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Limiting the Medicare rebate for genital surgery is a good move Posted by Maralann on 07 May 2012

In parts of Africa, women are tied down and mutilated while in Australia women receive the Medicare rebate for genital surgery


Last week The Age reported that the federal government is expected to target cosmetic genital surgery as it seeks to reduce the cost of Medicare. In Australia, genital surgery is increasing as women seek to improve the shape and size of the vagina and to treat painful or embarrassing conditions. If the surgery, costing about $4500 is considered to be clinically necessary then the patient may be eligible for Medicare payments. But as the Federal Government seeks to reduce its health costs it is expected that qualification for the rebate will soon prove to be more difficult.

The number of Australian women having vaginal ”rejuvenation” surgery has tripled in the past decade. An analysis of Medicare figures reveals almost 1400 women made claims for labiaplasty operations in 2009, a jump from 454 in 2000-01. According to labiaplasty surgeon Dr Stern, many women dislike the large protuberant appearance of their labia minora.  He says that these overly large labia can cause severe embarrassment with a sexual partner.
While western women are increasingly turning to the knife and having the size, shape and appearance of their labia enhanced, feminists and activists continue the campaign to end the practice of female genital mutilation affecting millions of women living in parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Female genital mutilation is a procedure that intentionally excises genital tissue leading to problems such as frequent bladder infections, childbirth complications and the risk of later surgery. The World Health Organization estimates that there are 100 to 140 million women who have had their lives damaged by FGM.
With the number of Australian women having vaginal "rejuvenation” surgery increasing,  doctors are suggesting that pornography may be driving women to have unnecessary genital makeovers in a bid to look more desirable. According to Chief Executive of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons Gaye Phillips, the women are being influenced by pornography which is much more available with the internet.
Phillips is not alone in connecting the way women feel about their bodies, and in this case their genitals to pornography. Gail Dines, author of Pornland –How Porn has Hijacked ourSexualityclaims the mainstreaming of porn has caused women to believe they are sexually empowered by looking and acting like a porn star. Although women know the images they are seeing are not the ‘real thing but are technologically enhanced’, they are still influenced and feel inadequate in comparison. As well as the tripling of genital surgery, Dines reports that over the last decade there has been a 465 percent increase in overall cosmetic procedures with 12 million operations taking place annually in the U.S. for makeovers such as liposuction, face-lifts and breast jobs.
Dines claims that the multibillion-dollar pornography industry must be considered a major public health and social concern. Her assertion is supported by reports that young women are requiring psychiatric treatment after the genital surgery because they still do not like their bodies.
Also raising concerns is the head of psychiatry at St Vincent’s Hospital, Dr Castle who has previously called for legislation requiring pornography producers to declare all airbrushed images, so that women would have a clearer and more realistic idea of normal female genitalia.
But for the countless numbers of young girls and women who are forced to undergo female genital mutilation it is not about choice or dislike of their bodies. The partial or total removal of the external female genitalia is neither chosen nor performed for medical purposes, but for socio-cultural reasons such as the desire to preserve cultural identity, wanting to control a girl’s sexual desire, and a belief that FGM makes a girl more sexually attractive to men.
In an interview with Nadya Khalife, 18 year old student Dalya told the women’s rights researcher that she remembers a lot of blood and was very afraid. ‘This has consequences now for my period. I have emotional and physical pain from the time when I saw the blood,’ she said.
The clitoridectomy performed on Dalya is the total or partial removal of the clitoris and is considered the least severe form of FGM. But all forms have acute and chronic health complications such as risk of death, heavy bleeding, sepsis and acute urinary retention. Infibulation – the cutting and stitching of the labia minora and majora can cause scarring, urinary retention, menstrual disorders and infertility and prolonged labour.
It is distressing that Australian women choose to have unwanted pieces of labia cut away, while the struggle to stop the mutilation of their sisters continues.

Helen Lobato


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Mother's Day Gift Ideas Posted by Maralann on 04 May 2012
Don't buy into commercialisation this Mother's Day . . .

by: Veronica Sullivan & Danielle Binks 

Look around at the advertising for Mother’s day. This celebration honouring mothers has, for some big businesses, become just another money-making scheme: a distortion and commercialization of motherhood.

