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QVWC Primer: how homelessness is a feminist issue

Recent figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that the average person experiencing homelessness is a woman aged 25-34, often with a child in tow. During the 2016-2017 period 60% of people seeking support from homeless service providers were women – with Victorian women at the top.

Homelessness is a feminist issue for the high number of women who need support but there are additional factors that make it an urgent crisis that requires intervention.

The major reason women face homelessness is from leaving domestic violence situations. 40% of those surveyed –mostly women – reported that they and their children found potential homelessness was a safer option that remaining with their partner or family.

This is further compounded by ongoing cuts to government services to help women and their children escaping violence. Often, an increase in public demand can act the same as a cut with many funded services unable to help and protect women and their children.

While many of the women surveyed were able to access some form of housing, the huge spike in housing affordability (rental as well as mortgage-based) makes homelessness an ongoing, ever-present threat looming over their heads.

Their options are thin on the ground – moving to regional locations may appeal for the lower housing costs, but 60% of people sleeping rough live outside city centres. Those sleeping rough are cut off from reduced or non-existent homelessness services.

What are some potential solutions?

  • Balancing housing affordability to have a greater emphasis on accessibility rather than extreme profit
  • Increase amount of social housing
  • Increase funding to homelessness services
  • Increase funding and services to help women and their children escape domestic violence
  • Employment options that are flexible for mothers and allow them to maintain economic independence…without the gender pay gap.
  • Reintroduction of the single parent pension and extending the age limit
  • And, according to Dr Petra Bueskens, introducing a universal basic wage which will give women the finance and protection they need to find safe housing and food for them and their children.

 

Below is a reading list to find out more:

 

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    Matricentric feminism – the feminism you should be talking about

    by Amy Gray 

    There are moments in our lives that make us a feminist or confirm our subscription – and one the biggest ones is becoming a mother.

    This differs from when a man says “of course I’m a feminist, I’m a father”, who can trot out the line and then go back to enjoying higher wages, greater professional opportunities and less housework than women while doing absolutely nothing to advancing women’s rights they apparently adore. Put it this way: a mother will embrace feminism because, unlike men, she cannot escape sexism she or her daughters will face.

    The reason for this milestone is that motherhood can be an accelerant for abuse, especially when it’s compounded by existing discrimination based on their gender, race or ethnicity, sexual identity, disability or class.

    Take it a step further and add motherhood into the mix and you have a situation where discrimination can increase on top of identity. It’s not so much that motherhood is an identity, rather, an identity lens, not unlike a magnifying glass under the sun focusing its burning intensity to increase discrimination ten-fold.

    This is where matricentric feminism comes in: feminism that is centered around the experience, discrimination and skill involved with mothering work.

    It’s an avenue of feminism that feeds into the larger movement of women’s liberation, one that touches upon other areas – as there are people devoted to queer feminism, there are queer parents with experiences unique to motherhood; so too with women of colour who are parents and face another set of historical and current discrimination explicitly centered around both their race, their children and their status as mothers.

    Matricentric feminism looks at motherhood as a lens that can increase the experiences and discrimination women face – because motherhood is not only what society often demands of women, it’s also what they use to punish them or make them more vulnerable to existing discrimination.

    Because motherhood is when women’s unpaid labour increases and job security decreases, it’s when women begin to leave their jobs, leaving their superannuation to stagnate. It’s when domestic violence can ramp up, medical issues become fraught or when the very ability to keep your children with you depends on the lottery of unearned privilege.

    And that’s just the start.

    Yet, as I’ve stated before here at QVWC, motherhood requires serious structural feminist analysis we don’t see in the mainstream press.

    In the process of writing a book about this topic, I’ve been honoured to read the work of academics and researchers who are experts in matricentric feminism. Like Dr Andrea O’Reilly, who not only coined the phrase matricentric feminism, but has been its loudest and most prolific advocate in academia and her specialist publishing arm, Demeter Press. Researchers who dive deep into data to measure the impacts government policy have on Australian mothers, like  AMIRCI who dedicate themselves to researching motherhood and how it is impacted by politics and society. Dr Petra Bueskens constantly writes about the psychology and reality of motherhood, most recently about the rise of homeless mothers raising their children on extended “holidays”.

    It is tempting to lay much of the blame on mainstream media uninterested in the wealth of experts who exist beyond the veil of hot takes and quick columns. But feminism isn’t performed solely in op-eds to an enraptured audience of women, employers or politicians.

