The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Matthew Newton: He did it again

Posted by Rhiana Whitson on September 5, 2010

Matthew Newton has committed domestic violence. He is a criminal and needs to go to prison.
Matthew Newton is a drug addict and mentally ill. He needs our pity and our help.

I’m no psychiatrist, but I do know this:

However, troubled or drug addled Matthew Newton may be,  he’s committed a serious crime, and it’s not his first offense.

As we wait to see whether Newton will be held accountable for his latest actions, we should ask ourselves why a man who just three years ago went to court over a similar incident was allowed to re-offend, and, why he was allowed to grace our television screens.

Even before this latest incident, It’s been a sorry decline for Matthew Newton.

Not that Channel Seven seemed to mind. After checking himself out of rehab earlier this year, Channel Seven offered Newton a $200, 000 contract to host their brand new reality-TV series, The X-Factor.

How quickly the commercial networks forget!

The question posed by Media Watch is this: why was Newton offered the job in the first place?

Or indeed, any other acting jobs following his court appearance in 2007?

(If you haven’t already, make sure you watch this episode – it just confirms how lucky we are that journalism like this still exists to keep the mainstream media accountable, especially in the current climate of horse-race journalism)

Just in case you’re as forgetful as Channel Seven, here’s a refresher: in 2007 Newton was charged with two counts of common assault, one count of stalk/intimidate with the intent of causing physical/mental harm and assault occasioning actual bodily harm. According to media reports at the time, the catalyst for Brooke Satchwell to bravely speak out, occurred after she was repeatedly punched  in the head by Newton whilst she yelled for him to stop.

Um, Channel Seven, is this really the type of guy you want to host your network’s answer to Australian Idol?

Unfortunately, Channel Seven clearly held the same opinion as Newton’s star struck appeal judge.

What should have been an open and closed case, rather strangely (or perhaps not, considering Newton’s connections) ended with Newton walking away innocent man.

Newton’s lenient 12-month good behavior bond was quashed by a Sydney judge on appeal.

According to News.com.au the judge considered Newton an “utmost gentleman” who had committed the offense because of severe depression.

Apparently he was unlikely to re-offend.

The justice system’s handling of this case was another slap in the face for Australian women: the career of a well connected actor is more important than your right to safety.

At the time of the charges a number of recognisable faces sprang to Newton’s defense, offering character references for what they saw as an unfairly targeted Newton.

At the time of the court hearing, Newton was dating Gracie Otto, Barry Otto’s then 19-year old daughter.

Barry Otto:

“Matthew is a great friend and a great person. I don’t understand why people are trying to destroy his reputation with this sort of stuff,”

Sue Hill, mother of Gracie, wife of Barry:

“Matthew is the sweetest, nicest person in the world. He would never hurt a flea”.
“He would be absolutely devastated about all this becoming public.”

(How about the devastation Satchwell endured through firstly, the incident(s) itself,  facing the public with her allegations, and finally dealing with the miscarriage of justice performed by a  judge who rendered her abuser innocent)

The Otto’s must be eating their words now.

It certainly didn’t take the commercial networks very long to become convinced of Newton’s supposed innocence either.

Although, you’d think that even despite an overturned conviction, an actor who’s name had become synonymous with domestic violence would be enough to keep the commercial networks away…

As the saying goes, any publicity is good publicity – and with that, Newton’s career was resurrected to play the role of Terry Clark in Channel Nine’s Underbelly.

To tidy Newton’s image up, although as Media Watch pointed out, the role was rather apt,  News Ltd. got to work on some cross promotion last year with this hard-hitting piece of journalism.

It’s good to see Newton doing what he does best — acting. It’s easy to forget, amid the swirling controversy of the past couple of years, what a good actor he is.

Yes, indeed, great actor. The Hun’s Erin McWhirter sure fell for the shameless PR coordinated by the Herald Sun and Channel Nine.

Contemplating his life in the past two years has brought Newton some sense of inner peace. He hints that turning 30 has played a major part in turning things around.

‘‘Mistakes of your 20s, professionally or whatever, you just come into your own a little bit in your sense of understanding, ” Newton said.

Newton’s reintegration into commercial television was a success, so much so, Channel Seven chose to ignore a couple of tense moments between Rachel and Newton earlier this year and a stint in rehab when it decided they wanted him on board to host X-Factor.

Following Seven’s announcement, another bout of cross-promotion ensued, handy seeing as many Australian’s are unaware that mainstream media is pretty much completely owned by a couple of key players.

“My New Start”

“A changed man
. Putting the past behind him…
…a refreshingly honest interview…

— New Idea, 9th August, 2010”
(as cited on Media Watch website)

Today Tonight were keen to get in on the action also.

Matt White: You haven’t been boring, have you?

Matthew Newton: No, no… I’ve just always done my thing.

— Channel Seven, Today Tonight, 2nd August, 2010
(as cited on Media Watch website)

Why the soft treatment? Vested interests of course. Today Tonight, on Channel Seven. Who publish New Idea? Why,  Pacific Magazines, of course. And who are they? Why, they’re apart of the Seven Media Group.

Fair enough when you consider Channel Seven spent 22 million dollars to buy the rights for it.

But how’s the media treating Newton now? Surely he’s not going to get the soft treatment again?

Think again.

The lack of focus on domestic violence in the media since breaking news of Rome, has recast Newton as mentally ill. Apparently Newton has a series of problems stemming from his childhood spent growing up in the limelight. It’s all a bit ‘poor Matthew.’

A source quoted on the Herald Sun online even went as far as this:

“He’s just got that typical tortured artist’s mind.”

Oh god, really?

