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'River, River' by Merlinda Bobis Posted by Maralann on 07 Jun 2012

Writer-performer Merlinda Bobis catches up with Filipino-Canadian artists.
Photo by Christine Balmes

It is magic when the river flows: when it springs from some startling depth or height that, by chance, you’ve tapped into; when it surges into the imaginary, which turns tidal through your flesh and bones; when it sneaks into other bodies to form new tributaries of kinship, in lived stories.

This is how I experienced my recent performance of River, River, my one-woman play adaptation of Fish-Hair Woman, at the University of Toronto’s international workshop on ‘Violence in a Far Country: Women Scholars of Colour Theorize Terror’ (18-19 May 2012). I have done performances of this play at various venues, but this show was special. Jet-lagged and all, I gave my paper in the morning and, in the afternoon, rehearsed in the theatre for the first time. Mapped out light and sound with the Romanian-Canadian technical director Teo and the stage manager Mandy, whose family hails from Trinidad. Both amazing, given such a tight schedule. Then a very quick rehearsal. We did all these in less than three hours. By 5:00 pm, the show was on! The tightest schedule that I’ve ever experienced. I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to deliver. But magic: the river flowed.

I am primarily a writer-performer. While I venture into scholarly discussions on creative production, I have doubts about calling myself ‘a scholar’. Thus, the impressive line-up of scholars and the spectacular theorising in the workshop awed and intimidated me. I gave a paper (‘“Weeping is Singing”: After Militarism’) on the politics, aesthetics, and ethics of the production of both the play and the novel. But I always felt that my ‘real paper’ is the show (and the novel): the body makes its own argument. And as it enacts the horrors of war and its consequent mourning, this ‘argumentative body’ is always desiring, affirmative. Affirming itself, the dead, and the living bodies in the audience also affirming this story from a far country, and ‘weeping-singing’ with me.

The river flowed in our remembering together: my story was completed because others listened. We made new water tributaries, new wellsprings of story together. Indeed storytelling is not lonely.

And the flow does not stop; there are ripples. The overwhelmingly moving responses of the audience after the show, including the wonderful thank-you emails that I received now that I’m back in Australia remind me this is why I tell a story with the body. As one of the scholars wrote, the powerful performance brought them ‘to a different integrity space’. And humbly, I respond: I simply brought you to the river.



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Notwithstanding the recent HRT review-oestrogen therapy remains dangerous Posted by Maralann on 28 May 2012

By Helen Lobato

For some women, the news that Hormone Replacement Therapy is OK, has come 10 years too late. According to the host of 3AW’s Talking Health, Dr Sally Cockburn; “those of us who have borne the hormonal burden for our families all our adult lives and who are now in our 50s deserve better.”

Cockburn’s lament comes on the heels of a report discrediting a previous study’s finding that HRT for menopause raised the risk of blood clots, breast cancer and strokes. In July 2002, the publication of the first Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) report caused a dramatic drop in HRT use throughout the world. Now a major reappraisal by international experts, published in the peer-reviewed journal Climacteric (the official journal of the International Menopause Society), shows how the evidence has changed over the last 10 years, and supports a return to a “rational use of HRT, initiated near the menopause”.

When Jenni Murray heard that women in their 40s and 50s can now safely take HRT to help cope with their symptoms, she became very concerned. The 62 year old author thinks that HRT gave her breast cancer. At the age of 45, Murray began HRT and the various symptoms that plagued her such as the hot flushes, the night sweats and low moods miraculously disappeared. While enjoying her symptom free life, Murray managed to ignore the warnings that came from the Million Women Health study and after ten years of using HRT, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Menopause occurs when menstruation stops and fertility ends. Common understanding of the process is that the menopausal ovaries are useless and defunct and that diminished and inadequate oestrogen levels need to be supplemented in the form of HRT to ward off the terrible ravages of ageing such as osteoporosis, heart disease and lack of sexual libido. However this is incorrect for our ovaries do not shrivel up but continue to produce
hormones, including oestrogens throughout the life cycle.

