Changing for the Better

Monday, 24 February 2014
As regular readers of this blog know, I've been fighting an ongoing battle with the NSW Healthcare Complaints Commission. If you're coming to the story now, in 2011 prior to the birth of my son in a NSW public hospital, I requested a c-section on the grounds of prior sexual abuse...and was turned down. The full (and warning - rather graphic) story is here. And I've been suffering PTSD ever since.

Anyway, wanting justice and for it to never happen to another woman, I lodged a formal complaint with the HCCC, despite warnings from others that they can be rather useless. It went back and forward for months. Last week I got the final response. The nurse and hospital in question lied about what had happened, and the HCCC took their word for it. Case dismissed.

I cried. I threw things. Then this morning I woke up with a fresh determination. I had been planning to appeal my complaint with the NSW Health ombudsman, but I've decided to give up on complaining. I'll not get justice for what happened to me, and I think I can make peace with that. What I can do is help make sure it never happens to anyone else, and that's where you come in.

I've created a petition on asking the NSW Health Minister, Jillian Skinner, to protect the rights of sexual assault survivors giving birth in NSW public hospitals to choose the birth they need - guaranteeing the right to a caesarean section if they wish. Please sign, please share with as many people as you can. It's my dear hope that we'll get enough support that the minister will look at this petition and make changes to the law so no woman is forced to cry and plead and beg, go through an induction or forceps or episiotomy or any more trauma after the trauma they've already been through. A huge part of the trauma for sexual abuse survivors is the loss of control, of bodily autonomy. To be victimised again by the hospital system is something no one should have to go through. I want to make sure they don't have to. Please help.

Thoughts on Charlotte Dawson

Saturday, 22 February 2014
News came through early this afternoon that Charlotte Dawson - formed model, TV personality, survivor of internet trolls and bullies - had been found dead in her Sydney apartment. Given her history - which she bravely went public with - of depression, there was little debate on cause of death, and police have conformed that the death is not suspicious; it seems, then, almost certain that she took her own life.

Now, any death is sad, and liking terrible television as I do, I did enjoy her appearances on Australia's Next Top Model. But the more I think about it, the more it's bothering me, and I can't quite pinpoint why.

Is it because I've been facing some very dark times myself lately? And as Ms Dawson's friends and family begin a lifelong process of asking themselves how they could not have known, I can tell you it's hard to know. Not just that a person can hide the signs of their distress, they may not have the signs, in the short term; I can be reeling off witty one liners and sunk to the depths of despair an hour later. One the public sees, the other I cry at home.

Is it the constant invocations, whenever suicide is mentioned in the media to call Lifeline? Lifeline offers a vital, wonderful service, and when I've been able to afford it I've donated what I can, but Lifeline is not the answer to everything; when I'm in a dark place the absolute last thing I want to do is speak to a random stranger. I have atypical reactive depression it's true, but to me saying "oh well, call Lifeline!" is at best part of our instinctive need to offer something, anything, no matter how inappropriate, and at worst indicative of society's need for the quick fix, preferably not involving one personally; a bandaid solution, abrogate responsibility to someone else. When I've been feeling really down and read articles on suicide urging the depressed reader to call Lifeline, it often makes me feel worse, farmed out, a number. Someone asked me what else I suggest. I don't know. I can only tell you my experience. And I can't be alone. As a media savvy, smart anti-bullying campaigner, no doubt Charlotte Dawson had the number for Lifeline.

And in the end, it's not about bullying. Charlotte Dawson did not end her life because of internet bullies or trolls; nor did she end it because she was weak, unable to cope, shouldn't have put herself out there if she couldn't take the heat. She died because she suffered from depression (please bob do not replace that with a PC term like "person with depression"). Trolling and bullying would have only made it worse, like someone with a serious illness being forced to work and exacerbate their condition instead of receiving rest and treatment. But it was a catalyst, not a cause. Rupert Murdoch receives worse and it doesn't make him a better person that he just doesn't seem to care. It makes him worse; arrogant, ruthless, revelling in the pain he's caused. Charlotte Dawson should not have received such abuse online; she did not invite it or deserve it in any way. But to me, her death raises bigger questions, deeper problems than internet trolling. How do we treat the depressed, and how suicide should be reported, and a bunch of other things. I don't know. I don't know what to finish on here. I don't want to be finished.

