Blog - Page 13 of 26
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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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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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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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 ourSexuality, claims 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.
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