According to Sherrill Sellman author of Hormone Heresy:

Millions of menopausal women flock to their doctors’ offices each year seeking relief from such complaints as hot flushes, night sweats, bloating, indigestion, allergies, headaches, insomnia, fatigue, depression, high blood pressure, weight gain, head hair loss, facial hair growth, mood swings, aging skin, irritability, foggy thinking, lack of concentration, anxiety attacks, heart palpitations, bone loss, and heavy bleeding. The common panacea prescribed for all these symptoms is usually HRT. All these presenting symptoms are lumped together into the menopausal pigeonhole, oestrogen deficiency is the diagnosis and synthetic estrogen replacement becomes the cure. An obvious and simple solution for hormonal imbalance! Or so we are led to believe.

It was after the Second World War that doctors first began to argue for the maintenance of high levels of hormones for menopausal women and by the 1960s pharmaceutical companies began to spread the myth that menopause was a medical condition. Prior to this time menopause was not a disease but a welcome stage in women’s lives that signalled the end of fertility.

Sellman claims that it is not a lack of oestrogen that is causing the ‘menopausal symptoms’ but an excess.

Unfortunately, women have been intentionally led on a merry hormone goose chase. While medicalizing and pathologising of menopausal women with potent, carcinogenic and dangerous steroid drugs has filled the coffers of the drug companies and doctors alike, the real cause of these health problems has been ignored. The World Health Organization has found that an overweight post menopausal woman has more oestrogen circulating in her body than a skinny pre-menopausal woman!!

Western women now have some of the highest oestrogen levels ever recorded in history due to exposure to medications such as the Pill and HRT along with estrogen mimics found in pesticides, herbicides, and plastics, as well as the hormones injected into feed lot cattle and farmed fish.

In HRT Licensed to Kill and Maim, author and investigative journalist Martin Walker introduces his readers to a little known world of women severely damaged by hormone replacement therapy prescribed for them by their trusted medical practitioners. When Ros, a busy wife, mother and carer told her doctor she was experiencing hot flushes and dizziness, he diagnosed the menopause and prescribed hormone replacement therapy. Six months later with Ros’s periods becoming heavier, her breasts enlarging and her moods worsening, the HRT dose was increased and at the age of 42 Ros had her uterus and ovaries removed. Her doctor had failed to tell her that her symptoms could have been caused by high, not low levels of circulating oestrogen and it was only on Ros’s insistence that her levels were finally tested and found to be extraordinarily high – measuring 2110 with normal around 400.

Over the past few decades HRT has become a drug for which the need has been created, rather than it being a therapy for a legitimate ailment. Menopause is simply the cessation of the menses, rather than some pathological condition for which we must be treated. In spite of the fact that exogenous oestrogens have been linked to cancers and other health conditions for many years, profit-hungry drug companies have continued to market HRT for the most trivial of reasons with major long - term side effects.

Following the publication of the 2002 Women’s Health Initiative study 65 per cent of women on hormone therapy stopped taking HRT but two years later the message had faded and one in four women were back on the therapy. Now that this latest review recommends that the “classical use’ of hormone therapy be initiated near the menopause benefitting most women who have indications including significant menopausal symptoms or osteoporosis, it will be interesting to see how many women return to the HRT fold.

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Your Choice! Posted by Maralann on 24 May 2012

By Pauline Hopkins

On morning radio this week, the presenters ran a quick radio telephone poll asking whether female listeners would rather be Craig Thompson’s wife or Peter Slipper’s wife. (What a choice, indeed, you may ask!) The verdict was that women would rather be Peter Slipper’s wife because “it wouldn’t be their fault.” Fault, you ask?

Well, the thinking went like this. If your male partner has an affair or liaison or tryst with another man, that means he is a closet gay. So no matter now pleasing you are as a woman, you would never satisfy him because his “problem” was him, not you or your sexual appeal or lack thereof.

With Craig Thompson, however, and his purported use of the services of female prostitutes, there is an implicit responsibility on the wife for his unfaithful behaviour because, to put it bluntly, she obviously wasn’t hot enough. Or so the morning radio theory went.