Credit: The Hot Hits

Let Them Eat at Cafes: A Tale of Two Newcastles

Friday, 21 February 2014
There's no denying Newcastle has undergone massive changes in the last decade. Following the success of the Renew Newcastle project, the CBD is alive again, especially towards the east end; new cafes, bars, boutiques and galleries are springing up. And yet, as I read yet another blog post of "manufactured whimsy" (great term which I've borrowed from a commenter on another blog) about how lovely it all is, I wondered why the whole thing was leaving me feeling rather cold and left out. Then I realised why. Because I can't afford it.

The economic inequality which is, largely unremarked, tearing our society to shreds is writ large in Newcastle, as it must be in any locale undergoing gentrification. Lovely things are expensive. But when I read of yet another film festival or small bar opening alongside a Reddit thread by someone with a solid employment record who's applied unsuccessfully for 80 jobs in three months, it all rings rather hollow.

It wasn't always like this. It used to be easy to be poor in Newcastle; you had the feeling everyone else was too. Not anymore. The less well off have been squeezed out. Take Hunter Street Mall for example, and try to find lunch. There used to be both McDonalds and KFC there; but they've been banished to the west end of town, squeezed out to the undoubted relief of those who can afford to sneer at fast food, can afford to pay $13.50 for a pretend Banh Mi (sweet Jesus I wish I was making that up, but such a thing really does exist in Newcastle). The east end of town has been, in effect, priced out of reach of those of us struggling, in the undiversified economy of Newcastle and soaring rents, to make ends meet. We're banished to the west end, where our shopping choices are frowned upon. I understand, kind of. I would love to be able to buy my clothes in locally owned retailers hand sewn by the proprietor, but I can't.

There's a whole other Newcastle outside of the gorgeous little chichi cafes in the mall, and I live there. So do so many other people who don't even venture in to town; there's nothing for them there. I do visit, but my nose is perpetually pressed up against the glass of the glossy, fabulous life within. There's no place for the poor in the new Newcastle. And it kind of makes me sad. I liked the solidarity of the old Newcastle, the sense that this was a tough town in tough times but we were all in this together. There's no place for me here any more, I think, and even once I'm graduated and earning decent money again, I'll remember these days and be unable to enjoy a cafe lunch without the after taste of the junk food that was for so long all I could afford. My Newcastle is gone, a pretentious hipster in its place. I'm happy they're having such a nice time, I just wish they'd make a little room at the table for the rest of us.

Responses to the Manus Island Violence

Wednesday, 19 February 2014
Here, without comment, is some of the Internet's reaction to the violence on Manus Island. I've avoided social media; all the below are from mainstream media web sites.

Haha! Shot the stupid illegal in the arѕe. That’s fuсking hilarious. Why didn’t we think of that when they were running amok here?

 Hey they are free to leave at any time. Better option than rioting and causing terror.

 The asylum seekers are being treated as people. Unfortunately, their parents bred like rabbits. With the exception of the Iranians, all the asylum seekers are coming from places that have much higher birth rates than Australia.

Frankly if they were genuine refugees rather than economic migrants they should jump at the potential of resettlement in PNG where they could both contribute to its development and build a new life. What we have seen instead is an orchestrated tantrum that has resulted in the death of one of their number.

Legitimate refugee or not, if you are going to throw chairs and destroy stuff then I don't want you in my country. Go elsewhere. Manus Island is nice this time of year.

What answers are they looking for? The asylum seekers rioted, broke out of their detention center, clashed with local Police and the local Police responded accordingly. If they had rioted in Indonesia, they would have met the same fate. If they stayed within the confines of the detention center, they would not have been killed or injured. Simple.

Did you ever question why, if these people are fleeing persecution, are they so ungrateful when they get to a safe haven and at the very least, provided with 3 meals a day?

Good on you Scott keep up the excellent work, this rabble are only queue jumpers there are hundreds of thousands of genuine refugees doing the right thing and waiting patiently in refugee camps around the world to access another country, and this rabble not only jump the queue but want to start rioting in the accommodation provided for them, I say send them packing and the sooner the better.