Some of the advertising is frustratingly clichéd; working on a 1950s assumption that mother’s are content to be given pyjamas, cookbooks and chocolates (all presents that conveniently keep them in the home):


Sometimes the advertising is utterly superficial and empty-hearted, suggesting that a mother’s worth is in the ring on her finger or diamonds in her ears:

And then there’s the down-right sleazy;


Spinifex urges you to avoid the widespread materialistelements of Mother’s Day, and opt for a shared experience with mum, and maybe the rest of the family too.

Here are some sustainable, ethical options which are inexpensive and focus on sharing time together, rather than money. Go out for a meal and a chat together, or try some outdoor activities and excursions.

Getting out and about

Go for a bushwalk: There are some stunning bushwalking options located close to the city. Try the George Bass Coast, the Dandenongs or Mt Evelyn.

Compete in the Mother’s Day Classic together: Events are being held in all capital cities and many regional locations across Australia this mother’s day. The event raises money and awareness for Breast Cancer Research. The Melbourne event involves a 4km or 8km walk or run so you can pick and choose according to your ability level.

Or a less strenuous walk: Along Merri Creek, around Port Philip Bay, or the Tan track at the Botanical Gardens. Being together and away from artificial distractions is a calming and rewarding treat for anyone and allows for catch up time.

Or how about a boat trip:  A trip along the Yarra gives you a whole new perspective on the city. See it differently and remember it forever.

Visit your local produce market – South Melbourne, Queen Vic, or Prahran: Visit your local market first thing Sunday morning and pick up some fresh fruit. Take it home and juice up a fresh breakfast drink for mum.

Camberwell Market – Camberwell: Visit the Camberwell market from 6am-12pm with your mum. Give her a “voucher” for a suitable amount and tell her she can take her pick from the endless stalls of recycled and preloved clothes, books, arts, ANYTHING.

Rose Street Artists Markets – Fitzroy: A range of lovingly handmade crafts, clothes, jewellery, collectable and vintage items. Open Sat and Sun 11am-5pm, so you can buy a gift beforehand or visit together.

Abbotsford Convent – Abbotsford: Entry to the historic buildings and grounds of the Abbotsford Convent is free. Visit the artist studios, enjoy the gardens and have lunch at one of several cafes within the convent walls. Sunday tours of the convent are available from 2pm. And you can gift 'The Abbotsford Mysteries' as a companion poetry book.

Garden together – Get your hands dirty in your own backyard (weather permitting). May is the month to plant beans, mushrooms, onions, spinach and various herbs.

Japanese Bath House – Collingwood: Single sex communal baths at 41 degrees, followed by shiatsu massage. This traditional onsen is the perfect way to relax together.

Eating and drinking

The Pantry – South Melbourne Commons: Wholesale, locally farmed and grown produce.

Ripe Restaurant – Sassafras: Enjoy the gorgeous drive up to the Dandenong mountains and then an honest, hearty lunch at one of the most underrated restaurants in Melbourne.

Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm – Main Ridge, Mornington Peninsula: Unfortunately the self-pick season, always popular with kids, is closed for winter. But SunnyRidge still have a wide variety of homemade strawberry products for sale, including jams, syrups, ice creams and sorbets, and strawberry wines and champagnes.

Heide Museum of Modern Art – Bulleen: Galleries, the kitchen garden, the outdoor sculpture garden and Café Vue (which cooks with fresh produce from the gardens). A classic special occasion destination.

Lentil As Anything – Abbotsford, Footscray, St Kilda: Still the original and best option for vegetarian food, with vegan and gluten free options available. Payment for meals is done by donation, so you decide the price you feel is fair for your meal. Money raised is put straight back into the local community.

Soul Mama – St Kilda: Slightly fancier and pricier vego fare in generous portions, with anextensive wine list.

Ripe Organic Grocer – Albert Park: Organic and wholefoods fresh. Eat them in the café or take home for later. Including juices squeezed fresh while you wait.

Alternative Gifts

Contrary to popular advertising, mothers do not need chocolates, or another flannel pyjama set. Here are some suggestions for special or slightly unusual gifts which think outside the box a little bit:

1000 Pound Bend – CBD: Support local artists at this small exhibition space in the heart of the city, where you can buy an eclectic range of artworks.

Organic coffee: A range of blends, all organic and fair-trade, available to purchase online.

Oxfam Unwrappedoptions: OxFam have a huge range of donation options, which specify where your money is going so you can feel connected to the charity process. Giftsinclude Support and Essential for Midwives in Laos ($35), Pre-Natal Classes for Cambodian Mothers ($55), and Security and Education for South African Children Orphaned by HIV ($97).

