I Am Still A Feminist

I have been a feminist for over sixty years. In that time I have been in marches, have written extensively and have helped, at times, to break through some, but not all, of the barriers that have been put in my way by my gender.

It is not surprising, therefore, that I would resent someone cherry picking definitions so that people like me can be excluded from calling themselves feminists because of others’ opinions about what constitutes feminism.

We live in a fairly free society these days and freedom of opinion is very important, perhaps even more so than the question, “What is a feminist?” So I accept that we are all individually free to have whatever opinions we like, even about feminism. But anyone who identifies as a feminist surely should not be excluded by someone else’s opinion. Reading a long Twitter stream today has shown me that perhaps many would not consider me to be a feminist any longer as I have strong  views about some of the direction in which feminism has gone and especially on dress and dress codes. This particular Twitter feed morphed at one stage to an article about slut walks.

Whilst we can all think and act in in our own ways we are bound by the law. And assault of women (or men) and rape of women (or men) is against the law and is always a vile act. No so called “provocative” dress or mannerisms can be used to allege such illegal acts were invited. I think the slut walk makes a very good point about this.

However there is more to dress than meets the eye, to make a poor pun! As feminists in the late 50s and early 60s we waged war to be able to dress in ways that did not so sharply separate us out as women. We were not Victorian women who could not let our ankles show. We did not have to wear the burqa. But we had to wear skirts and never trousers, even as children. In many situations it was required that we wear hats and gloves. In formal situations where men had the ease of their uniformity of penguin suits we had to be dressed up in furs and furbelows! There was a brief period when a couple of women tried dressing in a “female” version of such a suit because they could not be bothered to go through the process of forever trying to get something new and different, but this plan was not well received.

So now days when Julia Gillard, Penny Wong or any of the other neatly suited women arrive at parliament they are not banned from the building as women would have been when I was young. One could not even wear trousers to lectures at university or to teach at schools if one was female.

The idea that we could have parity, even uniformity, with men as far as clothing was concerned was attractive, together with the concept that we did not have to ruin our feet with high heels.

Now the pendulum has swung, perhaps not surprisingly when one looks at it. From women’s bodies being seen as so desirable that women had to cover at all costs, through to my day when women were just regarded as a separate species who could not do some clever things as well as men could, through to the embrace of some uniformity, to now, when some young women seem to want to parade their “wares”, some alleging that even being slightly covered means we are ashamed of our bodies and of being female. This was never the case with men and I do not think it should be the case today with women either. There are times and places where one’s gender should be unimportant. There are other times and places where it may be significant and we can choose to dress with these distinctions in mind, as is the case with men.

We give a message with what we wear. Look at the ties of some men in government for example!!

But a pair of very short shorts with small lettering tattooed in cursive just below the curvaceous buttock is an invitation to come close and read. It is not an invitation to an assault, of course, but it is an invitation to think of the wearer in a sexual fashion. It is not an invitation to have her defend you in a court of law, to have her perform brain surgery on you or to repair your computer.

And I despair about what  messages these multiple images of sexualised clothing are sending to young girls.

I sometimes disagree with Collective Shout. I sometimes disagree with Destroy the Joint. I sometimes disagree when all the blame for women’s continued disadvantage is assigned to men alone. Yet on most things I agree.

And despite these strong opinions, I am still a feminist.

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I’m All Grown Up But Australia Isn’t

Like many of my friends when we were all 10 years old, I collected pictures of a three year old Prince Charles and his baby sister Princess Anne and put them in my “royal” scrapbook.

When I was 11 years old I practiced a dance routine in my class which we, with hundreds of other schoolchildren, were going to perform at the Sydney Showground for Princess Elizabeth and her spouse. Her trip was cancelled because of the death of her father, King George VI.

Then, when I was 13, she visited Australia. As a girl guide living in Cooma (because my father was working then as a Scientist on the Snowy Mountains Scheme) my troop was inspected by Queen Elizabeth II. She passed very close to me. But, disappointingly, she proved to be a very ordinary human being reminding me, in size, dress and demeanour, of my own mother. I listened in to the discussions between my parents as to how rude her consort had been to politicians, scientists and particularly people from overseas, when visiting the Laboratories which held displays that had been carefully prepared for edification. My overall impression was one of disappointment. Royals are just ordinary people.

I reflected then, though I too have unreliable memories just as Clive James has, on the times we had, as children, celebrated “Empire Day” on the stage of Hurstville Town Hall.

And by that ripe old age of 13, I wondered why Australia did all this. Why do we need either an English or any other King or Queen, I wondered.