To summarise, I’d like to quote Neil (not in relation to ACA, but appropriate nonetheless) who left this comment on the Media Watch website last week:

Wonderful how the vested-interest media are turning “Matthew” into a victim here. “Matthew” now has a mental health issue and “We” in this country are not doing enough to help people with mental health issues. Cleverly, we’re now partly to blame for this maggot’s tanties.

Indeed:

‘Schizophrenia’ fears for Matthew Newton

UPDATE 12:49pm: TROUBLED actor Matthew Newton is suffering schizophrenia-like symptoms from dangerous use of hard drugs such as ice.
Newton, 33, who is undergoing treatment at Sydney’s Northside West Clinic, has been dumped by leading acting agency RGM, which represents Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne and Anthony LaPaglia.
It tops off a week in which Newton was sacked from the TV show The X Factor and dropped by his manager, Titus Day.
Newton is understood to have been taking a cocktail of ice, marijuana and cocaine.
His drug use was known to his family and to some senior employees at the Seven Network, when it hired him.

Absent from this update is any mention of the incident which sparked Newton being dropped from by his management. DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.
Because of this omission, I guess it’s no wonder Daryl posted this at the bottom of the article:

Daryl Posted at 4:47 AM August 30, 2010
Matt has taken a brave step forward and is getting treatment, good on him. As a sufferer of depression for many years myself, it’s not easy to admit to a problem and to seek help. Don’t give up Matt, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Channel Nine, aired this interview with Bert and Patti Newton.

I’m certainly not criticising Patti or Bert for sticking up for their son, after all they’re just being parents. Yet we should not let their parental defense cloud our view of what Newton has done, and therefore deride the seriousness of what happened to Rachel Taylor, Brooke Satchwell and other victims of domestic violence.

Yet, it seems ACA did exactly just that.
At the end of ACA Tracy Grimshaw says this:

We urge anyone suffering from mental illness or depression to call beyondblue or lifeline.

Absent from this is any mention of how women affected by domestic violence can get help.
Again, Bert is under contract with Channel Nine, so perhaps this is why Grimshaw gave the issue the soft touch, and after all, we can’t blame them for their sons behavior. However, regardless of the reasons, ACA is doing their female viewers a disservice by ignoring the issue of domestic violence.

Too many women die each year as a result of domestic violence. I’m hoping that this time around, we’re going to see justice served for Rachel Taylor and Brooke Satchwell (who must be observing the current events with sadness and anger – she knew the seedy underbelly of this “utmost gentleman” all along).
Like all men who abuse their partners, Matthew Newton should be held accountable for his  actions.

Because really, how many women does a man need to assault before he’s convicted and his celebrity career is over?



Posted in Celebrity, domestic violence, Family, Film & Television, Media Watch, Relationships, Sex And Love, Uncategorized, violence against women, Women's Health | 9 Comments »

The Twenty-Eighth Down Under Feminists Carnival

Posted by caitlinate on September 4, 2010

Oh my gawd, hi everyone. So this is the first time I’ve done a blog carnival and I put my hand up for it 6 months ago not realising that this was going to be like the busiest two or three weeks I would be having all year. So! There is no theme and things might be organised a little incoherently but I hope I’ve done a good job and you like…

WELCOME to the 28th Down Under Feminists Carnival!

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Announcements, Blog Watch, body image, domestic violence, Family, glbt, Interviews, law, Media Watch, music, Politics, porn, Relationships, reproductive rights, sex, Trans, violence against women, women we love, Women's Health | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments »

Women we love: Emily Maguire

Posted by Nic Heath on August 20, 2010

Writer and feminist Emily Maguire is the author of Princesses & Pornstars (2008), reworked for a young adult audience as Your Skirt’s Too Short: Sex, Power & Choice (2010), as well as novels Smoke in the Room (2009), The Gospel According to Luke (2006) and Taming the Beast (2004).

One of the most prominent feminist voices in the Australian media landscape today, Emily has written articles and essays on sex, religion and culture that have been published in newspapers and journals including The Sydney Morning Herald, The Financial Review, The Age, The Monthly and the Observer.

In an interview on Radio National’s Book Show recently I heard Emily say that despite people regularly decrying the death of feminism, she thought it was doing really well. ‘I think the issue is that feminism doesn’t look like it used to look,’ she said. ‘It’s everywhere…there isn’t one monolithic movement’. Interest piqued, I wanted to hear more about her feminism, so I asked Emily about her fiction, writing for a young audience and of course, about the healthy state of feminism today.

 ***

How and when did you become a feminist?

My feminism emerged over a period of a decade or more. As a teenager I thought feminism was great, but over. By my early twenties I’d realised that our society was soaking in sexism and misogyny and I began to search for answers as to why that was so. Feminist writers helped me to understand why things were they way they were and gave me ideas about what I could do about them. I suppose I started to call myself a feminist in my mid-twenties.

I became an active feminist – meaning I began to speak and write about it – when I realised that I wasn’t the only one to have reached adulthood without being exposed to feminist ideas. So many people in the generation above mine (as well as those of my generation lucky enough to have been schooled in feminism at uni or home) think that it’s all been said, but there are many of us who more or less missed the 2nd and 3rd waves. Ideas and ways of thinking that some think of as elemental or tired are brand new and exciting to many others.

You’ve written three fiction books, with the latest, Smoke in the Room, published in October last year. Do you consciously work feminist themes into your fiction?

No. I am very wary of infecting my characters with my political views or of writing fiction with a ‘message’ in mind. However, I think that noticing is key to writing fiction; what a particular novelist notices about the world around them will inevitably make it into their fiction. So of course the way I view the world is coloured by my feminism (among other things) and my writing is influenced by the things I notice and the way I think about those things. Some people might call the creation of complicated, flawed, vibrant female characters feminist; I call it realistic.

What motivated the decision to publish Your Skirt’s Too Short, a revised young adult edition of your non-fiction work Princesses and Pornstars? What changes did you make to the original text?