The Guide to Ethical Supermarket Shopping 2012 ($7.00)

Notebook ($9.00) – made locally in Melbourne out of salvaged folders and letterhead


Books are the best presents, but don’t insult your mum’s intelligence with chicklit or a cooking book. Here are some intelligent, literary, questing book suggestions:

Spinifex titles

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Writers refuse to bite their tongues... Posted by Maralann on 12 Apr 2012

By Spinifex intern, Veronica Sullivan

The Australian literary community reacted last week with outrage and disbelief to Queensland Premier Campbell Newman’s decision to cancel ‘his’ awards – the QLD Premier’s Literary Awards – after just three weeks in office. Newman’s decision, announced on Wednesday 4th April, raises a litany of issues about his motivations and their ramifications.

The cost saved to Queensland taxpayers, according to Newman, will be $240 000: a $230 000 prize pool, and $10 000 in administration costs. This is only a small portion – less than 0.04 per cent – of the Queensland Government’s 2011-2012 budget. The sum is not a substantial one to the government, but it is to the state’s arts community, as is the retraction of this important avenue of recognition for authors who are often otherwise overlooked.

Outside of the industry, literary news isn’t generally a hot-button political issue. Newman will have been relying on a general disinterest or ambivalence amongst Queenslanders, hoping they would accept his supposed budget-consciousness with no complaints about the long-term cultural ramifications. Ironically and hearteningly, the resulting public outcry in Queensland and around Australia has given the awards and the literary community far more publicity than they would ever have attracted ordinarily.

Newman failed to anticipate the passionate and vociferous response of Queensland’s readers, authors and booksellers, who abhor the possibility of being the only State without a literary awards program. In just over a week, an online petition for the reinstatement of the awards has already garnered over 3000 signatures.

With 14 categories, including an emerging author award for an unpublished manuscript, the Premier’s awards are a valuable platform for publicising new and unheard voices. One of the categories was the lauded David Unaipon Award for best unpublished Indigenous manuscript. Aboriginal writing is underrepresented in Australia generally, and the David Unaipon award is unique.

The premier has been unrepentant about the potential devastation he has released on Queensland’s literary community. Newman says he’ll make “no apologies” for his decision, which ironically comes in the midst of the National Year of Reading. Newman’s election campaign included a commitment to preserving the state’s arts and culture. His retrograde attitude raises worrying echoes of a previous narrow-minded Queensland government – the paradoxical mix of conservatism and institutionalised corruption which ran rampant under Joh Bjelke-Petersen in the 1970s and 1980s.

In the wake of the axing another parallel arises, with Spinifex author Francesca Rendle-Short’s childhood in 1970s Queensland. As relayed in her memoir, Bite Your Tongue, Francesca’s mother, Angel, was an evangelical Christian who campaigned for strict censorship of school English texts and conducted book-burnings. Her targets were books which she perceived as immoral and depraved, including To Kill a Mockingbird, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the works of Virginia Woolf.

Ironically, from this creatively repressed environment, Francesca grew to become an artist, author, poet and creative writer. She is also Program Director of the Creative Writing degree at RMIT University.

While retracting funding from literature does not equate to condemning or banning it, it does demonstrate a disregard for the importance of the arts which is cause for concern. Francesca has observed the unfolding of these events with sadness. “I really didn't think that Queensland would return to being a one-party state again, but it has,” she says. “I thought we had learned lessons from the past. The LNP's current hold on a 78 seat majority to Labor's 7 seats, without an upper house to oversee the business of government and its policy and decisions, shocks me deeply. All sorts of terrible decisions will now be made with this kind of mandate.

“The other shock is how quick Campbell Newman was to axe the award – after only ten days in office and as one of his first decisions – what will happen in 100 days? Given the decision was made over such a paltry amount, and given the timing, this act of his is acutely symbolic. It says so much about Newman and the LNP's view of literature and writing and reading, and the value of the arts in our community.

“But I also know that in adversity there is hope and life, and that some of the best writing will come out of Queensland over the next term of government. The state will produce writing that is incisive, inspired, inventive, resonant and bountiful."

In the wake of the decision to cancel the awards, the Queensland literary community has rallied. An alliance of booksellers, authors and various industry figures have been vocal in expressing their determination to continue the awards in some form, with or without government support. The group is calling for the awards to be renamed the Queensland People’s Literary Awards, in recognition of their new grassroots nature.