I thought the “asylum seeker” unfortunately killed on Manus Island was actually seeking asylum from the wicked Iranian regime. So why this protest over his fate?

Send all these violent thugs back to their home countries. Or as an alternative to Sarah Hanson-Young's house.

Hopefully this will help get the message through to these illegal immigrants.

So these illegal's didn't get their way and decided to riot to blackmail us to back down. Never, stand your ground Abbott.

It is not compulsory/useful/smart for Australia to mindlessly follow every UN Convention or 'recommendation' - we should do what's in our country's best interests as we see fit; as does every other nation on earth. Be aware that the majority of UN member states individually support/allow 'child brides' ie: child sex slaves. Violent rioters are not the type of immigrants we should encourage.

labor /Greens / lefty do gooders, were very happy for countless people to to be killed / injured during a perilous boat journey, but scream the house down when illegals riot, cause damage, and create their own injuries. 100% Support for LNP, Mr Abbott, and Mr Morrison.

I am pleased the way the government is handling this issue. 

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How We Ruined McDonalds

Sunday, 16 February 2014
Senior McDonalds figures in happier times.
SYDNEY - McDonalds executives yesterday were forced to respond to the continuing speculation that plummeting sales figures may force the company to cease Australian operations. The speculation follows the decision of the Bell family of Newcastle to stop eating at McDonalds. A statement released by the office of McDonalds Australia CEO Catriona Noble said in part, "McDonalds has a long and proud history in Australia. Whilst we have been greatly affected by the loss of a key customer, we remain committed to a future here and are exploring all options to secure that future."

McDonalds plunge is attributed to the recent Bell family decision to stop eating at McDonalds. A family spokesman said earlier "Ms and Mr Bell are ideologically opposed to McDonalds, as well as disliking their greasy, unhealthy food, despite its somewhat addictive quality. However in recent times, with the construction of a new restaurant minutes from their home and lured by the free WiFi and covered playground, their attendance has increased to a level where they no longer felt able to live with themselves, and have made the decision to cease all visits to McDonalds forthwith".

Financial experts are confident that McDonalds can remain a viable entity in Australia. Commsec's Tom Piotrowski told Sunrise's David Koch, "whilst the loss of this family's business is obviously going to have implications for this financial year's profit figures, there are still plenty of other lazy suburbanites lured by shiny colours and the merest suggestion that the McRib may return, in order to ensure the company's future."

However, industry insiders are not so optimistic. A senior McDonalds executive told this publication on the condition of anonymity "no one can deny morale is plummeting in the face of declining sales. People are really hurting. The Hamburglar has turned to dealing ice to supplement his curtailed income, McBirdy cries whilst downing gin shots at her desk, and Grimace is looking, quite frankly, emaciated".

Ronald McDonald failed to respond to requests for comment at time of publishing.

My Feminism May Be Bullshit, But I No Longer Identify As Intersectional

Thursday, 13 February 2014
"My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit".

I first came across this sentiment at a feminist conference a few years ago. I confess the concept of intersectionality was new to me, so I looked into it, and of course it made sense; recognising that forms of oppression - racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism and so on - are interconnected and cannot be separated. Feminists need to consider the effects of race and class in their discussions. Sounds good. I firmly embraced the concept, slapped respect on it, and brandished it when I sent my feminism out into the world.

 In the last few weeks, I've been rethinking that position.

A Twitter hashtag, #reclaimingintersectionality, started trending. I didn't pay it much mind as I've long learned not to get into feminist arguments on Twitter - 140 characters doesn't leave much room for nuance - but I soon noticed tweets by women of colour in my twitter feed debating the issue, pointing out the term intersectionality was coined by a black woman, and had no business being appropriated by white women. That's fine, but where I took issue was the expressed sentiment by one or two people that white women are privileged, period; they have no place in feminism as they don't understand oppression. Well, everyone is entitled to their views and it's not my place to argue. I wouldn't care, but today I saw those same people in my Twitter feed, expressing their outrage at several recent cases of men killing their children to get revenge on their ex-partners, and horror following the sentencing of Simon Gittany for throwing his fiancee Lisa Harum off a balcony. Solidarity had returned, it seemed; feminists need to unite to overcome violence against women, and their kids.

