Books on Parade*

Saturday, 26 August 2017

This week was Mr G's first school Book Week, and accompanying Book Week Parade. For years I've seen friends on social media bitch and moan about having to rig up Book Parade costumes in between working three jobs, worrying over the sorry state of the world and keeping up with the constant demands on parents' time made by schools utterly failing to prepare children for the real world by trying to make education "fun"**. There's also the potential hazards of becoming an inadvertent figure of national derision because your child insisted on a costume which ended up going viral for all the wrong reasons. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to finally be able to enter into this tense and unhappy atmosphere***. 

Admittedly, I didn't have to rig up a costume myself. That task fell to my ex husband and credit where it's due, he did a great job. I wouldn't have. A combination of clumsiness and sensory issues leaves me unable to sew and with a vicious inability to, and dislike of, crafting things, meaning any costume I made would have looked a bit worse than this:

But G's Goliath costume looked spiffing. Yes, he wanted to go as Goliath. Goliath, as in "David and", from the Bible. I explained to him that Goliath was 1. the bad guy and 2. swiftly slaughtered in a "hooray for the good guys" manner, but he still wanted to be the giant with the shield and sword. Luckily we were able to send him to school with a copy of The Bible for Minecrafters, where he got the story from. I'm not sure his ultra-lefty school could have coped with an actual, KJV type Bible.

Honestly, I didn't want him going to such a progressive school. I wanted him to attend a good Christian school, where he'd have something to rebel against. But such extravagance is out of the question on a student's budget and the local inner city public school it is. It's all harmony and respect and a pink-haired principal. The school noticeboard was looking for volunteer classroom workers; for a second I misread it as classroom wokers, and it seemed plausible that looking for assistants to help the kids get woke was something the school would be looking for. 

Anyway, the parade started with the youngest kids and went up through the grades. There was a noticeable declination in the effort put into, and quality of, costumes as the years progressed. The Kindergarteners, who started the parade off proudly lead out by my son, were all adorably, fully decked out. But as the kids got older, apart from ever popular (and easy to rig up) Harry Potter and Hermione Granger, there were more and more kids just in their uniforms; kids dressed in left over and ill fitting costumes of characters who only qualify as being "from your favourite book" if favourite books include shameless movie tie-ins; a Year Four student dressed as Daenerys Targaryen (and I really hope she hadn't read that book - though I could be worse I suppose, she could have been wearing a mask from Fifty Shades of Grey) and a white kid wearing a Rasta hat with fake dreads that made me fear we were going to go viral after all****.

Honestly I found the whole thing a lot more fun than I expected back when I grimly anticipated 13 years of school activities as a prospective parent, which is just as well because I quit drinking this year.

(I'm not ruling it out in future - I still have another 12 1/2 years ahead of me, including sitting through hours-long Christmas pageants to see G play the back half of a cow; bus trips to watch him sing "From a Distance" with his school choir; and God bless and save me, the recorder playing years. And that is before high school, where I get guilted into chaperoning the high school dance and get too nauseated from second hand bong smoke to drive home; being forced to attend awards ceremonies where he hasn't been awarded anything and is merely a prop assistant for the painful "comic relief" skit show which is neither comical nor a relief; and finally, getting to where he's old enough for me to stay home but I can't relax cause he's out with his gormless friends and their shiny new P plates*****).

The kids were cute, the atmosphere light, and best of all it was all over in twenty minutes and I could go home. A different parent may have been planning how they could outdo themselves with next year's costume; I was just hoping by next year, he'll be old enough for 1984, and I can convince him to go as one of the Proles.

* Yep.
** It isn't.
*** Not very. 
**** We didn't
***** I don't have a very optimistic view of my child's future. But I don't have a very optimistic view of anything else either, so I've made my peace with it. 

"Naming and Shaming" just more arbitrary justice for rape survivors

Sunday, 13 August 2017

It's well known that it's almost impossible for sexual assault victims to receive recourse through the criminal justice system. Now an act of going public about your experience, naming and shaming your attacker, has been hailed as a great act of achieving justice in the public sphere where none was available in the courts of law. Justice must be fairly available to everyone to be, well, just. But as a form of justice, going public is as capricious, arbitrary and unequal as the systems it was intended to replace. 

In writing this, my intention is not to criticise anyone who has come forward with their story of sexual assault; I am critical of the societal notion that going public is somehow a more reliable and direct way of claiming justice. You can't go public unless you have a public, and there's very little equality in who gets public attention and why. Many women would love to speak out about what happened to them, if only someone would listen.

This follows a recent high profile case where a young woman went public with her story of how in 2015, a consensual sexual encounter with a man she knew turned violent, with her frightened to leave after being attacked. The next day she sought medical attention, then went to the police; after police did not pursue the case and with what she felt was an unsatisfactory response from the political party the young man was a prominent staffer for, two years later she went public with her experience, explicitly describing the assault and naming the man who committed it.    

The story has captured huge media attention. News stories, Radio National background pieces, today an op ed in the New York Times. The young woman involved, and those who would similarly speak up, have been widely lauded for their stance. The idea is that if the institutions of justice fail, you can seek recourse in the public sphere by naming and shaming those who have caused you injury; thus warning the public about potential attackers and highlighting the actions of those in positions of authority who were meant to help, but did not.

