Category Archives: Politics

Burkinis and Bikins

Many, many people much smarter and more articulate than I have already weighed into this topic. It seems to have been universally condemned and has already been overturned by the French court.

But I did just want to write a little personal note. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. Two weeks ago, I bought a swimsuit that reveals my belly. This is the first swimsuit I have ever owned in my adult life that reveals my belly. Bikinis, for me, have always come with the baggage of the ‘bikini-ready body’, an idea and a body that haunts women’s magazines for the 3 -4 months before summer and then the 3 months of summer. I didn’t know how to get rid of the pubic hair around my bikini line without my skin breaking out in horrible, itchy red bumps and going out with my pubs showing made me feel disgusting. Maybe I ‘shouldn’t’ have felt shamed by this. But, I did. Bikinis weren’t liberating or sexy or fun for me. They were shaming. And bikinis became impossible for me to wear.

So what, I guess? One-pieces are/were available. However, they were difficult to find and most stores offered very little attractive choice. Places that offered lots of one-piece swimsuits were geared towards little old ladies. I didn’t want to wear these sorts of swimsuits. They made me feel old and prudish and unattractive. Maybe I ‘shouldn’t’ have felt shamed by all this. But, I did. And being on the beach, or in the pool (unless it was just to swim laps), became almost impossible.

I feel very differently about all of this now. And a lot of women would have told me I should have felt differently about that before. Who cares if I have pubic hair showing? Who cares if I don’t have a bikini body? I agree (now), but that didn’t stop my younger self worrying about all those things. And, having those women force me into a bikini against my will and pushing me out into the middle of Bondi Beach with a wildly hairy bikini line would not have made me feel any better. It would not have made me suddenly empowered or more free.

The only time I ever felt comfortable in a ‘swimsuit’ was on a school trip to Australia’s Wonderland. I had, genuinely, forgotten my swimsuit, because I didn’t think we were going to go swimming. We were. Everyone was. So, I decided to wear my knickers (black) and a friend’s black singlet top. I loved it. I thought I looked chic. I got compliments. I looked everywhere for a swimsuit that looked just like that. Of course, nothing. But, apart from all that, if anyone had known that I was actually a teenage girl running around a public place, on a school trip, in my underwear, I’m absolutely certain someone would have told me it was inappropriate. It was provocative. Despite it covering up more of my skin than my friends’ bikinis.  Because of someone else’s classification of what that material was supposed to be and what that material was meant to mean and what my teenage skin cloaked in that material was meant to invite.

My point with all this is that it is impossible to know how an individual views a garment, how it makes them feel and the significance they attach to it. The French are saying that they ‘know’ that EVERY burkini has dangerous connotations, significance and poses a threat to their secular society. But they can’t know, just by looking at what kind of outfit a woman is wearing, how she feels about that garment, how she feels about herself, how she feels about Islam and how she feels about France. It is the most horrific form of stereotyping, generalising and racism. It takes away an person’s ability to define themselves, to express themselves and tells them how they should feel. It is saying to an entire group that to be in public life they must feel shamed and uncomfortable, or they will not be permitted at all.

 

 

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Horrible Poems from Horrible People

So, I enjoyed creating that strange poem/speech out of John Howard’s old Tampa interview so much on the weekend that I’ve been combing through the PM archives for the past few days and making more.

After the first one, which I thought was quite successful in terms of coherent message and clear stylistic choices, I’ve found the next few tough. I have also (of course) started questioning myself. Exactly what is the point of doing these weird poem/speech things? The historian in me is hyperventilating, because I’m twisting people’s words and making them sound more horrific than, perhaps, they actually sounded. The liberal artist in me is feeling icky for having to read through all these horrible words, trying to make them into something called ‘art’ and is worried that by putting them on my blog I’m seemingly condoning the messages in the speeches. I’m worried that my historian fears will stop me taking the speech/poems far enough to make some kind (any kind) of artistic statement. And the perfectionist in me keeps complaining that none of my poems subsequent to the first one are good enough to warrant me continuing with this particular writing exercise.

However, there is something addictive about them that has kept me writing, despite all the internal protests. Plus, they’re very quick. And the process of picking random, unrelated statements and then being able to craft them into some kind of whole is endlessly fascinating to me. It’s like trying to put a puzzle together when you don’t know what it’s supposed to look like in the end. So, here’s a couple of others.

John Howard (from an interview about the lack of WMD’s in Iraq)

I will answer for my statements

I’ve made plenty of mistakes

I get things wrong

I mean, I apologise if I misled people.

Deliberately misled people.

I’m explaining it.