I originally wrote Princesses and Pornstars out of frustration. I was sick of seeing and hearing sexism and antiquated gender stereotypes day after day, while at the same time hearing that we’re a post-feminist society and sexism is no longer a problem.

I also was terribly sick of the way teenage girls and young women were being constantly berated and shamed by media hype over ‘raunch culture’ and I was annoyed that many of those who claimed to be on the side of young people, who claimed to want to empower girls, were themselves perpetuating gender stereotypes, telling girls they’re princesses and talking about them like they’re delicate flowers who must be kept pure and protected.

My objective was to tackle the gender-coloured issues facing young people – porn, raunch, sex, romance, body image – in a non-academic way, a way that engaged with the culture that young people are immersed in rather than looked down on it. I also thought it was important to write the book through a personal lens, because I didn’t want to be placing myself above it all, speaking as an authority. I wanted to be speaking as someone who is still/or has in the past struggled with all this stuff.

After Princesses and Pornstars was released I started to hear from a lot of readers who were quite a bit younger than the audience I’d imagined when I was writing the book. In light of this, I – and my publisher – decided that a revised edition, especially for those teens was worth doing. So Your Skirt’s Too Short was born.

Some of the changes are simple updates – we’ve had a change of government since P&P was released and so I needed to update most of the information on legislation and policy. I also updated a lot of the pop culture references not only to be more current, but to be more relevant to younger teens rather than women in their early 20s. The tone is different in some places, too: I’m speaking to teenagers rather than about them. There’s also a new section on ‘sexting’ and a chapter about bitching, bullying and the idea that women are our own worst enemies (which is something I hear a lot).

In September you are appearing on a Melbourne Writer’s Festival panel looking at four feminist classics – A Room of One’s Own, The Second Sex, The Female Eunuch and The Beauty Myth. What do these books mean to you?

The Beauty Myth  blew my body-hating, self-loathing teenage mind. It had genuinely never occurred to me that anything other than vanity was behind the beauty rituals and obsessions of every woman and girl I knew.  A Room of One’s Own was incredibly important to me. I used to think I couldn’t be a writer because I was a high-school drop out with no contacts and no clue about how the literary world worked. I thought there was a correct way to go about it and if I didn’t know it I couldn’t do it. Woolf inspired me to ‘write all kinds of books hesitating at no subject however trivial or however vast,’ and to ‘dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.’ I didn’t read The Female Eunuch until a few years ago. I was delighted that a book I’d expected to be dry and academic was so chaotic and emotional. It inspired me to be braver in my writing.

Australia is in the midst of a federal election campaign that has been fixated on gender, without too much discussion of policy. What do you think are the big issues affecting women that we should be talking about in this election campaign?

Pay equity is a big issue as, depressingly, Australia is going backwards on this. Paid parental leave and access to quality, affordable child care continue to be important. We should also be talking a lot more about the poverty suffered by older women who don’t have sufficient superannuation or retirement funds to live on thanks to all those years spent in unpaid caring work.

Of course, these are only the explicitly gender-related issues. Women make up half of the population and are responsible for a great deal of the care of another huge proportion of the population. It’s hard to think of a policy area that does not affect the lives of women.

What are your greatest concerns for young women today? What do you think feminism can offer them?

My concerns vary depending on the particular young women we’re talking about. Even if I limit my answer to concerns for young women in Australia, there’s no one answer. Domestic and sexual violence, lack of educational opportunities, inadequate access to healthcare (including reproductive healthcare), workplace harassment or discrimination – I could go on and each concern I mentioned would be relevant to some young women and not at all to others because gender injustice and inequity are compounded by other inequities and because sexism has many different manifestations.

I think of feminism as a super-flexible, multi-function tool. Whether you’re concerned about pay inequality or reproductive rights or domestic violence or one of a thousand other issues, there’s this amazing body of work created by feminist academics, writers and activists that can help explain the causes of the problem and suggest ways to solve it.

Looking at raunch culture, what needs to change to counter its spread?

I think the term ‘raunch culture’ has been misused and abused so much that it’s become almost meaningless. I mean, I’ve seen it used in relation to everything from children’s beauty pageants to footballer’s gang-bangs. If you’re using it in it’s original sense – as coined and defined by way Ariel Levy in Female Chauvinist Pigs  –  then I think its spread has already been countered, in large part thanks to the conversation begun by that book. Really, if you take a look at media and social commentary over the past decade you’ll see that, increasingly, overtly sexual women (whether that overt sexuality is authentic or faked) are far more likely to be shamed and stigmatised than celebrated.

In an interview on The Book Show on Radio National recently you spoke of how healthy feminism is today, despite detractors claiming otherwise. What signs of health do you see?

Well, to start right here, the feminist blogosphere is populated by a wonderfully diverse, argumentative, generous, creative, activist and ever-increasing number of feminists. Then there are the thousands of people who buy and discuss (in real world or online discussion groups) any one of the many popular feminist books that have been published in the past few years. (Just off the top of my head: Female Chauvinist Pigs, King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes, The Feminist Denial by Monica Dux and Zora Simic, Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti, Living Dolls by Natasha Walter, Bodies by Susie Orbach.)

Then there are all the feminist women and men working in the community, in social services, in academia, in politics and in the corporate world. (The anti-feminists’ nightmare has come true – feminists really are everywhere!) Many of these feminists were in attendance at this year’s F Conference in Sydney which was a sold out event. Over 400 feminists from every walk of life spent a weekend engaging in discussions and workshops on everything from indigenous women’s knowledge to sex work.

What writing projects are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a new novel. Right now, it’s a glorious, shining, amorphous thing that I adore but can’t describe. I may be able to talk about it once  I’m on to the third, fourth or fifteenth draft and no longer besotted.