    This is an issue that requires more than a simple solution – it requires the courage to dismantle and rebuild everything from how we hire, promote and pay, to a legal system that favours male protection and women’s labour, to our concept of families and who does the work and the unpaid work we all unwittingly take on to uphold society’s uneven standards.

    But 2018 is just around the corner and, as we make our resolutions for a brighter year, let’s include a vision for a more just and curious society, one that questions the assumptions we’ve carried for far too long.

     

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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 Men Can Do in 2018


      by 
      Benjamin Law

      In some ways, 2017 felt like a year of correctives. So much of it was heinous – Americans voted a known sexual predator for president; Australians got a wasteful, painful $122 million postal survey that dragged on for eternity – but something seemed to personally change in us too.

      Injustices seemed to mobilise people in ways we hadn’t seen before. In response to Trump’s ascendence, we had the Women’s March – the biggest global protest movement in human history. In response to a divisive survey on the rights of LGBTIQ people, the Yes campaign won the Australian public and parliament convincingly. Whether it was about Manus, Adani or Indigenous constitutional recognition, it was as if people decided they were done. People in my life who used to be apathetic about politics knocked on doors, took to the streets, donated money and picked up phones.

      For women especially, it was a watershed moment. There’s a reason why the #MeToo movement became Time’s Person of the Year (knocking off Trump). Women looked around, realised there were enough of them in positions of power to proceed safely and started tearing walls down with their bare hands.

      And make no mistake: it was women who did the work. From female journalists at the New York Times to female journalists at Fairfax and the ABC, they were brutally efficient and organised. All those names – Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and Australia’s Don Burke – only came tumbling down due to exposés done by women. And though the stories were hideous to behold, it also felt like a boil was being lanced. Horrific, but necessary. Vaguely satisfying in a gross kind of way, too.

      But while these conversations were happening, I noticed women in my life vent other frustrations. Why was it contingent on women, yet again, to do the heavy lifting and give over their time and emotional labour? Why weren’t men engaged in the conversation? Why weren’t men calling each other out or whistleblowing? Initially, I know I backed off because I didn’t want to ‘intrude’ on women’s conversations. I now realise that was the wrong instinct. I know other men were worried they were going to ‘get it wrong’. But here’s three ways I’ve learned we can make things right.

      Stop Other Men From Being Shit

      Let’s be clear about one thing about sexual harassment, abuse and assault:  this is a male problem. Do you intereact with women colleagues in ways you’d never dream of with men? Do you comment on their physical appearance as a way of socialising with other men? Would you feel comfortable if a female colleague overheard that conversation? Start pulling each other up on our behaviour (“I didn’t think you were that kind of guy”), given we have so much less to lose. You don’t need to be a perpetrator to be a bad egg. Not doing anything about it is just as crap.

      Put Your Money – or Time – Where Your Mouth Is

      Talk is cheap. Want to stop workplace sexual harassment at work? Good for you. Now here comes the difficult part: what are you going to do to create change? What new policies and strategies will you implement? Will you start offering family violence leave as standard policy? When will you announce those changes publicly? Need help? The Australian Human Rights Commission is a good place to start.

      Know When to Shut Up

      And finally: as much as it’s important to speak up, let’s also know when to shut up, fellas. It’s impossible to listen to women when you’re also listening to the sound of your own voice. And let’s do all of the above without expecting to be praised, given women do the work every other bloody day.

       

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      Benjamin LawBen Law is the prolific writer of The Family Law (also an SBS tv series), Sh*t Asian Mothers Say, Gaysia, Law School and the Quarterly Essay Moral Panic 101. You can follow him on Twitter @MrBenjaminLaw.

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        QVWC Primer: Weinstein & #MeToo

         

         

        QVWC Primer: Weinstein & #MeToo


        This is the first in a series were QVWC summarises a recent issue for women and shares relevent reading.

        Have feedback? Send it to qv.media@qvwc.org.au.

         

        The revelation that Miramax founder and producer Harvey Weinstein allegedly sexually harassed or assaulted women has created a reckoning storm felt around the world.

        The original revelations were published by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey in the New York Times, closely followed by an investigative piece happening at the same time by Ronan Farrow for the New Yorker.

        The revelations were unique due to the fact so many women came out publicly, using their name and their celebrity to shine a light on the abuse. Quickly thereafter, Weinstein was fired from the company.

