Sexism, alive and well

Yesterday was one of those days. A day that pierced the wall of false contentment and well-being. It started like any other day, listening to the ABC, going to the gym, attending to a few chores and putting off overdue work on a novel I’ve been working on for far too long.

My awakening came in the form of a washing repair man. Large and jolly and on time for a promised ‘later in the morning’ house call. Efficient and competent he fixed the ailing washer in no time and presented me with the account. I decided to pay him on the spot and went searching for my wallet. It was during this time that my husband appeared from his study.

‘All finished’ he asked the tradesman.

‘Yep, that’ll keep her off your back mate.’ My husband looked a bit uncomfortable and I chose to ignore the remark. I then asked my husband if he had smaller notes as I didn’t have the correct amount. He reached for his wallet on the bench and the tradesman grinned at him.

‘You’ll never get that back from her mate.’ The repairman chuckled.  I then handed him the money.

‘Good girl.’ he said and grinned.

I haven’t heard this language for a long time. And yet the guy wasn’t rude and he wasn’t unpleasant, he obviously liked a joke but he didn’t have a clue about the impact of his  sexist language and how that might have felt for me. Now, I’m not shy of standing up for myself and being assertive when I have to be but what was the point, this man obviously had no idea.

The washing machine was back in action. The day raced by and before we knew it we were settled in watching Q and A for what is usually informative, entertaining and sometimes controversial television viewing. Then the unravelling began. An audience member asked a question regarding domestic violence. He used his own very sad and sensitive story relating to his own sister being murdered in very recent times, to highlight the serious and horrendous issues relating to gender issues and family violence. The young man also asked if the recent events of a male sporting panel headed up by prominent businessman and sporting club identity on television, may have negated attitudes toward women.

One of the panelists, a Melbourne veteran radio broadcaster responded, in my view, in a very insensitive manner. He ignored the basis of the question and focused on supporting his male counter-parts and described the incident as having been blown out of proportion. He claimed it was just a ‘bunch of blokes’ joking. It was clearly obvious that he ‘didn’t get it’ and moved to defending his mates. I thought it was disgraceful, so did many in the audience. The young man whose sister was murdered and who has raised the question held his head in his hand.

It was then that a female panelist, who happened to be a feminist newspaper journalist took him to task. She articulated the values that drive language and behaviour that demean women and give rise to aggressive and violent behaviour. She made her point with strength and conviction backed up by knowledge and intellect, she also took some time to deliver her message, she would not be silenced. He, the broadcaster then turned to her and accused her of ‘being hysterical’!

‘Hysteria’ is to my knowledge, a historically oppressive term used  for women who spoke out, stood up for their rights and objected to the dis-empowerment of their times. Some women were institutionalised and locked up under the term of being deemed ‘hysterical’. A very demeaning and silencing phrase.

There was obvious shock and belief in the studio and I suspect in homes around the nation, well especially of decent, thinking and informed people.

I remember thinking at the time, ‘this is 2016, I can’t believe what I’m hearing.’ But, you know, I can sort of believe it at some level. I’m not sorry to say that I mainly mix with people who have a reasonable understanding of sexist issues so I when I’m confronted with blatant language and behaviour that I thought was outdated I’m taken aback somewhat. So what is it that drives men to continue this unpopular and destructive behaviour?

In my view sometimes its ignorance, other times arrogance as well and there’s no prize for guessing the categories of the examples I give above. Entitlement plays a big role in this and underpins attitudes that have existed for centuries. But nevertheless its the combination of ignorance, arrogance and entitlement that perpetuates sexist and demeaning behaviour toward women. No, it is not okay, it’s dumb, it’s offensive and it’s dangerous and maintains and drives gender values that lead to violence and dis-empowerment of women.

It is 2016 but I’m not sure how far we have come.


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Finding the time we need

Over the years I don’t think I’ve been very good at appreciating or perhaps valuing time to do the smaller things in life that matter. Most of us I guess, have commitments and responsibilities that gobble up precious hours. I know I have but paid work occupied a very large part of my being for a long time.