***

Emily Maguire is set to revisit four classic feminist texts at Melbourne Writer’s Festival in From Woolf to Wolf, with Sophie Cunningham and Monica Dux, and hosted by Jo Case.

You can also catch Emily at MWF discussing young people and the media with SBS’s James West and editor of The Monthly Ben Naperstek.

Check here for dates and tickets.

Posted in Books, events, women we love | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Hey, That’s My Bush!

Posted by Mel Campbell on August 13, 2010

Sasha Grey is a 22-year-old alt-porn star. The ‘alt’ part means she looks like a fairly ordinary, doe-eyed hipster girl with no apparent silicone enhancements. She also has a tendency to intellectualise and aestheticise the extreme sex acts she has become famous for committing to film.

Grey has done non-pornographic acting as well. Having suffered through Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience, I can tell you there are planks of wood more likely to win an Oscar.

However, this week Grey appeared, as herself, in Entourage – Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) was dating her. The episode was called ‘Hair’, and by this the writers meant pubic hair. The episode whipped viewers into a Twitter frenzy of disgust because… in a full-frontal nude shot, Grey had actual pubes. Or, as Americans grotesquely refer to them, “bush”.

If you want to check out Grey’s hairstyle yourself, click here (NSFW).

Now last weekend I went to see the Carol Jerrems show at Heide. Jerrems was a Melbourne photographer who took lots of nude shots during the ’70s, and I can say that I found the luxuriant pubes on some of the women quite startling. So when I clicked through to see what all the Sasha Grey fuss was about, that was the sort of “’70s bush” I was expecting.

Instead, I thought it looked quite manicured. It annoyed and saddened me that the Twitter critics would consider this neat triangle to be ‘overgrown’, ‘enormous’, ‘wild’ or ‘disgusting’. Have these people never seen a woman who has a snail trail of hair down her stomach? Whose pubic hair continues down the tops of her thighs? Who has a hairy arse-crack? Have they seen Demi Moore’s pubes (really NSFW) from back in the early ’80s?

If Sasha Grey – a woman who makes her living from sex – is supposedly so repulsive, think of the shame that other women might feel, imagining how men might talk about their bodies behind their backs. I’ve heard some of my male friends talking openly about the body hair of the women they’ve fucked in ways that made me feel embarrassed for those women. Some poor chick had hairy nipples (“and not just one or two hairs – that’s normal – she had really hairy nipples!”), while another had trimmed her pubes rather than waxing or shaving, which my friend charmingly likened to a ‘toothbrush’.

On the other hand, think of women who enjoy grooming their body hair – who consider it part of their general beauty routine – and are told that having little or no pubic hair ‘pedophilises’ them and makes them dupes of a pornified culture, surrendering their womanly pubes in order to meet with men’s aesthetic approval.

In many ways, the arguments circulating in regard to women’s pubic hair remind me of the arguments around body shape and size. An artificial dichotomy is set up – whether that be skinny/fat or hairy/hairless – women are made to ‘take sides’, and both sides are made to feel ashamed, as if neither has a claim to be a ‘real woman’.

To anyone who feels moved to comment on a woman’s body hair, or tell her to shave it off or to let it grow… fuck off! It doesn’t belong to you.

Posted in body image, Film & Television, porn, sex | Tagged: , , , | 12 Comments »

Lovett Rape Hearing: Once Again A Woman Is Asked What She Was Wearing

Posted by Clem Bastow on August 13, 2010

It’s a grim fact of life, it seems, that whenever a high-profile – or even one that doesn’t involve “celebrities” – rape hearing or trial is underway, details will emerge about the cross-examining of the alleged victim that are enough to lead you to think it’s not actually the 21st century, and instead 1950.

As the hearing regarding the alleged rape of the woman by sacked St Kilda Saints player Andrew Lovett continues, the media was today given access to the woman’s statement and a transcript of her cross examination – and what a surprise it was to read this detail:

Under cross-examination on Tuesday from Lovett’s defence counsel David Grace, QC, the woman agreed that on the night she met Lovett, she wanted to make herself look attractive and was interested in meeting men.

She agreed that she drank four vodka, lime and sodas and two shots at the Royal Saxon hotel that night but said she did not intend to get drunk.

Let me break this down very clearly to those who still, as it appears the defence counsel does, subscribe to archaic notions of what clothing or behaviour blurs the lines of what sexual behaviour is acceptable on the part of men:

IT DOESN’T MATTER IF SHE WAS DRESSED UP, IT DOESN’T MATTER IF SHE WAS DRUNK OR ON DRUGS, IT DOESN’T MATTER IF SHE “WANTED TO MAKE HERSELF LOOK ATTRACTIVE AND WAS INTERESTED IN MEETING MEN”, NONE OF THAT IMPLIES CONSENT IF SHE HASN’T VERBALLY GIVEN IT.

Posted in law, Media Watch, Sex Crimes, sexual assault, Sport, violence against women | 7 Comments »

Reasons to not vote for Tony

Posted by caitlinate on August 5, 2010

In no particular order…

“The problem with the Australian practice of abortion is that an objectively grave matter has been reduced to a question of the mother’s convenience.”

“If half the effort were put into discouraging teenage promiscuity as goes into preventing teenage speeding, there might be fewer abortions, fewer traumatised young women and fewer dysfunctional families.”

“Why isn’t the fact that 100,000 women choose to end their pregnancies regarded as a national tragedy approaching the scale, say, of Aboriginal life expectancy being 20 years less than that of the general community?”

- From an address to the Adelaide University Democratic Club, 17 March 2004.

“Since 1996, contrary to poltical correctness, the Australian parliament has overturned right-to-kill laws and (almost) banned gay marriage. Perhaps a political constituency may even be starting to emerge to ban abortions after 20 weeks. “

- From a speech delivered at the CIS Consilium in Queensland, July 31 2004.