So let’s get this straight. Men behaving badly, whether allegedly fraudulently with credit cards or in breech of their marital pledges. And whose behaviour also comes under scrutiny? The not-hot-enough wife who “drove” him too it? Pleeeeease!

Anyone who doubts the need for feminism or the existence of misogyny just needs to look at this example. When women are held to account for the bad behaviour of their male partners, it is clear that there is still a need for ongoing scrutiny about the norms that operate in our societies, including free democracies.


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To whinge or not to whinge* Posted by Maralann on 16 May 2012

By: Susan Hawthorne

Let's be up front about the title of this piece. You get to decide whether I am whinging or making justifiable arguments about discrimination. You get to decide if highlighting silence, indifference or sidelining is reasonable to discuss in public. Some of you will already have decided that I am a whinger. I hope some will applaud the attempt to make known what usually is not spoken about.

Spinifex Press is a feminist press, that means that we have specialist knowledge about the international women's movement, the histories of women in many places, that we have opinions and have carried out research on subjects where the experiences of women have important social, political and even creative ramifications.

Feminism is a huge subject area and feminist writers and thinkers have much to say about this area. Feminist thinking can be applied to almost any area of knowledge. From time to time the media decides to run some kind of commentary on feminism. They ask this social commentator or that political commentator for their views. You would think that we would be rushed off our feet answering such questions from the media about what is important to half the world. But we are not. In fact, the media almost never talks to us or to the many authors published by Spinifex about the subject of feminism. In recent years a number of writers festivals have had panels to discuss whether feminism is still relevant (the wrong question in my view). Again, you would expect that Spinifex Press would be an important place to source writers who are well versed in discussing feminism. So far, we have never been asked to suggest a writer to speak on such a panel in spite of the fact that we publish more feminists per square inch than any other Australian publisher. Occasionally our international writers are invited to participate, but Australian feminists like Diane Bell, Sheila Jeffreys, Bronwyn Winter or Betty McLellan are not on the festival circuit. Let alone Renate Klein or myself.

In the last couple of years a group of brave women writers have come forward to highlight the asymmetry of awards given to women writers. Out of that has come much discussion about the Stella Prize. There have been fruitful discussions about the poor levels of reviewing of books by women, and it is having some effect on the level of awareness in the media of these issues. You would think, given our specialty, that the media would ask Spinifex Press whether these statistics were reflected in our experience of publishing women writers over the last 21 years. To date, we have not been asked that question, we have not been asked for our opinion in an area in which we have obvious expertise. This is so even though we participate in blogs, online discussions, Facebook and twitter commentary.

The issue of gay marriage has become mainstream in the last twelve months. Spinifex Press probably publishes more lesbian writers than any other publishing house in Australia. You would think that the media who are often caught short-footed in this area would come knocking to ask for comments from some of our out writers (many writers in the mainstream as well as those published by presses like ours still keep the lid on their sexuality to avoid being pigeon holed). To date, no festival organiser or journalist has asked us this question.

Ecofeminism is an area in which Spinifex has considerable expertise. What is often forgotten is that like human rights, women have always been at the forefront of discussions on ecology. Think of Rachel Carson, Donella Meadows, Maria Mies, Helen Caldicott, Vandana Shiva. Feminism and ecology go together. However, there remains great ignorance among many in the media who want to keep feminism out of ecology. But ecology would not exist as a discipline without feminist thinkers.

In a multicultural society like Australia you would expect there to be commentary on women's experience. And if you thought about a feminist perspective on these issues, you would find plenty of expertise at Spinifex from writers with diverse backgrounds. You would find Indigenous writers, writers from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and many other places. For commentary on the political changes taking place in the Arab world, you would find several of our anthologies packed with information as well as books by writers like Nawal el Saadawi and Evelyne Accad.