I was reminded yesterday of how precious time is. We picked and prepared olives for curing. This is the first time our tree has had enough olives to make it worth while. As we slit each individual olive I thought how in times past when I was working in full-time employment, I would have considered this task a time-consuming chore. Today however, I took pleasure in handling the fruit and listening to background music whilst contemplating a process that was new to us. With the olives in their jars and the water added we stood back pleased and content with the achievement. For the next four days we have to change the water before the brine and oil stage. Having the time to do this feels like a gift.

Recently, whilst in discussion with friends I was reminded how difficult it can be to remain fit and heathy whilst working full-time. I recall a time when I was also working full-time and had back problems. I was driving long distances between organisational offices and then sitting in meetings which exacerbated my difficulty. Around that time I remember hearing on the radio, an interview with a man who actually left work to get well and healthy. I recall thinking how desperate he must have felt to have actually resigned his work to reclaim his health. This is a common story and I continue to hear the same words echoed by many. In fact quite a while ago I made the same decision. I resigned my full-time job, took a few months off and took my exercise and health regime in hand before reviewing future work and life balance options.

Work can be all-consuming. It can also be a wonderful experience, stimulating and personally rewarding but if we ignore the need for the other aspects of our life, eventually something gives. How do we find or make time for all the aspects of our lives? We all have different responsibilities and yet I hear the same theme being repeated daily. Not enough time, stressed and unwell…on it goes.

I also notice this theme being played out with a group of women, mostly workers, at a book group I attend. It’s a common occurrence at each monthly meeting, that sometimes up to half of the group will not have read the book or maybe not actually have finished it. This isn’t due to any level of disinterest, slackness or lack of literary ability, no it seems most of the members work and live extremely busy lives and they actually don’t get the time to read the book.

Finding the time I need has taken me a very long time to work out, not sure I have it right yet but it sure feels wonderful on this beautiful autumn day to have options. Of course using  precious time is always a challenge. I’m trying. I think about the value of doing the simple things amongst the more complex activities. I have had to learn that being in the moment and paying attention to smaller but meaningful tasks is life enriching. As I write this I wonder if it’s just an ageing process thing that allows us to value all components of our lives rather than just the super challenging bits that consume us. More about this at a later date I suspect…

But right now I’m off to change the water in the olive jars!

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It’s hard to think about…and harder to act perhaps

It’s hard to think about the fact that so many people in the world are in difficult, if not dangerous situations right this moment. It’s hard to think about people who have fled persecution and harm and are now locked away in detention by us, the lucky country people. It’s hard to think about the thousands of families grieving and distressed after senseless attacks of terrorism across the globe. It’s hard to think about individuals and families who have been effected by illness and death in the past year. It’s hard to think about children, women and men who have been frightened and abused by people whom they trusted. It’s hard to think about people waking up on Christmas morning after sleeping rough under a bridge or in a shopping mall doorway. It’s hard to think about kids who wake up to ‘no’ presents from Santa because they live in poverty.

Now I don’t want to be the ‘Christmas grouch’ or a ‘wet blanket’ but I just can’t ignore the state of our world anymore, even for Christmas. And yes, I intend to celebrate Christmas but not without a hefty awareness of the above issues and consideration about what I, we, our government can or should be doing. After all, we can’t hide from these serious issues because sooner or later the very same circumstances might arrive on our doorstep and effect our families and loved ones, if that isn’t already the case for some of us. To look after our future and the futures of our kids and their kids, I think that I / we have to act with good will and stand  against inequality, poor government decisions and intolerable world conditions that threaten the rights of the disadvantaged, small minorities and our broader communities.

Yep, difficult stuff is hard to think about…and harder to act against but I think the time is here…

Christmas tree

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Rosalie Ham and ‘The Dressmaker’

the-dressmakerToday I saw the film ‘The Dressmaker’ and I loved it. Quite a few years ago I read Rosalie Ham’s book ‘The Dressmaker’ and I loved that too. So I couldn’t wait to see this depiction on the big screen. Of course, the characters were wonderful and played to amazing perfection by a brilliant cast and the costumes and clothing were stunning. The quirky small town of Dungatar captured the essence of many other small Australian towns only with a good dose of extreme imagination thrown in to create an edgy atmosphere. Nothing detracted from the central story line and that’s what I loved about this film, the book had the same impact when I read it.