“The problem is backyard miscarriages if unscrupulous doctors prescribe these drugs for desperate women. “

“If an application did come to me, I would have to satisfy myself that compelent doctors would administer the drug in safe circumstances to women who had fully considered the alternatives and understood the risks”

- On RU486, 6 February 2006.

“Even if dispossession is taken to mean that government has a higher responsibility to Aborigines than to other Australians, the production of beautiful art and connectedness to the land does not warrant the maintenance of a way of life also characterised by unemployment, substance abuse and domestic violence. If people choose to live in difficult to service places, that’s their business.”

- From an article published in The Australian, 27 June 2008.

“I know Bernie is very sick, but just because a person is sick doesn’t mean that he is necessarily pure of heart in all things.”

- Said to Channel 9 reporter about asbestos sufferer and social justice campaigner Bernie Banton, October 2007.

“…we just can’t stop people from being homeless if that’s their choice…”

- Said to a Catholic social services conference, February 2010.

“I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons”

- Quote from an undergraduate piece he wrote on feminism, featured in this GetUp ad that also highlights other quotes.

TONY JONES: So are you making a case against teaching in indigenous languages? Is that what – I’m trying to get on top of the point you’re making.

TONY ABBOTT: Well, I am making that case.

- From Q&A, 27 August 2009.

“You don’t have to be a Catholic to be troubled by the current abortion culture”

- From Sunday Profile, 12 June 2005.

“…Jesus didn’t say yes to everyone. I mean Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it is not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.”

“Now, I know that there are some Aboriginal people who aren’t happy with Australia Day. For them it remains Invasion Day. I think a better view is the view of Noel Pearson, who has said that Aboriginal people have much to celebrate in this country’s British Heritage”

- From Q&A, 5 April 2010.

“The Government accepts that some 14 and 15-year-olds might prefer that their parents not know about the medical procedures they have had or the prescription drugs they are on. But children should not be presumed to be the best judges of their own long-term interests and should not have the right to go behind their parents’ backs… The real issue here is whether 14 and 15-year-olds can make informed decisions about what is right and wrong for them. And if they don’t have that capacity, should they be allowed to operate in a moral and ethical vacuum?”

- On Howard legislation giving parents access data about government benefits provided to their teenagers (for example, young women’s Medicare claims related to contraceptive advice), June 2004.

“The point I make in the book is that a society… is surely capable of providing additional recognition to what might be thought of as traditional marriage…. Something akin to a Matrimonial Causes Act marriage ought to be an option for people who would like it.”

- On the reintroduction of at fault-divorce, July 2009.

On queer people being members of a Catholic congregation:

“…if you’d asked me for advice I would have said to have – adopt a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about all of these things…”

On aid to the ‘third world’ funding abortions:

“I just think that surely there are higher priorities for Australia than funding things like that.”

On whether a national celibacy campaign would be helpful to counter the rise in teen sexual activity, sexual infections and pregnancies:

“I think that it’s very important that we empower people to reject this kind of rampant sensuality.”

- From Q&A, 19 March 2009.

“It’s the responsibility of government to try to put policies in place which over time will allow people to improve their situation. But we can’t abolish poverty because poverty in part is a function of individual behaviour.

We can’t stop people drinking; we can’t stop people gambling; we can’t stop people having substance problems; we can’t stop people from making mistakes that cause them to be less well-off than they might otherwise be. “

“Western civilisation came to this country in 1788 and I’m proud of that…”

- From Four Corners, 15 March 2010

LIZ HAYES: Homosexuality? How do you feel about that?

TONY ABBOTT: I’d probably I feel a bit threatened…

“I’d always been against the death penalty but that contemplating the enormity of certain sort of crimes I sometimes thought that some crimes were so hideous that if the punishment were to fit maybe we were left with no alternative but the death penalty.”

- From an interview on 60 minutes, March 2010

LEIGH SALES: What was “threatened” referring to?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, there is no doubt that it challenges, if you like, orthodox notions of the right order of things…

- From an interview on Lateline, March 2010

Mr Speaker, we have a bizarre double standard; a bizarre double standard in this country where some-one who kills a pregnant woman’s baby is guilty of murder, but a woman who aborts an unborn baby is simply exercising choice.

- In Parliament (pdf), 15 Feb 2006.

Racism used to be offered as the complete explanation for Aboriginal poverty, alienation and early death. Racism hasn’t disappeared. Still, if racism caused poverty, why hasn’t poverty declined as racism diminished.

- From a paper presented to The Bennelong Society (pdf), September 2004.

“What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing is that if they get it done commercially it’s going to go up in price and their own power bills when they switch the iron on are going to go up, every year….”

- Previously covered here at TDC, March 2010.

” I think there does need to be give and take on both sides, and this idea that sex is kind of a woman’s right to absolutely withhold, just as the idea that sex is a man’s right to demand I think they are both they both need to be moderated, so to speak”

- From Q&A, 19 March 2009.

Posted in Media Watch, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 77 Comments »

Women in politics: Australia and the world

Posted by Nic Heath on June 29, 2010

Julia Gillard’s ascension to the position of Australian Prime Minister last week has generated news stories and comment around the world.

She made it to the top job via an unorthodox route, deposing Kevin Rudd in his first term. Whatever you think of this controversial manoeuvre, Gillard certainly showed her political skill and determination, and importantly, that she is supported and respected among her colleagues.

As Gillard joins the growing number of female world leaders*, many observers have examined again the place of women in politics in contemporary society.

