Men, this desolate truth, and its massive responsibility, lays with you

Yes, I’m a feminist. But you knew that, right?

I’m proud to admit it. There’s no shame in wanting equal rights for women and men, especially when there is so much inequality, much of it insidiously slipping beneath all our radars and the vast majority of it impacting women. But you knew that too, right?

But what about when people misunderstand feminism, thinking it’s an excuse for man-hypersensitivity or even man-bashing, and it colours the way we see men, their roles and value in general?

And then this affects the very minutiae of our lives, and those for who we are responsible? Like children; impressionable and sponge-like by nature, they learn by example.

I’ll admit to recently finishing Clementine Ford’s Fight Like A Girl, which gives a fascinating insight into how sinister patriarchy is, right from pre-birth with how boys and girls are innocently expected to look, think and behave in respect to one another.

The book is profoundly awakening, and I’ve been looking at things in a new way, grasping more of the roots of why and how I see myself as the woman I do.

Which is why my views on feminism impacted my reaction to a staggeringly sad story I heard the other day – one that left me shaking my head, pondering if in fact the demonization of men could be caused by a misunderstanding of feminism.

Here is the story: A childcare centre in a once working class now gentrified, affluent but bohemian Perth western suburb was recently compelled to send letters home to all its parents explaining the benefits of employing male carers to interact with their young offspring.

Why, you ask? Because it employs two young men as qualified carers (because men make up 50% of our community and also aspire to care for and educate children in a professional capacity), but some parents had requested their child/ren not be cared for by men at the centre, while others actually withdrew their child/ren completely because they felt it inappropriate for males to be employed in the childcare field.

A pervading feeling of sickness still lingers with me after hearing such a terribly woeful indictment of our times. But even more confusing was trying to work out where we as a society could look to find the reason for this, and then hopefully, a solution.

The mother who told me this story has a small son attending the centre, and was just as stunned as I, loving that her boy had established such a great bond with these male carers; learning how to count in a foreign language, enjoying the opportunity to be expressive and playful with both male and female adult role models in an educational setting.

How must these men have felt upon hearing that parents regarded them with suspicion? Rejected, hurt, defamed? I certainly felt gutted on their behalf.

In Fight, Ford talks about the temptation for women to go overboard in sparing men’s feelings when it comes to advocating for equality, and I’m sure we can all think of many examples where women have endured unfair attitudes/treatment in the workplace based solely on their gender. Does this story fit neatly within these parameters – are these men being unfairly targeted due to their gender?

Such a hopeless yet accurate reflection of where we are currently mired in this gender equality stand-off has been the subject of much personal rumination.

Could it be the fault of feminism that men are being rejected, and children the ultimate losers, of this worrying and seemingly unfair trend?

Could it also be a result of the ongoing Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse and its damning findings, which do nothing for men’s PR, but are so vital for victims, closure and healing?

Are we in the relative calm before a perfect man-hate storm?

I relayed this story to a man and his response was forlorn, barely there, just sad. And it does leave you feeling kind of powerless.

But surely, when the well-rounded education and care of children is at risk, despite women still making up 95% of employees in the childcare sector, isn’t it time we encouraged and welcomed strong, positive male role models into the lives of more young boys and girls?

We are all in this together – in all our diverse forms.

Shouldn’t we be striving to make it normal to see men and women in non-traditional roles if they are doing a bloody awesome job?

And how did we get here, anyway?

Disturbingly, after an awful lot of thinking, I came upon the only answer there is.

Men, this desolate truth, and its massive responsibility, lays with you.

It is men who have been responsible for the extreme majority of child abuse down through the ages, a chilling reality that continues today.

To pretend otherwise, would be to give men the benefit of the doubt, a free go, letting them off, again – something Ford says we’ve all been taught to do, thanks to patriarchy.

This week at UWA, WA Chief Justice, Hon Wayne Martin QC, will host the Symposium of Child Sexual Abuse Prevention.

He is quoted on PerthNow – Justice Martin said there were “too large a number” of child sex abuse cases before the courts and it is a “significantly bigger problem than people who are not in the justice system would appreciate”.

“There is a perception out there that it’s stranger danger that is the problem, whereas in fact, most of the child sex cases we see in the courts are either familiar or institutional.”

http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/western-australia/wa-chief-justice-wayne-martin-says-child-molesters-need-therapy/news-story/4c878e1ed82fecadeaab034eb62e2d3c

This means children are being taken advantage of in institutions or within the circles of family and friends, where we would hope they are safe.

