We Need To Talk About Creeps

Thursday, 27 September 2012
It's such a familiar scene.

 You've had a torturous day at work; you can't believe it's not actually a full moon, because the crazies are out in force, thought at least they provide a diversion from the customers with the IQ of a mitten. The networks were slow, the air conditioning was on the fritz, and you've a splitting headache. After nine hours you finally make your way out of the office with a glazed expression and collapse gratefully into your bus seat, looking only to lose yourself in the pulpy trash escapist novel you've been saving for this purpose until you can get home and tip fermented beverages down your throat. You open it up and have barely read two sentences when a voice interrupts.
"Good book?"
"I'm sorry?" you say, not sure where the voice is coming from or if it is directed at you.
"Is it a good book?" asks the guy seated in front of you. You barely notice what he looks like. You don't care. You've been talking to strangers non stop all day, and now you're tired, and you don't want to talk to another stranger; you just want to be left alone.
"Um, I guess, I haven't had a chance to read much yet", you reply, hoping he gets the message, but he doesn't.
"So, what do you do?"
"Um, I'm a customer service rep". You mutter fast with your head down, trying to be as dull as possible, hoping he'll just leave you alone.
"You want to go out with me sometime?". Yep, that's come up within thirty seconds.
"Look, I'm sure you're nice, but I don't really want to talk, I just want to read my book".

And you're left shaken and upset. Everyone on  the bus heard. They don't know where to look. You've done nothing to deserve this. A bad day just got worse. Meanwhile the offender gets off at the next stop, looking for his next target.

How many times did this, or something similar, happen to me when I was younger? Dozens? Hundreds possibly, considering I traveled on public transport every day and (yes) did enjoy going to pubs and clubs.  Sometimes it was this bad. Sometimes it was just ridiculous, like the guy who called me a "lezzo" because I replied in the negative to his invitation, given to a random stranger on a train platform, to go home with him. Sometimes it was frightening. Sometimes it was disgusting, like the unseen man in the crowd of millions at the Rocks for New Years Eve 1999 who stuck his hand between my legs and was then gone before I fully realised what had happened, leaving me filled with a directionless fury. It happens to every woman, and I don't think the majority of decent men in our society appreciate the pervasive threat women face everywhere they go from the few creeps who walk amongst them.

As we all hope for a positive outcome in the disappearance of Jill Meagher, one good thing that may come out of this horrible event is to get people to talk about these creepy encounters...and to take them seriously. In the aftermath of Ms Meagher's disappearance, several women have bravely come forward to report being approached by creepy men in the vicinity. A line being tossed around is "why did none of these women report anything before?". But really - why would they have?

I never reported any of the incidents I was subjected to. It never crossed my mind. Even if it had, what would have been the police reaction - "so, you're upset because someone tried to talk to you?". Easy, for police and society, to pass it off as harmless. Easy to ignore it happening around you. Easy to gloss over the harassment and fear women feel when they go out in public, just for being women. Well maybe now we can talk about it, admit that it's annoying and frustrating and upsetting and dangerous. Maybe we will encourage people to speak up, say no when they see it happening around them.

I'm not saying women can't be sexually aggressive - anyone who's ever seen a hen's night party at a strip club can attest to that. But how many men have feared sexual harassment from a stranger whilst waiting to get the train home from uni - at 2pm? We need to talk about this, what it means for us all. Maybe it would be a small first step towards no longer blaming the victim.

The Next Chapter

Wednesday, 26 September 2012
Well, after four hellish months of applications, I've finally gotten a job. Hellish is little exaggeration - I applied for over 100 jobs in that time, none of them outlandishly beyond my qualifications and experience. In the vast majority of cases, I received a form email of rejection ("the quality of applications was very high...except for yours, so no") or heard nothing back at all. About fifteen times though, I was invited in for an interview. Gah. So you get your suit dry cleaned, iron your shirt, pack spare stockings, do your hair, nails, and make up, Google map search the location, turn up, sit awkwardly in reception staring in to middle distance, then are invited in to face interviewers who, rather than discussing your skills and work history, want to play with the recruiters' toy of choice these days - behavioural questions. How I came to loathe these. Incident - action - outcome, you'd try to remember as you gave your response, but the slightest deviation from the formula and it was all over. So you'd go home and wait for the phone call of doom - I could tell the outcome from the interviewer's tone as they said Hello, without having to wait for the "unfortunately on this occasion you have not been successful. Also can you help us settle a debate we've been having in the office - what is that peculiar odour of yours?" - or else hear nothing back at all and know you've missed out. Now, I know it's a recruiters market. I know there are a lot of applicants. But if someone reads your ad, customises their resume, answers your selection criteria, sends the lot off, completes your telephone interview, then takes a stressful half-day to prepare and come in for an interview, AT LEAST TAKE 90 SECONDS TO SEND THEM A FUCKING EMAIL letting them know how it went. One job I applied for was as a youth worker with a very well respected charity. I had to prepare a workshop presentation for young people. I spent hours working on the damn thing, but felt really pleased with how it went when I presented it for the selection panel. They seemed like lovely people. But after all that effort, I never heard back, and yes I'm still angry.

