible is it to forget about men when there are centred in almost every industry and form of cultural expression? When they earn more, get hired more, are depicted more across the arts, have greater privilege to travel without harassment and can generally assume more attention in the medical and legal systems?

                  Meanwhile, people are still writing articles about how boys won’t read books if the main character is a girl. I mean, what’s the point if it’s not about them? In totally unrelated news: boys are now statistically reading less.

                  The assumption that men must be tended to like some fragile hothouse flower and given the best position so they can thrive also relies on another expectation: that women not men must do the work of centering or tending to men.

                  In a recent searing editorial for the New York Times, fellow Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Isabelle Robinson outlined how women dropping everything (including their standards and safety) to help angry white men won’t work. She details how he had previously winded her and that attempts to tutor Cruz resulted in sexual harassment. Women’s labour wasn’t going to prevent male violence, because male violence is a choice.

                  Naturally, feminists have been saying angry white men have been a problem for years and, to own the truth, women of colour have been saying it for a hell of a lot longer.

                  Just as naturally, this has been ignored until men felt a slight shift in power. But they don’t frame their concern about angry white men as “I agree with feminists” – suddenly it’s the feminists’ fault, that somehow, men were never violent, underemployed or angry until feminism took hold, tainting all that we (and by that I mean men) hold dear.

                  There are men who do this work – who write for men, try to help men, mend the crises and and give support. But so often this is done by men who seek in reinforce male priority and primacy over women, as can be seen with Jordan Peterson, who tells men to make their beds and decries feminism. Sexism is not the magic ingredient in treating male malaise, or male-aise.

                  Women aren’t dominating the world and causing men to suffer, nor are they truly being excluded from anything that women haven’t been blocked from for millennia.

                  As Ruth Bader Ginsberg says “I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the supreme court]? And I say ‘When there are nine.’ People are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”

                   

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                  Amy Gray is a Melbourne-based freelance writer currently working on Mother’s Ruin, a book exploring the feminist politics of motherhood. .

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                    What Annihilation taught me about gaslighting

                    Netflix

                    Sorry – spoilers lie ahead. Why not watch Annihilation first on Netflix and come back?

                    For a genre obsessed with the future, sci fi has a habit of telling you about the present. Perhaps audiences can only explore deeply personal issues when played out on spaceships or by aliens, needing a galaxy to get enough space to view the problem. It’s a thematic safe space where the unreality of the scene makes the real life issues easier to view.

                    Yet, Annihilation, the straight-to-Netflix film directed by Alex Garland, doesn’t promise anything so overt. The film follows the muddled steps of an all-women science team who explore “the Shimmer”, an area in Florida where an iridescent oil-like glow acts as a force field and transforms everything it touches. The new team navigate the spot, trying to understand both the anomaly and the fate of the teams who disappeared while exploring the Shimmer.

                    Each frame of the film toys with ideas of perception and reality and how their absence causes huge disruption. Stretched out on the screen, the film tells us that the characters and that strange, subverted land are both true and false at once. They can’t make decisions because they can’t trust what they see, think or hear and the land around them is now suddenly unpredictable. The further they progress, the more the Shimmer infects them, altering how they react and may survive.

                    Annihilation is basically science fiction’s attempt to show gaslighting, when a person manipulates you into doubting your feelings and thoughts (and therefore your judgement). When you’re gaslighted, you end up feeling disorientated and insecure, more likely to trust another person’s version of reality – often the very person manipulating you.

                    The more I watched the film, the more I was reminded of time when I had been gaslighted – in abusive or dysfunctional relationships. Times when I was told I was “seeing things”, that things I witnessed “didn’t happen”. Times when I was told reacting against an insult was me being “overly sensitive” or “paranoid”. Times when I used to remember how much stronger and happier I was before. Times when I wasn’t constantly feeling on edge, that thrum of anxiety and adrenaline, when your body is certain you’re close to danger but can’t explain why to your brain, unwilling to see the signs.

                    The film’s main character Lena, played by Natalie Portman, constantly endures forms of this – whether the gaslighter is men or the alien landscape around her. Scene by scene we see her observations doubted by men, who then tell her what she should feel or what she really saw with her own eyes, as though they greater experts in her life than her.

                    By the time we see her and the team in the Shimmer, we see women terrifyingly immersed in a world where the rules have changed without warning and the familiar is now as unfamiliar as any possible path home. Living with a gaslighter is often like living in the Shimmer – the rules and terrain can change all at once, leaving you disoriented and afraid.

                    Whether Alex Garland deliberately meant to make a film about gaslighting is debatable – like relationships, intent and impact can have vastly different paths. But for a film focusing on perception with a strong female cast, it would be a stubborn male gaze that didn’t add the two and found it equaled gaslighting.

                    Though statistics are hard to come by, gaslighting is often one of the first signs of a physically or emotionally abusive relationship and continually present as a technique for an abuser to remain in control of an incapacitated partner. But it can also be used in everyday dysfunction, especially in cases of workplace bullying.

                    Ariel Leve often covers abuse and gaslighting in her work, and mapped out an escape route for anyone lost in its fumes. She points to defiance (refusing to bend to an abuser’s script) and detaching yourself from their views or any hope they will change or apologise. The author suggests writing down things as they occur and referring to them when you feel calm – a form of testimony free from manipulation.

                    In the film, Lena’s salvation comes from having something “to live for”, something her “damaged goods” team doesn’t have. Her resilience and defiance in the face of fear and confusion give her a path home – forever changed from the infection that is gaslighting, but home and more safe than she was before.

                     

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                    Amy Gray is a Melbourne-based freelance writer currently working on Mother’s Ruin, a book exploring the feminist politics of motherhood. .

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