The group is fronted by Krissy Kneen, who has reiterated her opinion that literary prizes are not about the money, but about attaining wider recognition for deserving authors who otherwise go unnoticed. She says, “the most important thing is the kudos of the nomination”. Although authors may welcome financial recognition of their work, money is not generally a prime motivator in the choice a writing career.

In an interview on the ABC Radio breakfast program on Wednesday 4th April, Queensland-raised journalist and writer Matthew Condon confirmed the awards would go ahead without prize money. He said that while sponsorship and monetary prizes are strong incentives, the awards would be given this year without financial recompense for the winners. He stated his hope that “as long as the awards are kept alive in this new form, then one would hope down the track, that patronage is attracted to that”.

As scary as it is to acknowledge that a state government can completely discard its recognition of literature, the reaction around Australia has been passionate and overwhelmingly optimistic. Readers and writers are not prepared to give up on the awards, and judging by these responses their survival is assured, whatever form they may take.

Follow Veronica on Twitter: @veronicaahhh

Francesca Rendle-Short's website:

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The Precariat Posted by Maralann on 26 Mar 2012

'It’s a global phenomenon so widespread that a new name has been coined for it: the precariat,’ wrote workplace editor Clay Lucas in The Age, 21 March. Precariat is a term describing the millions of people who finding themselves without job security are forced to take insecure, poorly paid and precarious jobs.

I  came across ‘precariat’ meaning casualised, insecure labour in The Lace Makers of Narsapur by Maria Mies. Author and theorist Mies, claims that economists have invented the word ‘precariat’ because they are reluctant to have us understand the brutality that lurks behind this concept. Politicians proudly report that employment has risen but fail to admit that most of these  jobs have no holiday or sick pay and lack security of tenure.

The Lace Makers of Narsapur was first published in 1982 and is a ground breaking and sensitive study of women at the beginning of globalisation.  Maria Mies examines how the poor  women of Narsapur are used to produce luxury goods for the western market. The rural lace makers are marginalised and responsible for the subsistence of the family and due to the patriarchal norms of society are  unable to compete  with men for the small amount of  paid work that is available. The lace makers combine their work with domestic chores; their piece work is invisible – regarded as housework, even though it’s often the only family income.

Like the lace makers of Narsapur who could not survive without their precarious, low paid work, Australia, once a  country where  permanent jobs were the norm, now leads the way in the casualisation of labour with job seekers forced to move from one short-term contract to the next. In her preface to the 2012 edition of The Lace Makers of Narsapur, Maria Mies asserts that such precarious employment where millions of people lead lives of social and economic uncertainty suits the owners of capital very well. Just as the lace makers did not produce a full lace garment but parts thereof,  workers in the today’s global market produce components for products such as cars, computers or phones for unknown foreign contractors. There is little job security, scarce ability to pay for health insurance, a house, or sick pay- just dependence on the vicissitudes of the international market.

Forty years ago it was thought that by now we’d  be working just 20 hours a week, but as  the author of The Precariat - The New Dangerous Class, Guy Standing says ‘we have experienced the growth of a new and dangerously angry class, the precariat’. This global phenomena consists of people who have lost working – class jobs, and  others such as migrants and the disabled,  along with the educated and frustrated who form much of the  protest movements that spread across Europe and the Middle East last year.

But did it have to be this way? What if there had been a change in the sexual division of labour? In The Lace Makers of Narsapur,  Mies theorised that if men had to share non-wage work equally with women requiring them to spend more time at home and less at the office or factory,  the labour power needed to produce ever more commodities for the capitalist market would shrink.  Under such equal conditions, according to Mies, capitalism could not have developed in the way that it did. Instead, the atomised and disorganised lace makers working for sub-subsistence wages, ‘are now the image of the future for us’.

Guy Standing, is also Professor of Economic Security at the University of Bath in England. He warns politicians  to take note of this rising precariat whose members are suffering from anxiety. Uncertainty  is spreading rapidly throughout society, leading to alienation and despair – in turn feeding  into the growth of the protest movements around the globe, says Standing.

‘The lacemakers show the way,’ writes Mies.  ’The conditions under which they worked never disappeared, as we can see now.’ ‘Their working days are hard and long and so is the working life of these women – from the age of 8 to the age of 70 or 80. The lace-making women virtually never stop working until they die.’ These conditions have returned to the rich countries of the west from where they were exported’, she says.

While the proletariat has disappeared  the precariat is on the rise.