Still though, in the end I have gotten a job. It's...well, there's no shame in honest work. It's in an office, and the hours are good, and I can't ask for much more than that (and in Newcastle, if you can't drive, you really can't ask for more than that - it is impossible to find work in either advertising or community services without a car and licence). It'll give me a chance to sort out my long term goals, anyway. But I'm wary. Being unexpectedly retrenched is a little like having your house robbed, I imagine - you never feel quite safe again, the security you once took for granted replaced by a fear that one day, any day, the manager will call you in to their office and apologetically explain that they will have to let you go. There's nothing I can do to prevent it; I'll just have to live with it, and yearn for the days of lifetime employment.

So the next chapter of our family's life begins. I'll become the primary breadwinner, and DH will take over the role of stay at home dad for the time being, whilst we sort out babysitters and childcare (the childcare crisis is real, and nationwide - I really wish the successive governments who pressed our wombs into duty for the sake of the nation had made a little more provision for the care and education of those children down the track. Nationalise the childcare sector already!). This will be interesting. I don't have much time for the stupid battle of the sexes, men are clueless idiots when it comes to household tasks rubbish, but it remains that for most of the four years we've been together, I've done most of the domestic management. And I'm a bit of a control freak ("DH, don't sweep like that! You're just dabbing the broom on the floor. Put some shoulder into it!"). He's fabulous with BabyG, but the housework...we'll have to see. I'll have to restrain myself from coming home from my first day of work then checking to see what's been done. Then there's the constant comments. I've been told more than a few times how lucky I am that DH looks after BabyG so much, and that I'm lucky he's willing to stay home with him. No, if we won lotto and no one had to work, we'd be lucky. This is just our reality - after moving cities, we can't find childcare, and I have the harder time being home all day, so I'm going off to work. Will I get resentful, though? Will I, deep down, think of the money I earn for the family as really being "mine"? I don't know, I've never been in this situation before. It will be a learning experience for us all, a chance to grow as a person. At least all the growing I've done as a person in the last few years is a better excuse for the weight gain than potatoes in sour cream, wine and cookies.

Breastfeeding - A Case for Middle Ground

Friday, 14 September 2012
So BabyG recently turned one, and I achieved a milestone I never thought I'd reach - one year of breastfeeding. I never thought we'd make it, and according to conventional wisdom, we shouldn't have. We've broken every rule in the "how to establish successful breastfeeding" book. BabyG had a little formula in hospital when my milk didn't come in and he was dehydrated (astonishingly, there are mothers who would prefer, if their milk was slow to come in and their child was dehydrated, an IV drip to formula); I regularly pumped breastmilk which he was given in a bottle so I could get out for a few hours from the time he was three weeks old; and most damningly of all, at six months and at the end of my rope with exhaustion and PND, I decided to start comp feeding with formula, only doing one or two breastfeeds a day, figuring "if he weans...what the heck, we've had a decent run". Well, now that BabyG is one, we've stopped the formula according to feeding guidelines for a child his age...and he's still enjoying breastfeeding. In fact, without the formula he's having a few more feeds a day. None of this has done him any harm. He's never had more than a slight runny nose, he's slightly ahead on his milestones, formula has failed to damage him in any of the ways reputed.

So why am I telling you all this? As I've said, I've gone against all the conventional wisdom on breastfeeding - and without doing so, I doubt very much I would have stuck with it at all. The conventional wisdom advocates an all-or-nothing approach. Turn to the Australian Breastfeeding Association, or a lactation consultant, or the breastfeeding section of most parenting forums, and you will receive the same advice - any formula will cause lasting damage to the baby's gut bacteria; bottles and dummies will cause nipple confusion and breast refusal; pumping and giving expressed milk interrupts the establishment of feeding; and, most damagingly of all, that breastfeeding is a natural art practiced by all mammals until lost to us in modern society - almost any woman can breastfeed successfully as long as she has enough support and just wants it enough, does all the right things, tries hard enough. (And surely any loving mother would be willing to try hard enough?). Interestingly on the idea of breastfeeding being something instinctive and natural that only modern women have lost the knack of, in hospital as I desperately tried to feed BabyG I wondered aloud why I was struggling when female mammals do it automatically. The midwife replied that it's not always easy or natural, and in the wild, lots of baby animals die because their mothers can't feed them. And in the pre-formula days, without a wet nurse or family member who could breastfeed, so did a lot of human babies.

Anyway, faced with such a rigid and exhausting list of rules, it's no wonder so many mothers give up and decide to drop breastfeeding all together. It's one thing to know in advance of having children that you'll not have time to yourself for years, quite another to have been stuck in the house for weeks and feel unable to leave the baby with your partner for a couple of hours whilst you go to the gym or get your haircut. Let alone to feel your body is no longer your own (coming off the back of a possibly difficult pregnancy) or even come to secretly resent your child for the constant demands on your body and soul. And it's even harder when you hear of the mothers who smugly boast they breastfed their child on demand until 26 months and if you loved yours, surely you could do it too. So they give up, and turn to full time formula feeding in a fit of guilt and resentment. All of the choices I made - early EBM, comp feeding - I could find no information on, no support, only a sense that I was doing a terrible thing for my baby but I had to for my mental health. It turned out, however, that what I was doing wasn't so bad for him at all.