By the time it was 1958 and I was 17 and at University, I was outspoken, as were many of my fellow students, about why we still sang God Save the King (in the version appropriately amended six years earlier) as our national anthem. Did we need a plea to an imaginary God I did not believe in, to save an ordinary little woman, quite pleasant in demeanour, who happened to be the Queen of another country? We began to stay seated during these renditions and in other ways to passively, without violent displays, show our opposition to this state of affairs. Only Thomas Keneally appears, now, to remember the demonstrations of those years.

As I began, in 1960, the study of Constitutional Law as a component of my Law Degree, I became incandescent with white rage when I read, for the first time, the Constitution of Australia. What a pathetic little document full of genuflecting to royalty. What were we doing allowing appeals from our High Court to the British Privy Council? Why were all these significant pieces of Legislation in this country actually Acts of the British Parliament?

That we needed to be a Republic was now very clear to me. I have been very open about that desire since then.

In 1984 we were thrown the sop of a new National Anthem. (I voted for a different one but nonetheless accept, with pleasure, the vote of the majority of the Australian people.)

And we need such a little amount of change to achieve our needs. We need to remove British monarchs from our Constitution and that is all. We can even keep the current name of our Head of State, ” Governor General”. We can keep that he or she is chosen by our Parliament. We just need to amend it so that the Australian Parliament also appoints the person they have chosen to the position and that such a person acts on its advice.

In 1999, at last, we held a referendum as to whether Australia wanted to be a republic. I walked the streets many days dropping information that supported the idea of a republic into letterboxes. I manned a voting booth. But we were tricked by the wording of the question and the scare tactics used by clever anti-republicans which indicated we would end up having an elected President just like the only large Republic most electors knew, the USA. The referendum was lost.

Although I had grown up and had been independent for 37 years, Australia had not.

Surely it has now in 2015? We have our own National Anthem. Decisions made by the highest courts in our land can no longer be appealed to British Courts. We now have Senior Counsel rather than barristers who follow their names with KC or QC, depending on the gender of the British monarch. There is no longer a British Empire but we can still remain a loyal member of the Commonwealth.

But we need one more Act to be passed for us by our mother country. We need to vote for our Parliament to ask the British Parliament to make that one final change to our Constitution. We will then gratefully say thank you, as an equal, to that mother country. We can add, if we like, “We are all grown up now and can be totally independent, but we still love you.”

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An Australian Republic

Recently I posted on my Facebook page the information that I had just joined the Republican Movement and I gave a short précis of my reasons.

My son’s daughters have a grandfather on the other side of their family, who made the following interesting comment on my post, from quite a different perspective.

“In my lifetime I have lived through the reigns of King George V, Edward VIII, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. I think they (except Edward) were a positive influence. A constitutional monarchy is a stabilising influence even if it has little real political power. How many of the millions of ‘refugees’ are fleeing constitutional monarchies? Virtually none. All escaping dodgy, corrupt,dictator-dominated republics. I’ll stick with what we have. Better the devil…..”

As an older person myself I understand his position. I hold no negative feeling towards the incumbents of the monarchy (in fact I feel pity for their being forced into a form of life tantamount to prostitution). And I think his is the only realistic argument that can possibly be made against our becoming a republic. That is, that the past has worked for many people in Australia who still feel fondly about our Anglo heritage. That this heritage has given stability to many of us so there is no need to change it.

But, for me, this us no longer good enough.

My co-grandparent was born in England, has lived in East Africa and other parts of the world and is a man of tolerance and wisdom. He settled over forty years ago in Australia, which has been his home for since then. His daughter was born here. So he is part of the Australian experience from a wide global experience. But a relatively recent one.

He has not had to experienced that sense of responsibility for past Australian/Anglo ancestors, that some of us have had to do for many years.

I have lived through a white Australia policy. I have lived with the results of the imposition of an English monarchical system of life on Australia’s indigenous people, these people whom we did not even recognise in our cobbled together constitution, which was passed as an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom in 1900. This Act gives much more word space to Queen Victoria herself and her descendants than to a forward direction for Australia.

I have been told the experience of my own Grandparents, in WA who, in 1901 took a two mile walk to the nearest bush polling booth to vote opposite ways in the non compulsory referendum as to whether WA should become part of the Commonwealth. That became a great family tradition of a way to express, deal with and respect different viewpoints whilst valuing ones’ electoral obligations and opportunities.

When I was young lawyer appeals from our High Court still went to the Privy Council.