Maria Mies is a German theorist, activist and author. She is Professor Emerita at the University of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschule) in Cologne. She is the author of numerous works of women and globalisation including: Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale, The Subsistence Perspective: Beyond the Globalised Economy with Veronica Bennholdt-Thomsen and Ecofeminism with Vandana Shiva.

The Lace Makers of Narsapur  is an important book.  Published by Spinifex Press , it’s due for release in May 2012.

Helen Lobato 

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God, the mother and the book Posted by Maralann on 19 Mar 2012

By Pat Rosier

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Jeanette Winterson, published by Jonathan Cape, London
Bite Your Tongue Francesca Rendle-Short, published by Spinifex Press, Melbourne

How many of us, I wonder, blame our mothers for our failings or disappointments? Not these two writers, anyway, even though their childhood experiences were disturbingly extreme.
I grew up in a family where religion was just one of those things, punishment was by private disapproval, not public shaming or violence, and “do your bit” (for an unspoken general good) was the guiding principle. I am still shocked when I read about families like those in these two books, families controlled by parents with extreme beliefs that are justification for treating people—children—badly.
 Winterson and Rendle-Short come from families where religion ruled, in both these cases via their mother. For each as a child there was the danger of being thrown into a turmoil of embarrassment, loyalty and fear at the public behaviour of her mother. (For Winterson, add physical treatment that would have social services at the door today.) That each woman has come to some kind of resolution with her childhood shows in the dedications. Rendle-Short dedicates her book to her deceased mother, Winterson hers to “three mothers: Constance WInterson, Ruth Rendell, Ann S.” with Ann S. being the birth mother she makes contact with towards the end of the book.
 It is well-known that Winterson wrote a fictional version of her childhood in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. Rendle-Short creates a fictional character, Gloria, within Bite Your Tongue to tell the childhood part of her story where the mother, so help us, is on a mission to “purify” the Queensland school curriculum by banning and burning certain books. The adult writer Rendle-Short fossicks among newspaper reports and other records for details of these events and interweaves the fictional and the factual. (“Dr Joy’s Death List” (of books) can be found at the end of Bite Your Tongue.) For Winterson’s adoptive mother, it’s more personal, the child herself appears to be the enemy, being told when her mother is angry with her, “the Devil led us to the wrong crib.”
 These two books keep inviting comparisons. Rendle-Short’s actual mother’s first name is—yes, really—Angel. Her character Gloria’s mother is called MotherJoy. Winterson’s mother is always referred to as Mrs WInterson and she is cruel and punishing. Both authors survive their mother, developing emotional muscle on the way.

 The writing, however, is very different. In Why Be Happy there’s a lot of space around the words, much that is not said, and the tone is matter-of-fact while the statements are often passionate, sometimes shocking, especially when the young Jeanette is being grossly mis-treated. Defiance, refusal to see herself as a victim, a small child gouging out a space for herself in the world, is what we are shown. “Books,” she writes, “for me, are a home. Books don’t make a home —they are one, in the sense that just as you do with a door, you open a book, and you go inside.” In the fiction of her childhood, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, she says she tempered the actual events, making them more believable. Goodness. Are there moments of melodrama? Or just the truth? We, her readers, can’t know, but we can feel her conviction that she is not a damaged person, no victim, (though not good at longterm relationships). “I was very often full of rage and despair. I was always lonely. In spite of all that I was and am in love with life.”
 Winterson’s statement “The trouble with a book is that you don’t know what’s in it until too late.” could have been made by Rendle-Short’s mother.
While Winterson invokes with spaces around the words, Rendle-Short accretes detail, in words and metaphors that make everything explicit. One example is in the two pages where MotherJoy matches “the parts of the pig’s head in front of her with an imaginary map of the female anatomy” for her daughters. And there are the sheep tongues, the full detail of their preparation and eating expanding the extended metaphor of the book’s title. 

I like it that both of these books include dedications to the mother many of us would condemn for the way they treated their daughters. Both Winterson and Rendle-Short complicate easy judgments and neither has allowed her childhood experiences to define a limited adult identity. And each demonstrates powerfully, albeit in different ways, the power, and revelatory potential of books. 

Pat Rosier was the editor of New Zealand's feminist magazine, Broadsheet, for many years. She is the author of Poppy's Progress and Poppy's Return both published by Spinifex. She has just released a novel Where the HeArt Is which is available as an eBook.
Where the HeArt Is

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