Various commentators have noted that Prime Minister Gillard’s gender does not necessarily mean she will immediately set about redressing pay inequality between sexes and legislating a flexible workplace suited to working parents. An article by Nick O’Malley published in SMH quizzed UNSW academic Sarah Maddison on what it means to have a woman leading the country. She said:

while it never crossed anyone’s mind to ask if Rudd would act in mens’ interest, there is the expectation that Gillard should advocate for women. She argues that if people want to see politicians pursue women’s interests, they should elect feminists. ”I don’t think she will practise politics any differently to her male colleagues and I don’t think that women generally tend to. I think women and men in Australian parliaments are governed far more by their party discipline, their faction, their political ideology, than they are by their gender.”  

Irrespective of Gillard’s agenda there are other positive effects from having a female national leader. In the same article, Laura Liswood from the Washington-based Council of Women World Leaders highlights ‘a major benefit to all citizens of countries with women leaders’, what she calls the mirror effect:

Only when women take those roles are all members of society encouraged to engage in civic life. She notes that even though the US is yet to elect a female president, the work of secretaries of state Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton have changed notions of what women can do in that country.

In the Guardian Emine Saner also acknowledges the importance of the values of the individual when assessing the influence a leader’s sex may have on government policy. Saner cites the appointment of Icelandic Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir as an example of a leader with a feminist agenda focusing on women’s issues, such as the sex industry.

In the UK, only four women have been included in the new Liberal-Conservative government ministry. Twenty years after the reign of Margaret Thatcher it is clear that in the UK women are being sidelined in top level politics. On the other side of the chamber, the race for the new Labour leader came close to being all-white and all-male until Diane Abbot, the first black MP when she joined the Commons in 1987, confirmed enough numbers to secure her candidacy for the role. Harriet Harman, currently standing in as leader, is not in the running for Labour leadership, despite having regularly stood in for Gordon Brown during his prime ministership. Harman is a well-known advocate of women’s issues – such as opposing the proposed move to allow rape defendants anonymity during rape trials, and backing a plan that would see half of the places in the next shadow cabinet being reserved for women.

Implementing quotas to guarantee places for women in politics, such as the plan proposed by Harman, is a contentious issue despite the ongoing worldwide trend that sees women consistently occupying dramatically less positions in parliament than men. According to this graphic women constitute 27 per cent of the national parliament in Australia. New Zealand fares better with 33 per cent, while the US comes in with just 16 per cent. One country that defies the trend of male political domination is Rwanda, which with 56 per cent of its parliament made up by women is the global leader in female representation in national politics.

Writing for the Guardian, Mary Fitzgerald overcomes her misgivings about ‘positive discrimination’, such as all-female shortlists and quotas, when considering the situation in Rwanda. In Rwanda, the post-genocide constitution ensures a 30 per cent quota for female MPs, and according to Fitzgerald this

has encouraged many talented women to come forward – people for whom working in government, less than a generation ago, would have unthinkable. Female MPs now make up a record 56% of the Rwandan parliament – a higher proportion than anywhere else in the world – and there are eight female cabinet members. Having met many of these female parliamentarians, “window dressing” is the last description that springs to mind.’

Positive discrimination – suggesting that quotas for women in power will mean that unsuitable or unqualified female candidates will be installed in positions of power – ignores the fact that women are often overlooked for top level positions for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the workplace will have to become more flexible to accommodate working parents – no bad thing. Australian Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner’s resignation this week to spend more time with his family illustrates the difficulty politicians have in balancing a parliamentary career with family life. Perhaps more opportunities will have to be provided to women at grassroots level to allow them to rise on their merits – a positive outcome as well. As the situation in Britain shows, doing nothing means nothing gets done.

*From SMH: “26 female leaders in 23 countries, including three queens, four governors-general, 10 presidents and, as of Thursday, nine prime ministers, according to a researcher referenced by the parliamentary library.”

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Best of the rest on PM Gillard

Posted by Nic Heath on June 25, 2010

Australia might be ‘tickled pink at having its first female prime minister’, but what else is being said about the dramatic leadership change that saw Kevin Rudd suddenly ousted by Julia Gillard this week? 

Eva Cox at Crikey sees Julia Gillard’s achievement as the first step, rather than the end point, for those desiring gender balance in positions of power: 

‘We will know we really have made progress when women in top positions become normal and not worthy of comment. It will also mean we get better leaders, not just because many are women, but because we no longer exclude good people because of their gender.’ (register to read) 

Also at Crikey Shakira Hussein warns us that Gillard’s ascension to the top job means that some will think that feminism is finished: 

‘The danger now (well, one of the dangers) is that feminists will be told that the battle is won, that anyone who is still on the battlefield is just a whinger, that if a woman can become prime minister, then we have no further reason to complain.’ 

Annabel Crabbe acknowledges the sense of hope that has accompanied Gillard’s promotion:  

‘The approbation of her colleagues, seasoned with a groundswell of genuine delight at the elevation of Australia’s first female prime minister, give her an opportunity to make the sort of progress that eluded her predecessor.’ 

Catriona Menzies-Pike at New Matilda considers Gillard’s momentous caucus win and is left seeking answers: 

‘Once the fuss dies down, some of these questions will be answered and a bigger one will emerge: are Australians really ready to elect a female prime minister? 

‘There’s no doubt that Gillard’s promotion is an important symbolic victory for Australian women. But is this the exemplary trajectory for female success? To act as deputy until those whom you have vehemently opposed act to support you?’ 

 The Australian’s Caroline Overington sees evidence of change stamped all over our new PM: 

Julia Gillard is a woman, but that’s not the only extraordinary thing about her rise. 

She’s got a de facto. 

Imagine that, 30 years ago: an unmarried woman, living in sin with a man. Who is a hairdresser. And aspiring to high office. 

Leo Shanahan at The Punch believes Gillard could be the person to get the government back on track: 

Call me a honeymooner if you want, but in both policy and rhetoric Prime Minister Gillard made a lot of sense today, and that’s something that’s been missing from the Federal Government as of late. 