I’m explaining to you what happened.

Well, I don’t know.

I just don’t know.

I can’t do better than that, I’m not an encyclopedia.

You’ll forgive me for not answering simply yes or no, not off the top of my head.

I’d have to get the speech, I’d have to find…

I would have to ask.

As you’re asking me the question.

The answer to that is: I’m not in a position to answer.

I can’t answer.

But, there has been no intention to deceive or mislead

Let us choose our words carefully.

Bad faith, bad motives, deliberate intention.

Anything that I have said that might be seen as misleading

Was not a deliberate misleading.

The literal statement I made

Literally what I said:

Are you prepared to go to war?

 

We can’t walk away.

 

Pauline Hanson (from her first speech to parliament in 1996)

I do not feel we can go on living in a dream world

I am fed up to the back teeth

I was born here: where the hell do I go?

Like most Australians, I worked for my land.

I must pay and continue.

I call on the people:

One people, one nation, one flag

Just an ordinary Australian who speaks for 90% of Australians

The majority of Australians be fair dinkum.

But, Australians, it is too late.

Millions of Australians stop kowtowing

Ordinary Australians have been kept out

Mainstream Australia is in danger

Divided into black and white

Wake up, Mainstream Australia!

Life’s knocks applied to mainstream Australians.

Most Australians want

Two sets of rules.

There is light at the end of the tunnel:

I can invite whom I want into my home, I say who comes into my country.

I may be only a ‘fish and chip shop lady’ but

How proud I am.

I salute them all.

 

John Howard (interview about Sept. 11th, children overboard, war in Afghanistan)

This is not an attack on Islam

There is no total solution.

But these people will not come to the mainland.

It’s one of the pillars of our society.

Even in times like this,

We have laws.

We’ve got laws in relation to that.

Handle the problem where it first occurs.

We cannot allow ourselves to be intimidated by this:

The kind of people we are.

A humane people.

We preserve our standards.

We continue to behave in a humane fashion.

Our resolve is being tested.

Emotional blackmail is very distressing.

It must be very distressing.

It’s a difficult issue.

A 100 year battle.

A matter of common humanity.

You seek to roll yourself into a small ball and disappear.

They are playing on that.

I will condemn.

I don’t want people in this country who throw children overboard.

Genuine refugees don’t throw children into the sea.

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Little Johnny Howard

I did a theatre workshop over the weekend run by a writer/director friend of mine. It was exploring Brexit and the current political divide, amongst other things and we had to bring in a speech made by a politician, which we viewed as marking a turning point in politics and towards right-wing conservatism in particular. I immediately thought of the Tampa crisis and John Howard’s insistent that we would decide who came into our country and the circumstances in which they arrive. So, I brought an interview John Howard did with Mike Munro from that time. I found it on this archive that is kept of select Australian prime minister’s press releases, speeches, interviews etc. You can find it here. We had to create something new from what we had brought and I was quite pleased with my effort. The disturbing thing about it is how similar the rhetoric is from the current European refugee crisis, even though this was 15 years ago. People at the workshop were really shocked it was so old.

So, here it is:

This is a very difficult situation for everybody.

We are a humane people.

We are a generous people.

We are reaching a breaking point.

We are not obliged to accept.

We appear to be losing control.

We have an absolute right.

We have decide to take a stand.

We assert the absolute right to control our borders.

We cannot surrender our right as a sovereign country, our right to control our borders.

No country can ever give that up.

We cannot have a situation where people can come to this country when they choose.

We can’t continue sending a signal to the rest of the world that this is a nation of easy destination.

The should be returned to Indonesia.

All we’re asking is that there not be any queue jumpers.

There are a lot of people waiting in the queue.

They should go through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

They’re not in imminent fear or concern about the situation.

They try and intimidate us with our own decency.

Four of the illnesses were not as represented.

Three were very mild.

One was feigned.

We will provide medical assistance, we will provide water, we’ll provide food, I mean, we are a very generous people but you’ve got to balance that against not having that generosity played upon.

little johnny howard

Little Johnny Howard found here

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Low-Level Frustration

I heard life was a Low-Level Panic.

It’s not.

Life is an endless trickling stream of frustration.

Life is a chinese water-torture.

Life is the quiet rumblings of an oncoming earthquake that never hits (but never ends).

Life is a long list of things you can’t do and you can’t change and you will always regret.

 

You’re lucky though.

The modern world has developed ways to cope.

Fake remedies (the beauty industry)

Mindless distractions (the internet, social media)

False hopes (self-help books)

Pretend power (democracy, petitions, peaceful protest)

 

The culture that hurts you pretends it can heal you.