        Women such as Rose McGowan rose to even higher prominence, using her platform on Twitter and elsewhere to rail against the abuse she and other women suffered.

        The event radiated out as women felt they could finally share their stories in a different environment than previously felt, one where men were excused and women were silenced. The amount of celebrity apologies were so profuse people started making caustic artwork out of them.

        This list by the New York Times catalogues notable American men facing accusations and, in a move that shows the sheer momentum of women and men coming forward to name their attackers and harrassers, is continually updated as each new allegation emerges – it’s currently at 34 in the space of under two months.

        The current incidents are remarkable for the following reasons:
        1) People aren’t afraid to name themselves or their alleged abusers
        2) Men are actually getting fired
        3) It’s gone global

        As mentioned earlier, the resulting avalanche of allegations is not restricted to America alone, as more people share their experiences around the globe. Locally in Australia, high profile barrister Charles Waterstreet faced allegations of sexual harassment, with Sydney University banning his firm from a careers hub. Additionally, there is work afoot to gather expose more local abusers with Tracey Spicer investigating reports and an arts-focused group aimed at dismantling the toxic working conditions women face.

        It’s also not just restricted to women victims. There have been numerous incidents of male on male sexual misconduct and harassment from Kevin Spacey, an actor, who has since been fired from the Netflix show House of Cards and edited out of an upcoming movie. Terry Crews has also shared details of his assault by agent Adam Venit, which he didn’t act upon for fears he would be racially profiled, among other reasons.

        Race is a factor in this push, with women of colour particularly targeted if they speak out about abuse they have faced – an almost immediate disbelief in their claims, a layover perhaps from Anita Hill’s stoicism in the face of sexual harassment. Harvey Weinstein didn’t individually dispute any woman’s claims until Lupita Nyong’o shared her experiences with the producer, which prompted a near immediate denial from him (something he didn’t do for any other woman).

        Similarly, when Aurora Perrineau began moves to pursue her alleged rape by Girls writer Murray Miller, showrunners and alleged feminists Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner claimed the actress’ complaint was actually a false rape claim. Dunham retracted and apologised a day later after much outcry – but not before Zinzi Clemens announced she would no longer write for Dunham’s newsletter Lenny and urged other women of colour to boycott or “divest” from the controversial writer and performer as she is more aligned with “hipster racists” which affects her feminism.

        While some women have embraced the #MeToo movement (created by activist Tarana Burke) where they share their stories of assault and harassment to highlight the enormity of the problem, others believe it does little to make structural change required to end the toxic culture. A recent piece in Slate argues that what we need now is a return to old school 70s feminist analysis – a return to interrogating structures and theories as well as feelings.

        In Australia, sexual harassment and assault is a huge concern, with 52% of women reporting they’ve experienced this at least once in their lives.

        Original reporting into Harvey Weinstein:

        Men’s sexual harassment and assault:

        Related coverage:

        RESOURCES FOR YOU

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          Programming women’s safety

          Woman looks upon background of binary code.

          by Janet Brunckhorst

          Most of us are pretty exposed online – it’s hard not to be. The trade off for talking with our friends and frenemies, cat gifs, book cars to pick us up and that pad thai we really, really want right now, is our privacy.

          That might be an ok trade-off for most of us, most of the time. But for survivors or people experiencing domestic violence, stalking or other abuse, how can you stay safe in an increasingly connected world?

          The intersection of technology and violence against women is a complex one. Technology can also be used to help victims or to successfully prosecute perpetrators. Non-profit Thorn’s Spotlight product identifies victims of sex trafficking who are advertised on the online commercial sex market. The tool has been used by law enforcement to identify and help thousands of trafficked children in the US.

          Technology is also used by perpetrators to commit abuse. This can range from the use of technology in violence that happens in physical space, including domestic violence and stalking, to violence that takes place specifically in a digital context, like online harassment and bullying.

          At the recent National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV)’s Tech Safety Conference in San Francisco, Sherri Peak gave a harrowing account of how her ex-husband used technology to stalk her. He used spyware to monitor her computer and emails and installed a GPS device in her car in order to track her movements. While the tech has changed since 2005 when Sherri went through her terrifying ordeal, the core of the story is the same: perpetrators will find ways to misuse technology.