Look, there are many many ways to be a feminist. To be a feminist, you need to acknowledge some shared concept that due to millenia of patriarchy and laws, women are in a less privileged position than men. All women. If you don't think that includes able bodied, cis-gendered white women, why call yourself a feminist at all? Focus on the fight for social justice as it affects your disenfranchised group, not as it applies to all women. White women are in a position of privilege, compared to women of colour. Does that privilege extend to being able to fix all the problems but refusing to as we can't recognise that privilege? No, hardly. And no one is privileged when they're being beaten by a partner or trying to shield their children. Some women may have more ready access to funds that will allow them to leave, women's refuges and support services may fail to offer adequate support to women of colour, disabled women, homosexual women, there may be poor support in rural and remote areas - and all that needs to be examined. All that requires an intersectional response.

But we need to work on stopping the violence in the first place. Some issues are simply universal. If we are to have a feminism that means anything, we need to acknowledge there are issues that affect us all.

"Mainstream" feminism is often criticised for focusing on the nuances, on issues that affect privileged women only. But it seems absurd to argue that feminism is alienating to women because of it's focus on issues that only affect a handful of women, such as unequal representation at senior management level - then to focus on issues that only affect a handful of women, such as whether preoperative M2F transsexuals should be held in male or female jails. Yes the former group is privileged and the latter isn't, but neither issue is exactly focused on making a difference in the everyday lives of women. It seems a feminist conference can't take place without being roundly criticised for failing to devote sufficient time to one special needs group or another - until the umbrella concept of "feminism" is so dissolved as to be meaningless. Well, we need to focus on the universal. Women and their kids are dying whilst we debate whether all cis-gendered panels are discriminatory.

What are these universal feminist issues? Well I'd say, at a national level, stopping violence against women, access to quality reproductive health and the information to make informed choices about our health, and addressing inequalities in income and the superannuation system (and no, this isn't just a matter of privilege...the end point of this disparity is that women find themselves in poverty at a far higher rate than men).

So I no longer identify as an intersectional feminist. Women of colour don't need me to speak up for them on their issues - they're quite able to do that themselves without well meaning whiteys speaking for them. I still have an awareness of the importance of intersectionality - but I'm not going to follow these debates any more. I'm going to focus on the areas I identified where I hope I can help. My feminism will be useful, even if it is bullshit.

My Crowd Funding Failure & Judging The Poor

Wednesday, 12 February 2014
Over the weekend I threw up a post about some of the things that have been happening lately; that I'm broke, and hope to get a job as soon as I get my licence, and asked if anyone could throw a few dollars our way to help it happen. I added a PayPal button and sent the thing live. I've seen a few other people do the same sort of thing to unexpectedly bountiful results, so even though I was on the verge of tears (of humiliation, of despair) writing the post, I was hopeful something would come of it, and shyly checked my PalPal account through the day.

De nada.

Nothing. Whenever I've been a bit more financially assured I've thrown whatever dollars I could at this or that cause, and hoped a little karma would roll back my way. Nope. It was like getting rejected by the whole internet, and did nothing to help my mood.

Well I did get something. People who contacted me to say they couldn't give any money, but "have you thought of...?"

Sad to say I have been in this situation before, more times than I care to remember (although it's getting more and more depressing as I reach an age where my contemporaries are moving into their second homes). There is nothing, no way of raising cash, that anyone could suggest that I hadn't already thought of, no avenue I haven't exhausted.

What was worse was the "but what about..." messages. Didn't you just get a new phone? Didn't you just get a new car? Maybe you need to sell it. (Which would leave me unable to work at all, but oh well). By the evening of that first day, unable to take it any more, I yanked the post.

It was a stinging reminder that when you're poor, everyone feels they have the right to judge. People hanging around Centrelink are always smoking, how can they afford it? (And never mind that smoking rates have a correlation with educational levels, and for years tobacco companies targeted people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and tobacco addiction is not a tap you can turn off in tough times, and cigarette taxes have the harshest effect on the unemployed - and their children). What about the X-box? (Was given it second hand three years ago from a relative who upgraded to a newer model). Don't you have Foxtel? (Whose sales tactics involve sucking you in with the promise of cheap or free channels in the initial period, then you're stuck on a contract that costs as much to leave as to remain on). And for what it's worth and not that it's anyone's damn business, but I don't smoke, we don't have a gaming console and we don't have Foxtel.