And I am tired of apologising for our colonial past, the worst period of the English tradition. I am tired of apologising for my ancestors’ roles here since the early nineteenth century. I am tired of apologising for our White Australia policy, for our glorification of foreign explorers, missionaries and despoilers here. I deplore the attitudes that led to the stolen generation and I do not glorify our part in some wars and other situations in which we should not have been involved.

In addition I admire many other democracies in other countries, particularly in some European countries that are very stable and in many ways more truly democratic than we are and yet do not have monarchies.

But most importantly I am tired of apologising for what we are doing right now. Even living in the Asian region, now being more attuned to nearby cultures than we were and more aware of the needs of our indigenous people, the Anglo centric values and ideas are still taken as being the norm from which others stray at their peril.

We need to recognise that we can stand on our own as a fantastic, democratic country that views itself as entirely independent. Only then can we truly value our very diverse population in this wonderful part of the world in which we all find ourselves.

Those who advocate for our present constitution try to contend that we are already an independent country which does not bow to England. How can this be if our Head of State is an English monarch?

And those who disagree with our becoming a republic, have you read this ” independent” constitution?

Please do so. You may be very  disappointed.

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A Prayer

A Prayer to Teachers of Primary Ethics

I use the word “prayer” here in the old meaning from the Latin word “precari” meaning to beg or entreat.

My supplication here is not to a greater being but to the wonderful teachers in Primary Ethics.  I would like you to look deeply at the ethical content of what I am saying and its implications for the on going, and wonderful, Primary Ethics program. I write this as somewhat of an apologia for the inevitability of my having to leave the organisation in the not too distant future, after almost five wonderful years. I was among those who originally wrote a submission to the General Purpose Standing Committee No2 on the Review of the Exucation Amendment Act. concerning the provision of Ethics as an alternative to SRE.

There is no doubt in my mind that this excellent curriculum, the wonderful trainers and you devoted teachers who give up your time to deliver lessons to classes, do something very admirable for the children whose parents opt for them not to participate in the Special Religious Education classes in which schools, pursuant to the NSW Public Instruction Act, were and still are obliged to host in our public secular school system.

I do not live in the city or in the country but in a large regional area which contains multiple demographics. Whether this program can be provided in a school appears to me to be increasingly a question of division rather than inclusion. In areas in which parents have had their own opportunities for education and philosophic musings it is not too difficult to persuade them, and sometimes other interested community members, to teach Primary Ethics courses.

On the other hand in different areas, whilst some parents want it for their own children, they express reluctance, even fear, at the thought of teaching. Some others are turned off volunteering by their lack of access to computers or even the moderately sophisticated programs they have to master to access and deliver the classes. Some are deterred by the expense of printing out material, and one or two, who have been encouraged to do the training, have found it quite daunting in terms of time it takes them to prepare lessons.

Therefore once again we have, quite unwittingly, enhanced one group’s chance of opportunity over that of another group. The offspring of thinking parents who already discuss these issues with their children can provide yet another forum for their children and their friends. Less privileged schools have to continue to provide the children with supervision by teachers, unable to teach them, during that compulsory time spent at school when SRE is taking place. We are, although acting with every superb intention, making an even bigger divide between children who have opportunities and children who have not.

I can think of one answer. This is where my supplication comes in. When your own children move on to another school or if you have a little more time to give to the community, could you wonderful teachers, with all your experience, chose to help a disadvantaged school which has not been able to start a program? There are lots of them.

I am getting a bit long in the tooth, the reason I will be leaving in the not too distant future, but there is also a bright side. While I am part of Primary Ethics I cannot in any way campaign for Special Religious Education to be removed from Public Schools. Of course we must not prothletise as part of our provision of Ethics Classes in Schools. If an individual did so it would reflect badly on Primary Ethics. But I need to. I have been doing so all my adult life. This is an iniquitous situation we have been left with which has come from the age old negotiations for the state to provide the school system. It became a more ethical problem when education was made compulsory. I thought that the widespread adoption of Primary Ethics would ameliorate this inequity in our schools. Unfortunately it is unwittingly creating another and this can only be solved by having Ethics Teachers in every school or removing SRE.

I cannot in all conscience say to myself, “Just let it go and help where people are willing to get involved.” Children are too important.

So as I continue my last efforts to have Ethics teachers in our local schools I exhort all you wonderful teachers to keep up the good work but also find another school that needs you.
These are the only ways toward equality of opportunity.

So be it.

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Spotlight Advertisement

I don’t know what “wave” of feminism I represent. I have been a feminist since the 50s and it has always felt like a slog up a high hill, admittedly starting from somewhere already up the slope. I have never reached any water let alone glamorous waves!