Surely we can find a middle ground. It doesn't have to be all or nothing. Health authorities promote exclusive breastfeeding till six months as the golden standard, and it is - we can all agree that breastmilk is the better nutritional option for babies than formula. But surely any breastmilk is better than none? In the current climate of the dos and do-nots pitted against each other, considering that the majority of women want to breastfeed, surely it is better to create a climate that supports women to achieve a level of breastfeeding they feel comfortable with, rather than pursuing the all-or-nothing mantra? As I've written previously, the current guidelines aren't working in terms of increasing breastfeeding rates, and the usual reaction of doing more of the same is not a helpful one. Women and babies (and their stressed, supportive partners and family members) deserve more practical, real world support than this. I can't be the only one who's broken the rules and breastfed to tell the tale. It can be done.

The Shitkansen Crisis

Monday, 3 September 2012

What's the only thing worse than riding the Shitkansen? Not riding it, at least when there's a shitkanhitsthefansen like yesterday. Yep,  it was one of the worst delays to affect the Newcastle line in years...and we were right in the middle of it, returning from Sydney after a long weekend of celebrations for my mother-in-law's birthday with exhaustion, many bags, and an overhyped BabyG. We had collapsed into our seats at Central, knowing that in three short hours (hehe) we would be home. Little did we know. Everything seemed fine as we thrummed along quietly, BabyG even dozing off in his Ergo, when an announcement came on just north of Sydney saying there was an overhead wiring problem at Gosford, and the train would be terminating at Cowan with everyone switching to buses. I may have said a swear. I definitely said three more swears after that.

So we reached Cowan, where the train just sat idle for fifteen minutes or so, before the driver announced that the platforms at Cowan were too short and we were heading back to Berowra. (It soon became clear the drivers had little more information than we were given). At Berowra, we were told to get off and wait for buses. So we did, our full train joining the several trainloads of people already waiting (well over a thousand by the end, I'd guess). So we waited, and waited, and waited; fresh trains of people kept arriving and adding to the crowds. There was no shade, nowhere to sit, and no buses. Occasionally an empty bus would sail by without stopping; we began to suspect they were phantom buses, one rogue driving being an asshole driving past and getting everyone all excited. I checked twitter, and was slightly bemused to find that I seemed to be a source of information, rather than being able to get any from any official channels. After well over an hour of waiting, word came through that the train on the platform was, in fact, going to Gosford. We boarded the standing-room-only train which seemed to be an all-stations train (bad), but was a "Newcastle service" (good - we didn't know if the line had reopened or not, it might be a slow train but it would get home eventually). However, as we approached Gosford station, it was announced the train was terminating at Gosford after all; they hoped eventually they could rustle up some buses for the thousands of people descending on the station. Well, at that point we bailed. We took our next-door-neighbours (who when they die, if there is such a place, will go straight to heaven) up on their exceedingly generous offer to drive the three hour round trip and pick us up, and spent the waiting time not-uncomfortably in the leagues club - not the sort of place I'd normally attend you understand, but there are few places to take a one year old in Gosford on a Sunday night.

And that was that, but I found the media silence on the issue a bit odd - when there's a major breakdown on the Shitkansen's sister road, the F3, there are outraged drivers on the news and calls for the transport minister's head on a pike. Today nothing, until the lovely Carol Duncan of ABC Newcastle spoke with Tony Eid, manager of Railcorp Operations. The conversation was not reassuring. No reason was given for the breakdown in communications that led to being detrained at Berowra. Even worse, we were told that although Railcorp got in touch with over thirty coach companies, they were only able to source twelve buses when they needed at least fifty. Now, we all know things can go wrong - in this case, an earlier train somehow became tangled in the wires and they needed to cut the power to free it. But surely there's some sort of contingency plan, some deal with bus operators that doesn't involve having to cross fingers and do a ring around? Mr Eid claimed, erroneously, that there were delays of "up to two hours". Well, we were delayed two hours just getting to Gosford - only halfway there. If we'd had to wait for the bus to Wyong then a possible train to Newcastle, god knows how long it would have taken - seven, eight hours I've heard from other passengers. And that was the thing about info, too - we had to rely on other passengers. Twitter, probably one of the best sources for breaking info we have, was great for staying in touch with other passengers and folks back home, but the transport info centre didn't update their status for over six hours at the height of the crisis. It needs to be remedied. An SMS alert service would be useful as well. I wouldn't use it - I only take the shitkansen once or twice a month at the moment and wouldn't want to be beeped every time something's up - but I can see why it might be useful for others.

That's my gripping account of the Great Shitkansen Crisis of 2012, anyway. See you next time something goes wrong.

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