          As Sherri’s experience shows, we need to consider the negative as well as positive potential for technology. This doesn’t always happen – it’s not that people building software don’t care – they simply don’t understand the issues.

          Developers do consider threats when they create web sites or apps but are focused on large scale security breaches. This scale is different from the threat of domestic violence or stalking, where someone is targeting one specific person instead of thousands of users.

          It’s easy for developers to overlook this threat when they’re focused on how to connect people, which is why Twitter, Facebook and Snap often fail users on safety. As one Twitter staffer at the conference observed, it’s really hard to do create a solution when your product wasn’t created with users’ safety in mind.

          When it comes to social media, this leaves many users in a quandary: accept that they can’t be safe, or get off the platform even as advocates hammered home that “the remedy cannot be the same as the abuse”.

          For many domestic violence victims, access to technology is limited or controlled by the perpetrator. If social media can’t give victims of domestic violence protection they are replicating the isolation of an abusive situation. Expecting people to opt out in order to protect themselves from (predominantly male) violence sends a troubling message, reinforcing a culture where marginalised communities are silenced as violent and abusive voices are allowed free rein.

          There are cases where it is necessary for an individual survivor to opt out of social media for their own safety, but this has to be their decision and not due to a failure in technology or advocacy to prioritising safety as well as ending cultures that prolong violence.

          Telling someone to get offline for their own good this is a kind of victim blaming; it’s the digital equivalent of “what was she wearing?”. Our lives are lived online now, whether we like it or not. It’s a public space where everything from professional networking to political organising happens. We can’t assume that opting out is a viable option for vulnerable people.

          This is where issues of individual safety begin to fuse with larger issues around representation in tech. Women, people of color, transgender people, and other marginalised groups, have to carve out space for themselves online. This space comes at the price of safety, often met with bullying, threats, and doxxing.

          The context is different, but these risks follow the same threat model as the risks to victims and survivors of domestic violence and stalking. These risks need to be mitigated in a way that protects the rights of vulnerable groups to stay online. Shireen Mitchell, founder of Digital Sistas, works for the inclusion of people of color in technology. In her keynote, Mitchell argued that the lack of diversity and inclusion in tech leads directly to the kinds of issues Biz Stone is fighting with Mike Monteiro about right now. More diverse teams equals a safer product. For everyone.

          Perpetrators of online violence are not going to make space. People have to take it. And perpetrators are not going to stop misusing platforms and products no matter how thoroughly victims and survivors try to erase themselves. It’s the behavior of perpetrators, not victims, that needs to change. We need to hold them accountable, along with the companies that enable misuse and abuse. Because individual safety should be as much of a concern as the security of troves of data.

          Resources
          WESNET has many resources for victims and agencies, all for an Australian context.

          The World Privacy Forum has a list of Top Ten Opt Outs. This list is US-centric, but the data broker and social media information is relevant to everyone (and this is the Do Not Call Registry in Australia).

          Digital Sisters’ project Stop Online Violence Against Women has a list of resources specifically for online harassment.

          Project Include works towards diversity and inclusion in tech. They have a set of recommendations for companies seeking to improve in these areas.

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          Janet Brunckhorst is a San Francisco-based technologist and product manager.
          Janet Brunckhorst is a San Francisco-based technologist and product manager.

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            On Yer Bike

            Catherine Deveny on her bike. Photo by Brent Lukey.Brent Lukey

            Catherine Deveny on her bike. Photo by Brent Lukey.


            By Catherine Deveny

            “I think the girl who is able to earn her own living and pay her own way should be as happy as anybody on earth. The sense of independence and security is very sweet.” 

            ― Susan B. Anthony

            Susan B. Anthony was a feminist and American civil rights leader born in 1820. She fought tirelessly for women’s suffrage and died 14 years before US women were given the right to vote in 1906. Read up on her, she was incredible, passionate, and ferocious and we have much to thank her for.

            This is my favorite of her quotes;

            “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel… the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.” 

            Cycling played a massive part in early feminism. It was because of bikes that women could travel on their own to meetings, rallies and committees. Of course, as always is the way when women attempt to emancipate, the  ‘men in charge’ tried to stop women with apocalyptic rhetoric warnings if women rode bikes they would mash their reproductive organs, become manly and develop ‘bicycle face’.  Seriously.

            I’m a deeply passionate commuter cyclist. Not everyone can ride everywhere but more people can ride more places more often, that’s for sure. Particularly women. The four things that dissuade women from riding the most are fear, fashion, fitness and family. All of which can be overcome.