But it only works if going public actually gets public attention. This story had all the elements to grab media attention; a victim who is young, white, attractive, media connected (a journalist!) with a large social media following. An accused attacker who is closely connected to a political party, with a large social media following himself.

After I was held against my will and subjected to repeated physical examinations despite my refusing consent and begging staff to stop when in hospital prior to the birth of my son in 2011, I complained to the Health Care Complaints Commission in the hope of forcing a change in official policy regarding pregnant assault survivors in the hope that what happened to me could never happen to any other woman. After an emotionally devastating, 18 month long process, my complaint was rejected, despite written proof that staff at the hospital lied about the treatment I received. 

I then went public with my experience, hoping to draw public and media attention to what had happened so that maybe other women would come forward, or be warned off, and the hospital would be publicly shamed into changing its policies where it could not be officially mandated to do so. I got nowhere, despite years of posts and tweets, and that has been really hard too.

My story is kind of complicated I know. But also I don't have a large following, I don't have a media role, and I don't have an attractive face to slap over an interview. My story does not relate to the goings on of the inner city politically and media connected young and powerful. And when I have been noticed, it's to be criticised for being an attention seeker, even though I only wanted the attention so I could make some changes in the system.

And I have a voice to express what has happened to me, even if I lack an audience. There are many, many more who are silent, and they are the ones the justice system is more likely to fail in the first place. Older women, domestic attacks, those not on social media at all. The voices of Aboriginal women struggling to be heard about the violence they face. There are few op ed articles, hashtags, or official responses from law enforcement agencies for them.

It is of course incorrect to see the criminal justice system as offering actual justice for the vast majority of complainants in its current state - but it is a forlorn hope to imagine that women going public with their stories is any less systematically unfair.

If going public highlights the failings of the systems meant to protect rape victims and brings about systematic change, then it is only to the good. And I uphold any individual's right to go public with their story. But when not everyone can have their voices heard, naming and shaming should serve as an impetus to highlight and correct the failings in the current criminal justice system, not override it. Naming and shaming rapists will only shame those whose names are heard. For the women who don't have a voice, there is still no justice. 

Great Expectations

Wednesday, 9 August 2017
I always said that I didn't care what sort of grades my son got at school, I just wanted him to be happy.

This noble sentiment lasted exactly until Mr G got his first school report. 

He got top marks right across the board for his social skills, confirming what were already told at parent teacher interviews - "he's a great favourite with everyone, all the kids, even the visitors the classroom, he loves to have a chat and make friends". We already knew he has a caring streak to his personality (when he was two and a half, at a party, his father poured him a cup of soft drink - a rare treat - and he turned and handed it to his cousin because she didn't have one yet. What toddler does that?).

But his marks for academic performance left me reeling. This was not what I expected at all. We thought he was bright (doesn't every parent think their kid is bright?). His father has a degree, I'm completing one and realistically hoping to do a PhD before I'm fifty. Mr G is taken to museums and galleries and festivals and we travel and read to him and constantly talk about how the world works. 

And here he was with marks for maths and reading and science that made my teeth hurt. It must be my fault. Did I not have enough iodine when I was pregnant? Was it the three glasses of wine I had before the pregnancy was confirmed? No Mozart in the nursery? Did he eat lead paint chips in our ancient house in Newcastle? Was it the trauma of separation? Was I just a terrible mother? What went wrong?

G's dad isn't worried at all, but I took it pretty hard at first. This is not what I expected. I was a bookish and let's face it, unpopular child (with personality traits that would today be diagnosed and offered professional support, but back in the 1980s were considered fair game from bullying from students and teachers alike. If today's kids are coddled and protected from the harsh realities of the world, good, compared to the Darwinian cesspit that was the school playgrounds of yore. Then I was skipped ahead, which made things worse. I digress). 

Meanwhile, at ten years old, G's father was sat in his room during the summer holidays, reading. His mother, worried her son wasn't getting enough fresh air or contact with kids, suggested he go talk to the kids playing cricket in the street and ask to join their game. G's father replied "or maybe I could say to them they should come in here and read". 

I expected G would be somewhat the same. He has two parents who lavish him with love and care, so I hoped he'd find it a little easier to get along in the world, but I was expecting a nerd. He's not. He's not interested in trains or dinosaurs or any other fixation, and whilst he's not a tearaway nor sporty (I think his genes have precluded that) his decidedly average school marks have put paid to my daydreams where we were told he was outperforming everyone and invited to special programs for gifted and talented both Mr G's father and I were.

Marks for the first semester of the first year of school aren't exactly life defining. It was more about me, the sort of child I imagined I'd have, and my shock when he turned out to be not like that at all.

It's a bit of a head spin. You dream of this baby before it even exists, have it, nurture it so they become their own person, and then they are their own person going off into the world doing their own things and you're like come back! You're still my baby! But you know they're not.

And he is not the imaginary future child who lived in my head (who was dressed like Little Lord Fauntleroy, was unsettlingly precocious, and spoke in an English accent with received pronunciation for no apparent reason). He is himself, and he's happy. No matter what my expectations, I really can't ask for more than that. 
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