But what has been happening since the concept of “waves” was first promulgated has left me confused. The reality sounds more like an eddy, sometimes a vortex . If it has been waves then lot of useful sand has been sucked out to sea at times. No, I’ve got it. A mixmaster going at full speed spitting out various mixtures to our tastes might now days rightfully  represent our gender.

I am often, probably legitimately, criticised by my (feminist) son for some of my opinions, inter alia my idea that choice within feminism is sometimes inappropriate for any woman at anytime. He says that when I deride the idea of “choice” being an essential part of all feminism I am actually saying that my choices are better than the choices of others. I take this point but still think that “choice” can be a slippery slope in some areas (take as an example foot bending stilettos) unless one has a full understanding of all the issues that may have influenced such a choice and why, rather than merely “they look smart.” But indeed I am probably at fault here, as he contends, in thinking the irrefutable science is the only issue.

However I cannot let go, even if I am at risk of implying “I know better”, when it is an issue that can cloud children’s outlooks so that, as adults, they may never have an opportunity to see  past childhood indoctrinations.

Today I received in the mail an advertisement from one of my favourite shops, “Spotlight”. It was an advertisement for party needs including children’s dress up clothes. I scanned with a small sigh of regret the face paint with glitter being advertised with only a picture of a girl. The three hats which were advertised were a pale pink pointy hat worn by a girl, a dark pink fairy crown also worn by a girl and a yellow builder’s hard hat worn by a boy. But these indeed could arguably be matters of choice.

Then I moved onto Superheros. They were divided into boy and girl Superheros. Spotlight, undoubtedly, is trying to do something here for feminism. A shelf of superhero costumes displaying wares in a way that indicated suitability for either gender at play would be great. But no, boys had all the advertised rights to the conventional costumes; to the proven heroes. The girl Superheros all come accessoried with a tutu. I would love to see the Superaerodynamics involved in the coping with a tutu whilst diving swiftly through the skies. How could Spider hero climb a wall without either squashing her tutu or being pushed off the wall by it in the midst of a delicate rescue mission? And I don’t know how Robin would cope at the sight of the tutu.


Just as one cannot be a builder without wearing a hard hat, neither can one be a super hero, such as a paramedic, a firefighter, a deep sea rescue diver, an astronaught etc. wearing a tutu.

Whilst so ever young girls and boys, ever so innocently,  are being bombarded with these specificities of inequality by gender how can we not question the effect that this has on the capacities of all of us to make informed choices as adults?

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Funding Elections

How can we marry the concepts of proof of integrity yet freedom of choice and speech in the question of political donations?

I do not like the present situation. It is entirely open to abuse. Yet I do not like the option of taxpayer funded candidates. There are some parties and people I personally do not wish to support and I am sure many in the community feel the same way.

There seems to me to be another option which should not be too hard.

In current parlance, how about the appointment of a “Commissioner for the Integrity of Political Donations”? This could be quite a small office, government administered yet completely funded by a set percentage of each donation and not by the taxpayer. All political donations would have to go through this office. Donations could be directed to parties, to individuals, to factions or even to groups (to give a couple of examples, all women standing for election or all Catholics candidates and so on). The “commissioner’s” job would be to keep records, which would then be available for regulated scrutiny, and pass the donation on to the nominated entity.

However each donation must be accompanied by a witnessed form, much like a statutory declaration in that misinformation on this form would result in a likely criminal conviction for the donor making such a declaration. This would be a very simple process in the case of individual or institutional donations.

In the case of situations such as dinners or other similar functions to raise money it would be a little more complicated. The organiser would be responsible for collection of the money, payment of the expenses and must disclose all of the above in the declaration when the balance raised is donated.

This form would be compulsory for all donations. Even inter familial donations or inter party donations, such as state funds donated to a federal election or vice versa must be declared for this to work. It would also be compulsory for unions which could contain an opt out condition for members.

What would be the exceptions? It seems to be clear to me that people must be allowed to donate their personal services without a declaration, such as publicly handing out How To Vote forms, letter box dropping, door knocking, speaking at rallies. There would need to be some consideration as to when these personal services intersect with donation of professional services, which would have to be declared. For example hand painted signs would be different from donated professional signs.

If the conditions were very specific and all embracing, this should not be too onerous a task for our “commissioner”. But the penalties for non disclosure should be quite strong. This would put the onus directly on the donor, which may take some of the heat out of the issue for the candidate as all he or she would have to ensure is that any donation accepted only comes through such commissioner.

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Lift Your Game DTJ

I have been a supporter of Destroy the Joint since the night it was conceived. In fact my first Destroy the Joint T shirt is wearing out!