            Women riding bikes is a sign of a civilised society.

            49 years old, 90 odd kilos and I ride almost everywhere. Errands, meetings, picking kids up, shopping, gigs, dates, dinner parties. The lot. Alone, with my partner, kids, buddies and sometimes as a part of organised rides with Pushy Women, Frocks On Bikes and Critical Mass.

            I ride because it’s faster than walking, cheaper than public transport, safer than driving and it’s the closest thing to flying.

            Sure it makes me happy and healthy but the massive unexpected by product is the amount of money I save, which is thousands a year.

            Because of our riding we only have one car, which saves us at least $6000 a year (I did the sums). We hardly use the car we have so that means less spent on petrol, maintenance, parking tickets, driving infringements or paying for parking.  Massive health benefits means our health is better and that saves us money. Because of our choice to cycle I’m not paying mortgage on a garage or a driveway either. That alone has to save me tens of thousands of dollars.

            Want to save money, get fit, have fun, empower yourself and be awesome? Get on your bike.

            Get that bike in the shed serviced, or go splurge on a new one.

            I’m not taking Lycra and Tour De France kind of riding. I’m not talking BMXing, mountain biking or making like a hipster and rocking the fixie.

            I’m talking an old fashioned step through bike and not racing and puffing. There are some beautiful ones out there. Think walking with wheels.

            So. On your bike!

            Four steps

            1. Get your ride. Dust off the treadlie from the shed, take it down to your local bike shop and get it serviced and spruced. If it’s time for a new bike, buy something you love. Something that makes you want to ride. You want the sparkly grips, the spokey dokes, silver streamers coming out of the handlebars and the basket with the flowers on it? Go get em. I recently had a loan of an electric bike for a week. Cannot recommend it highly enough. An electric bike is a regular pushbike with a motor you can flick on and off to give you a bit of a push when you need it up a hill, into the wind or if you are dragging the chain a little. It was hard to give it back after a week and I am seriously considering buying one.
            2. Get your groove back. Perhaps you haven’t ridden for a while, you don’t feel super fit, you may have lost your confidence or even had a bingle and not ridden for years because of it. Start slow, baby steps and you know what they say, ‘it’s just like riding a bike’.
            3. Get your route. Working out how to get places the safest way can really help you relax and enjoy your ride. Cycle lanes, cycle paths and back streets. Talk to people you see riding in your area. They’ll be delighted to help. The more people on the road on bikes the better it is for all of us.
            4. Get your attitude. Here are my tips. Own the road. Maintain your line. Be predictable. Assume you are invisible. Look hot.

            Cycling is revolutionary. Cars run on money and make you fat but bikes run on fat and make you money.

            I can’t tell you what regular commuting cycling has done to make my life and bank balance happier. Start small. If you are not feeling confident just ride around the back streets a bit until you feel more sure of yourself. Then perhaps nip up to the post office. Then visit a friend. The next thing you know the two-wheeler will be your default setting and your car the back up.

            And you know what? More often than not the ride is the best part of whatever daily mission I’m on.

            “Sooner or later we all discover that the important moments in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved. The real milestones are less prepossessing. They come to the door of memory unannounced, stray dogs that amble in, sniff around a bit and simply never leave. Our lives are measured by these.”
             Susan B. Anthony

            Catherine Deveny is a writer, comedian, author and speaker well known for her work as a columnist with The Age newspaper, as a Melbourne International Comedy Festival favourite and an ABC regular. She is also the creator of Gunnas Writing Masterclass. You can catch her via her website or on Facebook

             

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            Catherine Deveny on her bike. Photo by Brent Lukey.Brent Lukey

            Catherine Deveny on her bike. Photo by Brent Lukey.

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              Sign up for the Queen Victorian Women’s Centre Newsletter

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              Featuring the best feminist articles by Australia’s best feminist writers, including Clementine Ford, Celeste Liddle, Rebecca Shaw, Amy Gray, Jane Gilmore and Wendy Harmer.

              Need more encouragement? 
              If you sign up between October 26 and November 9 2017 you just might win a $100 Readings Voucher!

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                Finxiety

                By Amy Gray 

                There’s a special sort of anxiety born from money issues, instantly recognisable to anyone who has felt its grip. It races with a peculiarly fast beat that pulses a staccato red poison, catching your breath.