In Josephine Tovey’s piece at SMH, Gillard’s fruit bowl runneth over, Tovey wants women to stay on their toes: 

Just being a woman in power is not enough. There will be questions, rightly so, from women across the feminist spectrum. 

Will she, as Prime Minister improve the lot of other women, and make their paths to equality easier? 

But these are all questions for tomorrow. For now at least, we should all celebrate this landmark moment. 

 More excitement over at Femisting, with another reminder that all is not yet equal:

Julia Gillard, our new WOMAN PM – sorry, I can’t stop writing that in delighted caps – is a very impressive woman, and I have high hopes that this ouster will get voters’ approval in the upcoming Federal election. But one woman leader does not an egalitarian society make. 

At The Drum Helen Razer, enjoying ‘a little gynaecological bloat as Her Majesty’s female representative swore in the female representative of the people’, writes: 

‘A colony founded in masculinity, Australia can still feel like the land that feminism forgot. On this “historic” day, perhaps Overington, Wilkinson and co can be excused their greeting card gush.’ 

Mia Freedman briefed her readers about their new PM, adding: 

Julia Gillard is a remarkable woman. A fighter who has fought and won against many odds. A self confessed feminist and socialist, Gillard has survived the many attacks from the media and conservatives in Australia to become the Prime Minister of Australia, put in the position by the right wing factions that have previously tried to tear her down. 

Catherine Deveny sees Julia Gillard’s win as ‘a victory for all who do not fit into the category of white, middle aged, middle class, straight (or acting), god fearing (or pretending) university educated males granted a priority pass access to power (and therefore money, control, leisure and choice) at birth.’ Deveny affirms her faith in Gillard, writing: 

I believe in Julia Gillard. Not because she is a woman. But because she’s Julia Gillard. Smart, brave, strong, experienced and independent. I believe in equality and diversity. Which means knowing she can be a maggot and a mongrel when necessary. Delight and disappoint. Her promise not mine.  

  

If you have read any great comment or analysis that I have missed feel free to post it in the comments.

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Julia Gillard Is Australia’s New Prime Minister

Posted by Clem Bastow on June 24, 2010

We’ll write more once the fallout from the spill has settled and we’ve had time to gather our thoughts, but – regardless of how it happened – Australia now has its first female Prime Minister. From The Age:

Julia Gillard has become Australia’s first female prime minister after Kevin Rudd stood aside at the last minute before this morning’s historic leadership ballot.

Ms Gillard was unelected unopposed, making her the nation’s 27th prime minister and its first female leader. She has chosen Treasurer Wayne Swan to be her Deputy Prime Minister.

Ms Gillard had the numbers – reportedly 74 of the 112 caucus votes – and the majority support of the party.

Yes, it would be nice – in an ideal world – for our first female Prime Minister to have been voted in by the public rather than a secretive party ballot, but Kevin Rudd has ended up a disappointment (not to mention certain election promises, like same-sex marriage, that evaporated completely) while Gillard has worked hard behind the scenes and will no doubt reinvigorate the party and government.

But quietly, we’re thrilled and moved that our first female PM will be sworn in by our first female Governor General, no matter how it happened.

Posted in Announcements, Media Watch, Politics, women we love | Tagged: , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Women We Love: Judith Wright

Posted by Nic Heath on June 3, 2010

“I wither and you break from me;
yet though you dance in living light
I am the earth, I am the root,
I am the stem that fed the fruit,
the link that joins you to the night.”

From ‘Woman to Child’ (1949), by Judith Wright

Judith Wright (1915-2000) was an acclaimed Australian poet also known for her environmental activism and as a campaigner for Aboriginal rights. I recently read Wright’s memoir Half A Lifetime and was captivated by her independence and the determination of her younger self to forge her own way.

Wright was born in Armidale in 1915. She attended New England Girl’s School and later studied at Sydney University. Wright left Sydney and spent the middle years of the Second World War in NewEngland before moving to Brisbane in 1943 where she found work at the University of Queensland. In 1946 Wright’s first book of poetry, The Moving Image, was published. In 1950 Wright moved to Mount Tambourine with her future husband Jack McKinney, and that same year Wright gave birth to their daughter Meredith. Jack McKinney died in 1966 and Wright lived in Braidwood, NSW until her death in 2000.

Wright was born 95 years ago on May 31, and to mark the day I have asked Sydney University’s Dr Brigid Rooney to answer a few questions about the legacy of this remarkable, unconventional poet, and particularly about Judith Wright’s relevance to women today.

What was remarkable about Judith Wright?

Judith Wright was remarkable, first and foremost, for the brilliance of her poetry – publication of her first two volumes, The Moving Image (1946) and Woman to Man (1949), met with almost instant acclaim, and many Australians (of various generations) encountered several striking poems from these early works when we were at school – such as ‘South of My Days’ (1945) and ‘Woman to Man’ (1946). She continued to produce remarkable poetry beyond these first collections, but they are perhaps less widely known, although increasingly some of the later poems and collections have become iconic for environmentalists and Indigenous groups – such as ‘Eroded Hills’ (1951), ‘At Cooloolah’ (1954) and ‘Two Dreamtimes’ (1973). Indeed her collection, The Two Fires (1955), was inspiration for a festival of arts and activism (established in 2005) in the NSW town of Braidwood where Wright lived during the last decades of her life. But she also offered an example of someone for whom the values relayed in her poetry seemed to fuse entirely with the choices and commitments she made in both her personal and her public life. She became a tireless campaigner for Indigenous and environmental causes, and – although she worked largely behind the scenes, writing letters, administering committees, lobbying politicians and so on – hers was also an influential voice for these causes in Australian public life, partly by virtue of the respect and admiration engendered by her poetry. Her poetry and public roles were reciprocal and mutually reinforcing.