I think you have all done some excellent work. Thank you. However lately I have been visiting the site less and less and have been becoming more and more disenchanted by some of the campaigns. Rather than becoming disinterested and faintly wishing you good will as I wave you goodbye, I thought I was honour bound to actually put in writing some of my concerns, for I still have great admiration for the overall conception.

I admit that I am a dyed in the wool feminist of many years standing. I confess I have never actually burnt a bra, but as an older woman I remember our protests, our struggles for educational and vocational opportunities and for many of the forbidden things that young women today take for granted, and faintly resent this going unrecognised in recent criticism of “old bra burning feminists”. But this does not particularly worry me. I am still capable of using both the ancient (and some more modern) techniques of expressing my views!

What do worry me are some of your recent campaigns. It was simple when you started, with all our support, recognising the injustice of the misogyny that abounded at the time, particularly in relation to our Prime Minister. I think this has made a great difference. More people now identify misogyny are now prepared to call it out.

DTJ has been a great forum for people to enunciate and discuss their views on what women should and or can expect in life. It has been well supported by some intelligent and some enlightening comments from many men and women.

But I ask the question are you now trying to cover too many areas? Some of them, perhaps because they are complex issues, cannot be simple enough to be reduced to black and white questions followed by a few comments, some informed some less informed. These issues need more than just public awareness they need knowledge and expertise.

I refer, particularly, to your current campaign against what you are naming “domestic violence” but which seems to me to be more of just a reduction to a numeration and description of what I would call “intimate partner violence” of men against their female partner. I agree that both are related issues and ones about which we should all be concerned and against which we should all speak out. They are already aired, but can always do with more airing. Much more government funding is needed. But it is not the simplistic, binary, counting, “us against them” issue which you have been describing. If it were as simple as you are presenting it would be much easier.

Personally I am a non violent person and am against any violence as a way to solve problems in any circumstances.

But, like all old feminists, I am quite outspoken and do not find it easy to understand why some people find it difficult to speak out against violence when they experience it. But I have both worked and studied in this area and know from that experience that we are dealing with very complex situations and emotions. I was a lawyer in a past life and worked for some years as a psychologist in a legal setting. It is important to change mind sets in both perpetrators and victims, particularly while problems still remain “potential” rather than actual. Some years ago I worked with a male counsellor who provided some groups for men who had been violent to their partners and I developed some surprising understanding of how they had got to where they were. (Some had been mandated to attend and others were volunteers but there was little difference between those two types.)

I have spent time with victims of violence and saw their needs and sometimes their compassion which had them remaining in situations where I would never have stayed.

I have worked with police specialising in this area and admired some of their very praiseworthy efforts to intervene in violent situations and have been witness to some of their frustrations at not always been able to follow through as they would like to, due to decisions made that they had to respect, often made by women.

I have met domestic violence workers, whom I greatly admire. But some of them, in their desire to protect former victims, have subjected those very victims to control that the victims found more abusive than that of the former partners.

During my study for a Law Masters I wrote a research project arguing quite strongly that Apprehended Violence Orders, with all the good intentions involved, sometimes play a role quite disempowering of victims in the mere exercise of this usage of “the power of law and language”.

And, as an aside, although it is unarguable that, when men and women are in physical conflict, it is usually the woman who is hurt, it cannot be denied that there are a number of women who are also prone to violent outbursts. After all we are humans too! And the term “domestic violence” also includes violence to and by children. This does not exclude women and girls.

The classic domestic violence, which so often includes on-going restriction of a partner by isolation, reducing her income, physically restraining, intimidating and ultimately injuring her is a deeply distressing situation and needs intervention in a way that will not further damage the victim. It is to be hoped we can find acceptable ways so intervention can happen early on and will provide her with physical help and information and will give her strategies and knowledge to enable her to avoid such friends or partners in the future.

It might also help women in general, as well as the ex partner himself, for him to have help, as that will also prevent violence towards anyone else. On this issue I have to cross swords with DTJ for the attitude expressed when it was suggested that disaffected men should not receive counselling and education, as all support should go to the victims. On going counselling for disaffected men is probably an essential way to protect women in general and to prevent young sons from potentially growing up to a life of violence.

It is the age old argument, drain the swamp or kill the alligators?

Please destroy the whole joint. Concentrate on the big picture, community attitudes, not on the minutiae of the more complex issues where almost all people agree on the desired outcome, both men and women. Individuals are often just struggling hard to find solutions and will sometimes get it wrong.

I’d rather do some swamp draining. I thought that was what DTJ was originally doing. Concentrate on changing the world!

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