Depressing, yet this is the kind of judgement you face every fucking day when you're poor. People somehow think they've a right to judge, usually based on that "I pay my taxes!" and contribute to the welfare pool. I don't get it, really. I worked all through my twenties, unmarried and childless, and in later years on pretty good money and paid a fair chunk of tax. I didn't think I was entitled to my own little quota of welfare recipients to appraise and order about ("get out of bed! How did you afford that piercing?"). I was glad to be able to contribute. But now I'm on the other side of the fence, however temporary that may be.

I've thought about re-launching the crowd  funding using a dedicated sort of service, but I don't have the heart to go through this all again. I've added a little donation link at the end of posts, so it's there, but not as obtrusive as directly begging for money. At least I know I've got the means to get out of this situation. Too many people don't, and that's why I'll keep following a career path dedicated to advocating for them.

Woody Allen, Bill Henson and The Art Defence

Tuesday, 11 February 2014
In the ongoing fallout from Dylan Farrow publishing an open letter accusing her father, Woody Allen, of sexually assaulting her as a child, a pervasive theme is that members of the Hollywood elite have chosen to ignore the allegations, overlooking them in the glaring light of the lure of working with one of the most acclaimed directors of the modern era. Understandably, Ms Farrow is devastated by this, writing in her open letter "What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett? Louis CK? Alec Baldwin? What if it had been you, Emma Stone? Or you, Scarlett Johansson? You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?"

Hmm. People willing to overlook accusations of impropriety towards a child because the accused is a great artist. Where have we heard that before? Oh yes, in the controversy that surrounds the career of acclaimed Australian photographer with a penchant for pictures of naked children, Bill Henson.

Now, the circumstances of Henson and Allen are not precisely analgous. In as much as the charges of sexual assault against Mr Allen have not been proven in a court of law, they are unproven and open to speculation (although I do believe Dylan Farrow). We know exactly what Mr Henson has done - he's created a record of it himself, taking photos of naked young boys and girls on the verge of puberty. And the ensuing controversy has taken on an ideological slant - those on the right setting themselves up as the guardians of moral propriety, crying "won't somebody think of the children!" as the leftists, elites and art aficionados line up to defend Mr Henson. He's an artist. These are works of genius, nothing sleazy or sexy about them; you cretins simply wouldn't understand in your rush to condemn and spread baseless moral panics.

This may be the only time I'll say it, but I find myself falling on the Miranda Devine side of this argument here. It may be art. I will not deny that the photos are incredibly beautiful. That doesn't change that in exploiting naked children for his art, Bill Henson is wrong, very wrong. Bill Henson is exploiting naked children; that he is exploiting them artistically rather than sexually shouldn't be a defence. He asks children, who are well below an age where they can give informed consent to their medical treatment or sex or legal contracts or anything else, to strip naked for him, an adult man, and pose for pictures that will be displayed publicly and reproduced in ways that cannot understand or control.

Apparently the parents and kids themselves used as Henson's models are happy. Doesn't much matter. In the recent case of a 26 year old man marrying a 12 year old girl here in Newcastle, it was said the girl was happy about the marriage (and is devastated she's been taken from her husband). That still doesn't make it okay. We hold that a child of twelve cannot give full and aware consent to marriage or sex; so these things are illegal. If a 12 year old can't give informed consent to intercourse, how could they possibly give informed consent, with full awareness of the possible ramifications, to posing naked for public display?

There is also the fact that Henson's work has a devoted following among paedophiles. Astonishingly, this is used in Henson's defence - we have had our minds polluted to have nudity associated with sex; these photos are innocent, and by taking them Henson is helping to reclaim that innocence. How bizarre - we must let children pose naked or the paedophiles win. (And if it happens to supply some creep with legal full frontal nude photos of twelve year olds to fap over, oh well, can't win them all).

Nevertheless, Henson, as with Allen, is defended by a lot of people who should know better. Whether glorifying the films of a man accused of assaulting his child or the photos of a man who puts naked children on public display, it speaks to the extent to which children are devalued in a society which claims to put them first; children's needs and right to safety come secondary to "art", the desires of the adults who use them for that art come first.