The world that separates you thinks it can connect you.

 

They’ll tell you:

The most useful emotion in this life is not bravery or love or anger. 

It is nothing so noble or romantic.

The most useful emotion is acceptance.

A cool, suburban, comfortable acceptance.

Dull, utilitarian acceptance.

 

Don’t ask too many questions.

Don’t try and find out how the world really works.

Don’t ask to see the man behind the screen.

This only leads to revulsion.

And revulsion leads to anger.

And anger can be terrifying.

 

Low-level frustration is easy to accept.

To ignore.

For you.

And for them.

 

 

 

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When I Was a Child

Didn’t know how to react to the Australian election. So I wrote a poem. I don’t normally write poems.

 

When I was a child you taught me

Always be kind

Always be good

Always share (and others would)

Only take what it was that I needed

And look out for those smaller than me.

 

When I was a child you taught me

Not to argue

Not to use names

Not to bite or hit or kick or spit

To use my words nicely and if I couldn’t

Use them nicely, ‘don’t use them at all’.

 

When I was a child you taught me

The world is fair

And the world is kind

And the world is safe

And right always won (though it might take some time)

And that we were right

And we ARE right

And always will be right

So it is right

That we won; and we win; and we go on winning.

(And even if it didn’t feel like winning sometimes,

It Was.)

 

When I was a child you taught me

That science was immutable;

That love was forever;

That people got what they deserved (eventually);

That hard work always was rewarded (potentially);

That beauty equalled goodness;

That goodness was enough;

That intelligence was valued;

That the world has been, is and always will be;

That monsters wouldn’t get you

(Once the light was on);

That wishing on stars and blowing out candles and picking up pennies

Was a legitimate way to make dreams come true;

That the ‘grown-ups knew what they were doing’

And when I was grown-up,

I WOULD TOO.

 

But when I was a child

You Lied. 

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#auspol

Because I don’t have a smartphone, I’ve never really been on Twitter when ‘things are happening’. My computer limits my tweeting to my room and the TV room, which kind of defeats the point of Twitter. I mean, the people in the Arab Revolutions weren’t running around with their laptops tweeting about atrocities. They had smartphones. They took photos and videos and immediately put them on Twitter. I don’t have that technology (and frankly, I don’t think I want it. I do want the opportunity to be, for at least some of my life, disconnected from the internet and sloth videos).

Yesterday morning UK time, however, I woke to the news that there had been spill in the Australian Labor Party and there would be yet another leadership ballot.

For those of you out of the loop (though, I think most people are in the loop after all the fuss the Australians made on Twitter yesterday), The Australian Labor Party swept to victory in 2007 with a leader named Kevin Rudd (his battlecry was ‘Kevin 07’, which was rather nifty and convenient). This was after 9 years of national leadership by a conservative party headed by Mr. Sheen. I mean, John Howard.

For us Gen Y-ers of the bleeding heart, left-leaning variety, 2007 was the first time a ‘left’ party, a traditionally ‘unionist’ party had been elected in our adult lifetimes. There may have been dancing in the street when it came to my friendship circle.

As we inched towards the 2010 election, however, Rudd’s popularity was dwindling. More importantly (at least from the Labor party’s perspective), he was a changeable, irritable, impossible-to-work with meglomaniac. Eventually there was a spill and the party had a leadership vote. Julia Gillard won and became our first female prime minister. There was a lot of outcry from people who don’t really know what they’re talking about (when is there not?) mainly along the lines of, ‘But we didn’t vote for her!’ (For those outside of Australia, and for those within who don’t understand their political system: you didn’t vote for her. But you didn’t vote for Kevin Rudd either. You do not have a directly-elected leader like the USA. You vote for a representative in your electorate. When all the seats in parliament are divided amongst the parties, a majority is determined and whoever is the leader of the majority party is the Prime Minister. Its up to the majority party, not the country. #AusPol101)

Anyway, Gillard announced an election pretty soon after she was elected, so that the Australian people would have a chance to say what they thought about the leadership change (if not giving them the chance to directly vote for or against Gillard as prime minister). And the Australian public’s verdict was….

‘WE DON’T REALLY KNOW! WE’RE KIND OF ANGRY! AND WE DON’T LIKE THAT RED-HAIRED LADY! BUT WE KIND OF DON’T LIKE THAT OTHER GUY EITHER! Uhhhh… Can we just draw donkeys on our ballots and call it a draw?’