In the same article by Belle Taylor, clinical psychologist Christabel Chamarette says most child sex abuse happens within families but many abusers could be helped, and even stopped, with treatment.

“Paedophilia really only applies to a small percentage of men, 10 per cent at most, who offend against children who are fixated and have a preoccupation with sexual offending against children,” Ms Chamarette said.

We cannot blame mothers and parents for feeling uneasy about having their children cared for by men, as sorrowful as this is.

We can all learn from past mistakes, this is how we perfect the art of being human, but surely we can’t as a society, also think it’s ok to throw men to the scrapheap when it comes to childcare and education. And we definitely cannot allow men to continue not taking responsibility for owning up to and fixing this travesty.

Lord knows child care is bloody hard enough as it is without it being considered undervalued women’s business only. And we women have been fighting for an eon to have men be more active in the vital and rewarding role of nurturer, if not for the sake of children, for men’s own benefit – men speak of being more in touch with their own emotions as a result of more time spent caring for their babies and children.

Men, it’s time to step up. Abuse of any kind, of any gender, is unacceptable. It’s doing your gender no favours, and severely damaging the lives of mainly women and children. And that’s without mentioning the astronomic male on male physical assault rates.

Please redress this dispiriting balance, to put an end to this pain, these gender wars, so we can unite.

Before this planet implodes and returns to the space dust it once was.

Giving the colour pink a bad name

I am pink with irritation.

Not all women like pink or consider themselves denoted as female by the mere use of the sickly colour.

Not all women appreciate being singled out as such, by being told they can now park more safely in their own special pink ‘female-friendly’ car bays, where the security lighting and CCTV coverage is better.

And not all people are stupid enough to have the woolly fairy floss of laziness pulled over their eyes by a council trying to get away with not spending money on decent car park security for everyone – regardless of gender, age, ability or whether or not you have children and a pram in the back of your wagon.

Here, in the marshmallow-scented capital city of the nanny state of Western Australia, the City of Perth has employed a sugar-coated marketing ploy to encourage women to park in the few car bays that do have proper night lighting and CCTV coverage.

Mary Poppins would recognise this as a cynical attempt to spend less on security, spit spot!

It is a spoonful-of-sugar attempt to provide better protection, but glaringly it’s aimed at only one section of society.

A small article in Perth’s daily newspaper today states the bays will be easily identified by pink signs, walls and poles during a three-month trial close to exits in one council car park.

But here’s the real icing on the cake. The article also states, without attribution to anyone, that the bays are “the same size as regular bays”.

If that statement isn’t a slight on women drivers, I don’t know what is – the size of the bay will not influence the behaviour of would be attackers any more than the colour pink.

So why was this information even in the article in the first place? If it is a question that has been asked by several, prompting that line of enquiry, then whoever supplied the response should be quoted, at least.

If statistics do exist somewhere showing women as the main culprits of at fault bingles, scratches and crashes in car parks, it’s probably because they are usually the ones that drop off children to school/childcare on their way to work before parking the family car, and again later as they are slowly irradiated by fluorescent lighting while foraging at the supermarket.

There are statistics that show men are just as vulnerable to attack in public places at night, with many ending up in hospital after banging their heads on kerbs and bitumen as terrible proof.

At its worst, the pink-ifying of parking bays almost accepts that there will be attacks on women in car parks because they are vulnerable targets. No – that behaviour is not acceptable in society, for any gender.

Yes, women do like it when someone is kind, or thinks of our comfort and/or safety. But so do men. So why can’t the City of Perth be nice to everyone and provide secure parking for all? Not just those born with ovaries and a stereotypical matching obsession with the colour pink, or the men who love the delicate shade and can park carefree in the knowledge that they will not be fined for doing so and will be safer for it.

Now, that would be just supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Howling with a heavy brogue

IF a man indulges in casual sexism in an unintelligible accent, is he really being an ignorant oaf?

Or consider this.

If a woman doesn’t realise she is the butt of a man’s casual sexism, does it mean she’s no longer a feminist?

Hard hitting questions, all.

This post is a confusing one for me to write – so I’ll just tell it as it happened, because, it was an amusing blip in my otherwise ordinary day.

It was a Monday. I’d happily survived another one and was walking post-work from the train station to where I park the car – about a five minute walk; I’ve convinced myself if I don’t have time for formal exercise on any given day, at least I walked briskly for 10 minutes. And used the stairs instead of the lift. And only had two chocolates at 3pm with a cup of tea.