At a library talk a couple of years ago, I asked  Rosalie Ham how she had developed her sense of humour that almost borders on bizarre? She responded by talking about the observations she made as a kid living in country towns. Well I can relate to that, growing up in a small country town does result in knowing stories that are passed along from family to family or group to group. They may be true, have some truth, fabricated or  completely untrue.  It also occurs to me that humorous and tragic stories get their fair share of repeating and therefore often suffer the most from differing versions and judgements. Country towns are good at this, hence they provide wonderful material for story writing.

I remember when I first read ‘The Dressmaker’, some of my friends loved it but some quite disliked it. I suspect that the disliking may have been the bizarre edge that required a tolerance of the author ‘stretching the envelope’ just a bit. Maybe the movie has the advantage of a visual medium that utilises the bizarre bit by taking the best of the book and playing with the wonderful colourful characterisations.

However, a pleasing aspect of this film for me, was to witness the exciting success of a writer who took her experiences from country Australia and weaved them into a fascinating if not quirky first novel. Seems to me, for a writer it must be the ultimate compliment to have your novel turned into film. Excited for Rosalie Ham, a wonderful Australian writer.

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Stingray, no tail

mGZhveIHe points across my shoulder, my eyes follow arthritic fingers, knotted hand, brawny arm, then toward the weathered face, staring seaward

Old man knowing, showing, stingray, no tail, dark shadow, magnified blue water, jetty rotted crumbling

Childhood memories, seventy years before, sea, salt, fish in harbour, shallow water quickly drops to dark deep beyond, stretches ocean bound

A stingray moves close, seen by eager eyes that know the secrets of the sea, familiar landscape, yacht’s in distance, boats moored still

Seaweed, smelly fish in buckets, fresh ocean breeze wafts the shore, stingray moves beyond, deep blue beckons, the old man watches…

Stingray, no tail

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Trams in the distance

The noise, just enough to resonate within my brain,
then it’s gone

I don’t think about the tram until the sound repeats
seven minutes or even nine later
rumbling, clanging, scraping
familiar and comforting

The background noise
it comes and goes, a wave of consolation
portraying a world beyond
my window panes

I’m transported to the daily lives of suburban people
who move like ants across the metropolis
school kids with overstuffed backpacks
and exaggerated actions

Business men and women
neat and suited, to display their serious intent
older people, a day out, an appointment
not hurried but watching

Factory workers whose eyes hold no interest for anything but home
tired, they carry the daily shop in plastic bags
young people on I-phones, slouch at angles in their seats
jerkily they rise and they are off

The noise, just enough to resonate within my brain,
then it’s gone


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Do we take ourselves too seriously?

Recently at the funeral of a lovely ninety-three year old woman, I was particularly taken by one of the many beautiful, funny and endearing comments made about her. One of the things said about her was that she had ‘the ability to not take herself too seriously’ and she often advised others to do the same. This resulted in a life lived honestly, with humour and with a good sense of personal self and enjoyment. She was loved by her family, flourished in roles as parent, grand-parent and great grand-parent. She lived a simple life but a life that had meaning.

I thought about the comment for some time. I admire people who can live straight forward lives and be clear about where they stand on issues, big and small. I love to see people passionate about specific interests and pursue them with genuine enjoyment and fun.

Now I know the example I give is about someone who lived the majority of her life when perhaps, personal choices were less and times where more defined regarding employment, gender, social and economical opportunities. However,  when I listen to the stories and lives of our older generations, I can’t help but think that perhaps they had a few things right.  Not that for one moment, do I want to forgo the opportunities that my generation and my children’s cohort are experiencing but maybe, just maybe, there are lessons to be learnt about how to think about our lives and how we manage ourselves within these new and exciting if not demanding times.

So, when I heard the term ‘she didn’t take herself too seriously’ it struck a chord.  I could well afford to stop and think about that notion. Perhaps we are too tense, too worried, too anxious, too intent on getting what we want in life, too focused on appearing successful and on it goes. Somehow, when we pursue the above we inadvertently develop a seriousness that permeates all aspects of our lived experience, we lose the ability to be ourselves. When we take this course we forgo the joy of being able to enjoy simple things, to laugh at ourselves and to just be happy…perhaps. Anyway, from now I’m going to try to remember to loosen up, just a bit!


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