                I know this feeling well. I call it finxiety.

                Part of this finxiety is due to me truculently deciding some six years ago to become a freelance writer, which makes single parenthood and supermarket trips challenging. But the other part is that my favourite response to stress is to pretend it doesn’t exist at all, a behaviour known as avoidance.

                Combine the two and you have an amazing cocktail that will bolt you upright just as you’re about to fall asleep. Or it’s the spiked pulse that makes you stumble as you walk down the street. It’s the knowledge that somehow you just know that things will collapse spectacularly, leaving you pinned under the wreckage.

                The annoyance of it all is that when we avoid confronting our financial stress we just make it worse. Like the time I was called by the ATO to learn they didn’t update my contact details across the entire department and was in big financial trouble. Or just knowing with each tax return I didn’t file I was making things worse. I was throwing wreck upon wreck in front of me so I didn’t have to see the huge stop sign looming ahead.

                I sat on a panel on freelancing with financial whiz Sam Ryan and kept my body still and smiled as she mentioned activity statements.  Off stage, my body would literally curl like an armadillo whenever people mentioned their tax. The mere mention of a worthy system (and the tax system is worthy, despite crying out for some massive improvements) would render me still like a possum, hoping to evade attack.

                Though I couldn’t ever share my tax shame stories, I knew of others – all women – who would softly chuckle that they needed to do their years of errant taxes but had been putting it off for some reason that sounded good instead of making good sense. Over the years, their stories lost their soft chuckle.

                Avoidance is never the self care strategy its impulse suggests. It’s not something that truly helps except in those first few seconds. Instead, avoidance is a fire accelerant that merely grows the flames singing you on a daily basis.

                Like that time I avoided a call from the ATO asking me to call them urgently. I could hear my heart thump through my ribs, I could feel its tide in my ears and the finxiety washed over me. Friends have had bank accounts frozen or ABNs shut down and my mind immediately imagined both happening to me, which then transferred into the thought of being homeless and a disaster movie playing inside my head

                The choice was simple: continue throwing accelerant onto my finxiety or extinguish it completely.

                So, I emailed accountancy firm Darkwave and professed my uselessness. They immediately stopped the ATO from calling and, over the course of a month, we tracked through all my bank deposits and spelunked my inbox for every imaginable deduction. They earned their money, gently sitting through one or two frantic emails from me, filing 7 tax returns on my behalf and negotiating on fines, bills and, yes, even refunds.

                If you’ve ever seen a kid grab another kid’s hand and swack them in the face with a cruelly joyous “stop hitting yourself!”, you understand what avoidance anxiety is like. It can be a childish form of annoyance where you are literally hitting yourself.

                The nights I signed my tax returns and got a refund were the best nights of sleep I ever had.

                Since then, I’ve decided to confront my finxiety regularly. I drew up a budget, I started saving (sure, it’s small, but it’s a start), consolidated all my super, I even read that Barefoot dude but most importantly of all, I got all my tax data to my accountant before the deadline. Slowly, but surely, I’m trying to learn how to use my money because the next big thing I’m afraid of is not my financial present but my financial future.

                There are so many sources of economic discrimination towards womanhood: we’re often not paid the same as men, health items like tampons and pads are still taxed and women still pay a premium for goods and services for gendered items that men do not. This all culminates in lower savings or superannuation funds, fewer assets and financial vulnerability.

                So why add to that?

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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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                  The Business of Bleeding

                  By Rosanna Stevens

                  A month ago I stood in a basement belonging to a man called Harry Finley. Harry is 75, and has spent an impressive portion of his life collecting menstrual ephemera. You know: pads through the ages, tampons famous as the culprits of toxic shock syndrome, ancient knickers, the prototype for the menstrual cup, whatever; you name it, he has it.

                  Once, these items were displayed around the downstairs of his home. In its heyday, mannequins hung from the ceiling adorned with white cotton menstrual wear, and display boards offered viewers a range of historical period zines and pamphlets. Visitors would book in to view the private collection, known as the Museum of Menstruation. In the humidity of midsummer in Maryland USA, surrounded by walls of cinderblock and shelves and containers spilling with his library of items, we chatted about the catalyst for his collection: advertisements.

                   ‘I had the impression up until the museum opened that women spoke among themselves about menstruation all the time.’ He explained to me as we stood over several cardboard boxes of sanitary pads, a basement tap hissing like a third character.