It was a hung parliament (oh and there were so many jokes made). Gillard eventually convinced the independent ministers and the one Greens minister to form a coalition government with the Labor Party (which, by the way the other side has been doing for years – the Liberal-National Party is not one party, but a COALITION of two parties. Lucky for them though, not many Australians know this, so the LNP was able to exploit the fact that this Labor-Greens-Independent coalition government was somehow ‘less stable’ than all the Liberal-National coalition governments over the years).

But, still, the Labor Party was the majority party and Gillard was the Prime Minister and had been ‘elected’ so by the Australian Public (though not really – see point above – but everyone somehow felt a bit better now). Then followed 3 of the most shameful years I have ever seen in Australian politics. And I don’t mean Gillard herself (though some of her policies I did think were shameful – refugees and   gay marriage in particular, which were all the more shameful because I don’t believe these policies represented her true views, but were crafted to pander to a racist and conservative public). I mean, the treatment of Gillard.

What other politician has had to endure public personalities making serious speeches in which it is claimed their father ‘died of shame’ over her policies? What other (male) politician has had to endure shock jocks asking about the sexuality of their partner, just because he is a hairdresser and you are prime minister of the country? What other (male) politician has had to endure endless scrutiny and censure because they don’t have children? What other male politician has had to endure constant remarks about their weight, appearance and clothing when all they were trying to do was run the bloody country?

Yeah. That’s right. I’m pulling out the big guns. The reason Gillard had it so hard over the past three years was because of consistent and deep-seated misogyny – amongst the Labor Party, from the Coalition, from the mainstream media and definitely from the Australian public.

I’m not saying that Gillard did everything right. I’m also not saying there weren’t other factors at play (a vengeful and angry Rudd on the back-benches constantly spreading rumours and demanding leadership ballots would be hard for anyone to deal with – Gillard herself has said that she was essentially fighting two opposition leaders). But I am also saying the level of disrespect, the mud-slinging and the hatred aimed at Gillard surpasses anything I have ever seen before in Australian politics. And the majority of it came from white, middle-class men. Men who clearly felt threatened. Men not used to dealing with a woman wielding so much power. Men who wanted only to ridicule and demean, rather than engage with her policies on a serious level. Gillard was constantly accused of having no policy. Gillard had plenty of policy. No-one wanted to talk to her about her policy. They wanted to talk about the fact that she lost her shoe when a security guard pulled her from a ‘dangerous situation’. Here:

They wanted to talk about Kevin Rudd. They demanded ‘the real Julia please stand up’. When she did, delivering this amazing speech, heard by women all around the world, she was accused of political opportunism, cynically hijacking the issue of feminism and ‘playing the gender card’ (whatever the hell that means. As Gillard herself said in her departing speech yesterday, ‘Heaven knows no-one realised I was a woman until I raised it.’) 

What’s my point? Well, I think you can tell I’m pretty hacked off. If you follow me on Twitter and were reading my tweets yesterday, I’m sure you could tell I was pretty hacked off. It’s not that I think Julia Gillard was the best politician in the world – as I said before I didn’t agree with a lot of what she did. It’s not even that I think she would have won the election in September (I know she wouldn’t have. But, incidentally, I don’t really think Rudd is going to win either). It’s simply that people have treated Gillard appallingly throughout the past 3 years – they have belittled her, they have demeaned her, they have insulted her, they have humiliated her, they have refused to listen to her and it is, as far as I can tell, mainly because she is a woman. They have done it because she is a woman and they have been able to get away with it because she is a woman.

And I think that is shit.

(At this point, I think you should watch this video. Which is from the other side of the world in terms of politics, but it seems appropriate at this time).

So, what was the new thing I did on Wednesday? I watched all this shit go down via Twitter and ABC News 24. I’ve not done that before. I spent a good 6 hours on the computer bitching and commenting and viewing and re-tweeting. I can’t say I enjoyed it. I don’t feel like I did anything useful. It’s not like my tweeting was changing anyone’s minds. It’s not like the ALP caved in under pressure from Twitter. As much as Twitter would like us to think their app is the new democracy in action, they’re not quite there yet. Venting on Twitter, however, did somehow seem more important, consoling, useful and sane than ranting at my wall. In hindsight, it probably isn’t. It’s probably like being one of those people who stands around with a sign around their neck saying, ‘The End of the World is Nigh.’ But I couldn’t help it. Even though it was the internet equivalent of screaming into the wind, being on Twitter felt like I was part of *something*, that I was doing *something*. Today is my Twitter hang-over day and I’ve kind of realised how silly that is. But I don’t really know what else to do. The world is shit and I can’t fix it. All I can offer are tweets, Facebook status updates, blog posts and the occasional play.  That ain’t gonna change anything.

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