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Mothers' day: without the pedestal! by Pauline Hopkins Posted by Bernadette on 11 May 2012
mothers, daughters

Mothers’ Day is one of those days that it is easy to warm to and turn away from at the same time.

I adore my own mother and treasure every moment with her. But I don’t need there to be a Mothers’ Day to thank her for the immeasurable meaning she has given to my life. I am delighted to spend time with her on Mothers’ Day, but I am equally delighted to see her every other week of the year too.

As a mother myself, I don’t want my own daughter to feel pressured by commercially driven sickly ads imploring her to ‘make your Mum feel special’ by buying some outrageously priced item that panders to the idea that women belong in the kitchen or the bedroom. Seriously, just how many advertisements for frilly nighties and new saucepans can one handle?

I am also skeptical that the veneration of motherhood is also a thinly veiled disguise for a silent contempt and deep suspicion of women who don’t have children. Women like our own Prime Minister, who attracts enormous vitriol, which is apparently accepted because she is childless. I don’t like that the celebration of Mothers’ Day comes at the expense of dividing the sisterhood.

And while I love being a mother, I don’t necessarily love the pedestal that comes with it; a pedestal that sits on a shaky foundation and is poised ready to topple at the slightest bump. Because motherhood on a pedestal is about motherhood as some kind of perfection, and that is setting oneself up for failure.

It is also setting an impossible standard by which women judge themselves as never good enough. We torture ourselves about being stay-at-home or working mothers, and then try to do both. We pressure ourselves to have clean houses, home-cooked meals and perfectly ironed shirts. We can’t let ourselves go but are forbidden from any form of self-indulgence too. We are supposed to nurture children and partners but also have to make time to cover our grey hairs and wax our legs. Hey, there’s an image of motherhood to uphold!

And while we tread an ever-narrowing line about what we “should” be, we feel like failures 90% of the time for being too much or too little of something. We know too that the only thing worse that being childless for a woman is to be a ‘BAD MOTHER’ so we continue walking that diminishing line and judge others and ourselves far too harshly.

So this Mothers’ Day will be about the simple joys of sharing time and conversation with people. No restaurant meal. Nothing fancy. A gift? Maybe a book or two. Nothing perfect. Just as it should be.

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A different take on mother’s day Posted by Maralann on 10 May 2012

By: Melbourne feminist, Vera Hartley

It was mother’s day sixteen years ago, the first year that we were without our mother. I remember how I had refused to celebrate this annual event and am choked with guilt.

But mother’s day has never been a particularly favourite celebration for me. My reluctance to enter into society’s celebration of motherhood - contrived or otherwise - was born out of my unhappiness within the patriarchal family both as a child, a wife and mother.

I grew up in the 1950s, the daughter of a very domineering man who ruled the lives of my sisters and our mother. He was a church-going man, but this didn’t stop him from striking me hard across my mouth when I dared to have my own opinions. Not surprisingly I could hardly wait to leave him but unfortunately married a man who dominated me and criticised everything I did, and at the age of 21 I was a mother. After many years of emotional and physical abuse, I managed to leave the unhappy marriage.

My experience within the family, an institution still lauded by society has not been pleasant, and has tainted my picture of marriage and motherhood to such a degree that to enter into society’s commercial celebration of the day has always been very difficult for me and of course my children can’t or won’t understand.

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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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