                  ‘You see it in ads – but they don’t. That’s incredible – it still amazes me. I mean I have ads from the 1920’s and 30’s – cartoon kind-of ads where ‘Janet’ is talking with her neighbour, house to house. ‘Oh have you seen this new Kotex pad?’ And I thought, well this is the way it happens; women chat about this kind of thing. It was a shock to me when I would ask museum visitors about this stuff, and they would look at me with surprise and say – ‘Oh… no.’

                  Unless they were in a radical underground menstrual cult, no woman was having a conversation with another woman about Kotex in the burbs of white America in the 1930’s, because of hundreds of years of menstrual stigmatisation. Instead, like a literally bloody Trojan horse, Kotex dressed itself up as two buoyant housewives and, in pantomime, had a conversation with the menstruating people of white America in the 1930’s. Kotex told menstruating people what to buy, why covering up your period was desirable, and who menstruated – like it was your doctor or your friend.

                  In case you’re thinking anything has changed since the 1930’s, let me take you on a journey through time and space.

                  Earlier this year, a brand called Bodyform was praised for their progressive menstrual product advertising campaign, which featured a montage of feminine-presenting women playing sport, dancing, boxing and skateboarding, despite visible cuts and bruises marking their bodies. The slogan that won them praise was, ‘No blood should hold us back’. Hold us back from what? Death? Isn’t this a grittier version of the magical advertisements of the 90’s, featuring white pants, horses, and beach-runs? Doesn’t the ad ultimately tell us that the best period is an invisible period, and that we should want to be highly functional during our period, at all times? That periods are our enemy? Or are our bodies are our enemy; that somehow it’s still an inconvenience to be a woman, or a menstruating person?

                  Recently, Dear Kates – a kind of menstrual underpant self-branded as ‘REVOLUTIONARY UNDERLUX TECHNOLOGY’ – sent me an email titled, ‘Girl, are you ready for the revolution’ – not even a rhetorical question. The revolution they offered was sweat and leak-proof active wear, and underpants that would let me dance ‘restriction free’.

                  The technology these brands are offering is new and interesting, and in many ways very experimental and liberating: Dear Kates offer menstruators the opportunity to move with new comfort, and because menstrual pants are cloth, it also offers us an opportunity to familiarise ourselves with menstrual blood in newly confronting and physical ways.

                  But these new brands are also offering us a dangerous old idea as a new product: menstrual invisibility served up as progressivism. They don’t just sell us ideas of why menstruation is bad and we should defy it; who they use in their ads, and the language of their ads, also tells us the lie that only a certain type of woman bleeds.

                  Advertisements sell us successful states of womanhood – the runner, the boxer, the football player, the yogi and the pamperer, the sufferer and the joyful beach-runner. These are ideal representations that rely on erasing anyone else who may menstruate, such as non-normalised women’s and  trans, non-binary people’s experiences of menstruation. It is an erasure that shows the business of bleeding is booming but it’s not taking part in our revolution – it’s selling an evolution in the controlling of feminine idealisation and menstruation.

                  Advertising doesn’t know anything about our bodies: it isn’t a doctor. Advertising isn’t even a social studies lecturer. Advertising isn’t your mother, and most importantly, it isn’t your friend. Menstrual product advertising wants to be your friend, but in that way someone befriends you because you have a nice car they want to borrow. Menstruation is a really nice car that menstrual products and advertisers would like to take for a spin once a month, at a cost to you: because, so long as you’re paying to have your period, menstrual technology companies will want to own it.

                  In her piece in Overland, Bloody girls: on periods and poverty, Pip Adam writes about a similar revelation: ‘It dawned on me…’ she writes, ‘how completely capitalism had taken control of the story of menstruation – that a woman keeping her period hidden might seem the most appealing option.’

                  Your period is yours – it happens in your body, it belongs to you and is your experience to have as you please. That’s why menstrual product ads tell you hiding it is your personal responsibility. Nobody else wants your period: they don’t want to see it, they don’t want to hear about it, they don’t want to smell it. It’s yours, and I can’t even pretend to be sorry about that for you, because it means you’re in control of the future of menstruation.

                  Instead of allowing the modern version of Kotex’s Janet tell you what your period is, wants, and needs, start your own revolution: ask questions, work out what your period means to you outside of the products available, talk to your friends and family about menstruation. It’s an uncomfortable task – almost as uncomfortable as, oh, I don’t know, bleeding. But telling yourself that your own period is a problem has got to be harder.