We, of course, wish that the issue of violence against women would go away. But it continues to grab headlines. The increasing sexualisation of girls and women has garnered a lot of comment; sexual slavery, prostitution, pornography and rape of women in war as well as violence against women in the home are regular subjects in the media. Spinifex has been responsible for a significant number of books in this area and we have dozens of authors who could make comment, could speak at conferences and festivals and yet few are ever asked to do so, or when they are, they are frequently expected to be targets of hostile interlocutors. It is unusual that a group who is subjected to violence should also be expected to be apologists for the perpetrators of that violence, but women who speak out against men's violence against women are frequently expected to defend men. The vilification of women should be as important as the vilification of people based on race, ethnicity, religion, class or caste, sexuality, disability or any other form of oppression. Hate speech based on a person's sex is just as hateful as all the other forms of hate speech I have listed. But pornography is strangely exempted as a form of hate speech. And those who speak out about it in these terms are called prudes and whingers.

The publishing industry has gone through massive changes in the last decade, and none more so than the advent of eBooks and digital publishing. Spinifex Press began creating eBooks in 2006. While we have often been asked to participate in industry forums on this subject, the media and most festivals have not asked for input or commentary from us. It's hard to say whether this is because we are feminist publishers and therefore would not know anything (although we were innovators in the field in the 1990s also) or whether there is the assumption that we would only know about feminist issues (but why are we well qualified activist publishers not asked to comment on feminism either?).

You can see that I am caught in a whirlwind and cannot get out no matter whether I shout or remain silent, no matter whether I put forward a critique or try to make jokes and be good humoured about it, or whether I whinge.

That's all very well, say the doubters, but perhaps these books are badly written or didactic, perhaps they are poorly argued or rushed to print with lots of editorial problems, perhaps the designs are sloppy or the book covers unappealing. If any of these were issues, you would read about it in reviews. While it's not possible for every book or every writer to win awards, many Spinifex authors have won awards for their books, state awards, national awards and international awards. Some books have been named in best-of-the-year lists, some authors have been recognised for their work. Spinifex Press has won awards, as have the publishers. On matters editorial, it is something we pride ourselves on and we have been known to spend several years on getting a book right. Our book covers are frequently remarked upon. Internationally, we have numerous translations, including Betty McLellan's Help, I'm living with a man boy in 17 languages. Other books have been translated into Spanish, German, Korean, Chinese and Turkish. I ask, given all this, should you be able to hear our writers at festivals or read features on them in the media?

Don’t get me wrong, we are more than grateful to those festival organisers and media who do support us, as well as to readers who buy books and writers who have stuck with us over the years.

There are many others areas Spinifex authors have written about. Here is a beginning list: war, terrorism, economics, water, health, creative writing, poetry, autobiography, GM foods, holocaust, trauma, sanity and madness, peace, literature, the politics of knowledge, globalisation, climate change, lesbian culture and history, mythology, religion, Indigenous knowledges, abortion, cyberfeminism, ecofeminism, reproductive technologies, menopause, international relations, violence against women, international feminist movements, intimate relationships, exile, masculinity, revolution, history, prehistory, politics, ecology, animals, colonisation, biodiversity, trade unions, education, children, theatre, circus, art, photography, humour, feminism.

When a group of feminist artists in New York began protesting about the number of women artists represented in art galleries, they donned gorilla masks and called themselves Guerilla Girls in part to avoid reprisals from the art establishment and the media. What we see in public fora in Australia is feminism sexed-up, feminism cat-fights, feminism lite. Any attempt to engage seriously with the ideas of feminism, ideas that have changed the lives of millions of women and girls around the world, is met with derision, distortion, exclusion and silence. I say let's have feminism noisy, feminism fun, feminism serious. In short  guerrilla feminism.


* Apologies to Shakespeare.


Spinifex Press was established by Renate Klein and Susan Hawthorne 21 years ago. Both publishers have PhDs in Women’s Studies and have lived and worked feminism for many decades. They are authors of hundreds articles on feminism as well as dozens of books and have organised local, national and international feminist events.