What does Wright’s poetry offer a feminist analysis? What are the feminist themes that run through Wright’s work?

Some of my answer to this is contained in my response to your last question. I have many favourites among her poems. Wright’s poetry offers a powerful exploration of experiences that pertain particularly to the female body and female-oriented experiences of ‘time’ and of life cycles – of death and birth, of pregnancy, and desire, and the interconnections and rhythms of these processes or states. Her very acute observation of the natural world – of the land, of its plants and animals, its birdlife, of the seasons and the elements – is often mediated by this gendered experience. She moves from enclosed, intense, private and individual experiences, through symbolism, outwards toward that which touches the universal human condition. Her voice is captivating, magnetic, yet her versifying is often quite traditional, looking back to her favourite poetic models – the Romantics in particular, like Blake, Keats and Shelley, yet also to some of the modernists, like Yeats and Eliot. These male literary progenitors provided a poetic framework, but what she does with this framework is to convert and transform it to express a woman’s experience. Later she experimented with other poetic forms, from other cultures, from Japan and elsewhere, and they sit alongside these Anglo, often patriarchal models, quietly interrogating a world that operates too rationally and mechanistically to divide body from spirit, human from nature, and so on. From a feminist point of view, Wright’s work is both productive and ambivalent, an occasion for reflecting on the relationship – or tension – between traditional poetic forms or modes and her distinctive qualities of voice, imagery and thought.

What was the relationship between Wright and second wave feminism?

In summary, Wright was a very sympathetic supporter of feminism, and spoke from her position as a woman and as a feminist sympathiser. She did not become deeply or personally involved in activist forms of feminist campaigning. She was much in demand as a speaker, however, at literary and other public events, and she canvassed her views on the topic of women and writing, for example, at an Australian Society of Women Writers’ Biennial Conference in 1980.
 
In Half a Lifetime, Wright relates her bitterness at realising the different destinies open to boys and girls and yet as an adult she devoted herself to environmental and indigenous causes, particularly after she stopped writing poetry. Do you have any idea why she didn’t invest herself in the feminist movement?

This is a tough one and my thoughts on this come from my overall impression of Wright’s life choices and her writing. I think that her lesser engagement with feminism, despite her obvious sympathy with feminist goals, was partly to do with her generational position and experience, and partly to do with her own personality, inclinations and orientation towards others. Wright was a fiercely independent and strong-minded woman, yet in some ways typical of a generation of Australian women (if not also of other white, middle class women in other first world nations) whose careers fell between the two public surges of activism associated with first and second wave feminism. For this generation, youth and maturity encompassed two world wars and the Depression, and they had to negotiate separately and individually the complexities these circumstances brought for women around social destiny and career path. Judith Wright, as the fifth generation descendant of a white pioneering family, however, was also born into a privileged landed class. This circumstance imbued her with a double sense, of closeness to the land, and an increasingly acute awareness of the illegitimacy of white belonging, its basis in the historic dispossession of Aboriginal people. So care for the land and redressing the wrongs done to Aboriginal people were understandably her sustained and driving commitments and top priorities.

I also think that, for Wright, a more vigorously activist approach to feminism would not have been completely congenial, in personal and emotional terms. She was dutiful towards and bonded with a number of men in her life, yet also perfectly capable of standing up for herself and for her views. It seems to me that, in the earlier part of her life at least, she enjoyed loving connections with often mature, older men, either within her own family (father and brothers), or role models and life partners. She had deep, loving and lifelong friendships with a number of women of course, including her daughter, Meredith. Her first life partner and later husband, Jack McKinney, a World War One veteran and self-taught philosopher, was very much her senior in age. His philosophical orientation and passion attracted her. She took on and championed his in some ways eccentric intellectual endeavours, and his ideas entered her poetry. Her poems engage seriously and deeply with McKinney’s ideas, giving them a life and longevity that they might not otherwise have achieved on their own. It is clear from their letters that Judith and Jack enjoyed a profoundly loving relationship. After his death, and at a time when she had assumed both governmental and activist roles in the areas you mention, she developed another very close relationship and intellectual partnership with one of Australia’s most senior and influential public servants, H. C. ‘Nugget’ Coombs – knowledge of their relationship was long confined to themselves and a small inner circle but more recently, belatedly, has been revealed in the public domain. None of this ever precluded Wright’s interest in and sympathy for feminism, but I think that these orientations and positions militated against her making a very strong investment in the feminist movement as such.

What is her legacy to Australian women today?

I think Wright’s poetry, which conveys a woman’s perspective without being ‘feminine’ in a simple, domesticated sense, is perhaps her greatest legacy. It’s a legacy made more powerful and resonant through the energy with which she also contributed to and advanced those twin public causes – of caring for the environment and dealing with the ongoing impact of Australia’s colonial past and present. Her poetry – not just her miraculous early poetry but right through to the work of her maturity and older age – conveys the wisdom and experience of life, of birth, of love, and of the self in dialogue with the other. It possesses extraordinary lyrical power, a vivid clarity and an emotional truth that surely means it will continue to be loved by women (and by men), young and old, for a long time to come. Wright’s poetry is a legacy for all, but I suspect it holds a particular power for women. She has inspired innumerable younger women – especially poets and others – through her writing and her activism. I think women often pass their appreciation of Wright on to other women, to their daughters, and even to their sons. Inseparable from this legacy is the evidence of her active commitment to making the world a better place for both women and men, and for present and future generations. At times she expressed pessimism, in the face of the threats to humanity and to the natural world that she apprehended all around, and in some of her thinking in these areas she was ahead of her time. But her response to these threats was not to withdraw, but to engage and act, and this example might also be her legacy.

Brigid Rooney
27 May 2010

Many thanks to Dr Brigid Rooney for both her time and her wonderful response.

Posted in Interviews, women we love | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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