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                  Rosanna StevensSupplied by author

                  Rosanna Stevens is a writer, researcher, and musician based in Canberra. She is currently completing a PhD in decolonisation, and she is this year’s Anne Edgeworth Fellow. You can find more of her writing on menstruation in bookstores across Australia in November, in The Best of The Lifted Brow Vol II.

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                    The Parenting Shock

                     

                    By Clementine Ford

                    Without a doubt, one of the biggest challenges faced by people who believe themselves to be in an equal relationship comes from the choice to turn your partnership into a familyship. If I’ve learned anything in my first year as a parent, it’s that resentment is a well that can always hold more liquid but will never fully drain.

                    This is especially true for the heterosexual partnerships that already suffer under the gender gap that sees men perform significantly less domestic labour than their female partners. The mental load borne by such women was depicted brilliantly by the French artist Emma in her comic, “You should’ve asked”. In it, Emma explores the expectations that women become the ‘household managers’ for men who may be happy to perform household tasks, but who require delegation from their wives or girlfriends to be prompted into action.

                    These are the same men who genuinely love and adore their children, but who still ask their partners what they should feed them for lunch. The men who know when their favourite football team will play, but not when their child’s next vaccinations are due.

                    These men aren’t bad people, nor are they probably aware of how uneven the workload is in their family. If you were to ask them, they’d probably say the balance was more or less equal, “give or take”. But this is because they haven’t been conditioned from the outset to absorb the kind of boring, repetitive mental labour that is considered not just the domain of women but an area of our special expertise. It spawns from the same conditioning that sees women, as journalist Tracey Spicer calls it, acting as “the glue in men’s conversations”. In this framework, women don’t lead – we facilitate. So it is that we facilitate the smooth running of a household, whether or not we want to or are even particularly good at it.

                    (For the benefit of people who resist engaging with statistical realities, of course there are outliers to this. Yes, there are men who are the primary parents. Yes, there are men who do more housework. Yes, there are men who get their kids off to school or childcare, who handle the doctor appointments and the shopping, who are the first to get up in the middle of the night to comfort a crying baby. But they are not the statistical norm. Additionally, the exceedingly low expectations we have of men when it comes to domesticity and child rearing means they are valorised for being hands on dads in public while women doing the same are barely tolerated.)

                    There are other influences at play here, and that some of them are assisted by women. In a recent piece in the Guardian outlining her postnatal depression, the writer Cerys Howell criticised what she (and others) have referred to as the ‘cult of motherhood’. In the depths of her depression, Howell deleted all of the smartphone baby apps that have arisen as part of the online motherhood village, recognising that the vast majority of them “assume mum-exclusive care”. Howell observed that fathers in these communities were only mentioned “as a sub-section, like a type of buggy”. It seems to me that women in Anglo, often middle class communities seem determined to prove our competency as highly skilled Professional Mothers, the modern, ‘empowered’ version of the 1950s housewife who can suddenly do and have it all but with less easy access to gin and valium.

                    This fits into the theory ‘instinctive’ child rearing and domestic management are in the miniscule realm of things women are allowed to boast about being good at, because it suits patriarchal order for us to aspire to greatness within this unpaid and grossly underappreciated skill-set. Men may be best at running the world, but women are best at running the house – or at least, this is what we are supposed to satisfy ourselves with.

                    When you combine this with the element of competition – that is, the endless competition women are constantly forced into with one another, the one that plays out in the Mummy Wars, the media critiques and the irritating persistence of querying whether or not we can really “have it all” – the situation compounds further.

                    I don’t have a solution for this problem, because it’s something I’m working through myself along with everyone else. In a way, I’m still getting over the shock that comes from having this previously equal dynamic disturbed – and I have a partner who co-parents his child well and has never shied away from nappies, bath time or a crying baby. But I’ve heard it said that there are three distinct times at which a woman might become a feminist: when she enters the workforce, if she has a baby and when she is suddenly considered old in the eyes of other people.

                    I was already a feminist, but becoming a parent took that feminism, fortified it and clad it in iron. If only it didn’t feel like such a daily battle.

                    Clementine Ford is an Australian feminist writer, broadcaster and public speaker. She has a regular column in Daily Life. You can follow her on Twitter at @clementine_ford.

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