Unloved Things I Like, #1: The Mall

Sunday, 9 February 2014
I've noticed on social media lately that whatever I like is decried by all the cool kids. Wishing to gently explore this, this is the first of a semi-regular series on the Unloved Things I Like.

You might think, as you saw me wearing a skirt made from furnishing fabric riding my cruiser with it's cork handlebars to the farmer's markets that my membership of the Portlandia fan club would be assured, but there's one key factor which forever disbars me from true Newcastle hipster status.

My love of the mall.

Westfield Bondi Junction. You want to see me dizzy with happiness? Give me three hours here and a $250 gift card. Photo from Ad News. 

I betray my individualistic sistren by, rather than doing all my shopping in adorable little boutiques where the proprietor makes the stock themselves, having a decided soft spot for massive, sterile, air conditioned palaces of mindless consumerism. But they're so impersonal and anonymous, you say. Exactly.

I'm not sure extroverted people understand just how nerve-wracking shopping can be for those of us with anxiety. Walking into a tiny, personal little shop can be agonising, regardless of how adorable the merchandise. Small talk? Don't even go there. I like no one noticing or caring what I do or buy. I've noticed a lot of people don't like that. When I worked at a department store, a surprising number of people, without doing any browsing, would approach the counter, announce what they were after, and purchase the product staff showed them. Ugh, right? I like to make up my own damn mind and just walk out if something is wrong or too expensive.

Also I'm just a sucker for the glossy, polished lifestyle promised by these emporiums. Charlestown Square, rather run down at the time I left the area in 2007, has since had a massive upscale redevelopment, and I adore it, browsing in Tea Too and Peter Alexander and imagining the caramel scented magic will wear off on me. It's always been so. When my family moved from Sydney to Newcastle when I was nine, when asked what I would miss most, the unhesitating answer was "Warringah mall".

I'm glad there are individual retailers doing well. But when I'm not feeling very strong, I'm just not up to shopping at them. You'll find me wandering the corridors of conformity with a lobotomised glaze, mesmerised by the pretty colours and very happy.

Why This Ordinary Australian Will Be Marching in March

Sunday, 2 February 2014
I'm an ordinary Australian, I think, by the standards of the right. I'm married and a mother. I've worked many years in private enterprise. I live in regional Australia. Heck, I go to church occasionally. I was even in the army reserve.

But I'd also be an ordinary Australian if I were a vegan lesbian living in Glebe and running an organic food co-op. That's the thing about Tony Abbott; promising to "unite Australia" whilst pitching a battle between his so called ordinary Australians, who support him and his vision, against the elites (and it is good to see that the right have finally dropped their coffee obsession, realising you have been able to purchase lattes in outer suburban Gloria Jeans for many years; lefties are now part of the "goats cheese circle". Well, whatever).

But as an ordinary Australian, and like so very many others, I'm incensed by the actions of the current Abbott government. I'll not reiterate why they're so bad - you can read more here, or here, or many other writers who have said it more eloquently than I could. I've been watching politics long enough to know I've never seen anger such as this at a government, the helpless frustration at the damage, cruelty and broken promises of this government.

It doesn't have to be helpless. There is something you can do - come join in the March in March, a national weekend of protest against what's being done to our country. As with the anger, I've never seen anything like the amount of interest in this - so many people who would never normally join a protest march are planning to attend. But as with any event like this, there are a few with concerns. Why bother? Millions marched against the Iraq invasion, and it still went ahead. Why would this march change anything.

Well, I'm not expecting that Tony Abbott would see footage of the march, have a fit of conscience and call a press conference to tearfully announce he's been all wrong. No. Even if the march changes nothing, I'll be doing it anyway, to announce to the nation and the world that the government does not act in our name. We do not give our consent by silence to the pointless, thuggish cruelty of the Abbott regime, the contempt for the electorate, the relentless determination to destroy the values of tolerance, diversity, generosity and openness which made this country great.

That's why I am marching and I hope you will, too.

Update: I was subsequently interviewed by The Age about my participation. You can read it here though I'm not sure where they got the bit about not protesting from.
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