For more on Guerilla Girls:


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By Kathleen Barry

The work of the US military is to kill, its pretext – defense of the homeland. It has succeeded in training soldiers, mostly young men, to kill without remorse, that is until they leave the military with flare-ups of psychological trauma or PTSD. But neither the military nor the White House has convinced a war weary American public to accept men returning home from war in caskets or deeply wounded physically and psychologically. Americans’ increasing distaste for war presents serious problems for a state committed to on-going, unending war which includes feeding military industries, a mainstay of the American economy. What to do?

Drones to the rescue! With drones, unmanned aerial vehicles, Americans need not worry about their own soldiers being killed. Those who drop the bombs do so from any one of a number of military bases somewhere in the United States. Research and common sense show that the further away soldiers are from those they kill, the less likely they are to feel guilt or remorse. Drones, it seems, solve the PTSD problem.
Since so many Americans now turn off the news of war, they will not know of how, as they do not know about combat on the ground, of the many civilians killed in drone attacks – most are women and children. But those victims are not Americans, specifically, they are not American men. So who cares? As John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism chief, in the cold sociopathy of an increasingly US militarized stated, “Sometimes you have to take lives to save lives,” and I would add, as long as most of the lives you take are of brown people and are not American men. War is, after all, gendered and racist violence.

The day after Brennan announced that the USA is conducting CIA drone warfare, on May 1 President Obama spoke to Americans in what most pundits agreed was a campaign speech from Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan where he and President Karzai had just signed a Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement. So you might wonder what is all the fuss about drones anyway. Aren’t Americans on our way out of Afghanistan? Looking closely at the details of the agreement that Obama did not mention in his television broadcast, we find that it actually “commits Afghanistan to provide U.S. personnel access to and use of Afghan facilities through 2014 and beyond. … for the possibility of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2014, for the purposes of training Afghan Forces and targeting the remnants of al-Qaeda.” (White House, Office of the Press Secretary. May 1, 2012.)

There is every reason to believe that not only the US war in Afghanistan, but the US policy of ongoing, unending war is, under Obama’s leadership, morphing into a drone war. For years the USA has been launching drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia even though the US Congress has not declared war on those states. Since 2002 the CIA has conducted up to 321 drone strikes in Pakistan, killing up to 3,100 people. In December, 2009 US drones dropped cluster bombs on a village in Yemen and killed 40 people, 21 children and 14 women, 5 of whom were pregnant were killed.

Killing women and children and killing brown people intersects misogyny and racism upon which the military is built. A few weeks ago, a case opened in British courts of a CIA drone strike in Pakistan in March 2011 which killed up to 53 people in an open air meeting of the local jirga (parliament) in that region. US intelligence that directs drone strikes is focusing not on specific people anymore. Rather as journalist Jeremy Schahill exposes, they study the “pattern of life” of groups of people who gather in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. That is exactly how the CIA defended its drone strike: ‘The fact is that a large group of heavily armed men, some of whom were clearly connected to al Qaeda and all of whom acted in a manner consistent with AQ [Al Qaeda] -linked militants, were killed,’ even though Al Qaeda’s not known to hold its meetings in public, open air places.

Drones are a growth industry but the chief companies are familiar in the military industrial complex: Northrupp Grumman, Raytheon, and General Atomics with a powerful lobby in Washington. In February, 2012, Obama, the President most responsible for escalation of drone warfare, brought war home when signed into law a Federal Aviation Reauthorization Bill. Heavily lobbied by the drone industry which stands to gain between $12 and $30 billion in sales, 3,000 drones for surveillance will within a few years be filling the skies of the U.S.A.

For years Americans were told that drones were only used for surveillance, for intelligence gathering, in places like Pakistan, all the while the US military is making enemies they then have to kill and labels them insurgents or Al Qaeda when the CIA drones bomb them to smithereens. Now the CIA turns its drones on us. So Americans (or anyone anywhere on the earth) watch your “patterns of behavior” for on our home ground, ‘we have met the enemy and they are us’. 

Kathleen Barry, Sociologist and Professor Emerita of Penn State University is the author of Unmaking War, Remaking Men (2011)

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