Deep in aimless, western society thought…what should I make for dinner, damn I forgot to book the dogs in for a groom, again, that champagne on Saturday was really nice, what brand was it…I was pulled from my mental meanderings by a rogueish brogue.

Well. I didn’t know that’s what it was until my mind had caught up with the situation – someone was talking to me, or attempting to.

As I turned my head toward the train station access road beside me, I noted a white 4WD ute had slowed to walking pace and a male driver, dressed in hi-viz, was talking out his open window. Probably to me. Because there was nobody else around.

My thoughts began to speed up, I checked my surroundings wondering if he was slowing to give me a warning about some sort of nearby danger, maybe someone was nicking my car, but how would he know which car was mine, and why do we suddenly think these weird sorts of things?

There was only one thing to do.

“I beg your pardon,” I genuinely asked, looking for clarification of the impending danger.

“Yaprollydoneffennohowotyearrrr,” came the repetitive, slur-ry reply.

Now, I know the helpful grinning man was repeating his statement so I could better understand it, but it sounded just the same, only slightly slower.

As my brain worked overtime to decipher it, and matching it with his boofhead smile, I instinctively realised bodily danger was not imminent. Besides, there was a fence and a car between him and me.

And then it clicked.

“You probably don’t even know how hot you are,” was the helpful offering of life advice, in a thick Irish brogue.

And what was my brilliant reply?

“Okey doke.”

Brilliant! A wordsmith without the wherewithall to wield them.

Well, what was I supposed to say? And what was it all supposed to mean?

But, back to my first question – was this harmless gent a sexist oaf?

No. I think he thought he was giving me a compliment. Because, it’s a looong walk from the train station to the deserted car park and I don’t know how much more silence I could have endured without a reassuring ‘compliment’ from a stranger. Withdrawals already!

We women need reassuring that we are hot, don’t we. I will refrain from making a dad-joke about the weather at this point. (Ooops, was I being sexist then? Sorry dad.)

Was I being an anti-feminist by not calling him out as a sexist or in fact, not realising that’s probably what he was being? It only became clearer when watching this week’s hooha following Chris Gayle’s clumsy and inappropriate flirtation with TV sports reporter Mel McLaughlin. I’m a bit slow on the uptake some days.

I say inappropriate because it’s not nice to show someone up in public for your own entertainment. If a romantic relationship did eventuate from this shallow televised attempt, expect more of the same top quality respect for your feelings. Privately and publicly.

But, unsurprisingly, I digress.

In a nutshell, I was momentarily confused. I didn’t feel like a victim, because I don’t think our Irish friend set out to make me feel that way. I think Chris Gayle distinctively did. Ms McLaughlin certainly didn’t appear as a slaughtered lamb.

So, I am not an anti-feminist for just ‘shaking my head’ at the thoughtless things some men will do to communicate to a woman that they think they’re a bit of alright. I don’t think I needed to take any stronger action…I think my ‘okey doke’ will have convinced him beyond doubt of his stupid, sexist actions…pfffffttt!

But, seriously guys, what do you want us women to do when you offer an uninvited impression of our attractiveness? Scale the fence between us, clamber through your open window and plant sloppy, thankful kisses all over your dusty, stubble-pocked face, then use a hanky to wipe the spittle away and remind you to put your dirty work clothes in the laundry basket and not on the bedroom floor?

No. Well, behave then.

On another aside, we women don’t publicly voice our impressions of men’s physical appeal because from the moment we are born little girls are conditioned to behave politely and be sensitive to the feelings of others. It’s as simple as that. Or is it?

Blokes, it’s time to be awesome role models for the little men in your lives. It can’t just be mum’s job any more.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Picture: Norbert Rosing/Getty Images

 

 

What goes down always comes up roses

THANKS to an interesting Facebook post http://www.dictionaryofobscuresorrows.com/ – relating to emotions people feel but can’t explain – I realised there were a couple among the list of 23 words that went some way to describing the aftermath of my last big fall. No, not the shopping centre slip up of recent days, but the shit-scary bike stack I managed to walk away from in 2006. I put together a descriptive piece about six months after the ordeal, and I‘ve included it below, for your cringe-worthy enjoyment.

I fell off my bike. Aged 37.

It wasn’t just a little bingle, like those giggly stacks you have at Rotto http://www.rottnestisland.com/, it was a nasty, head-over-handlebars-while-speeding-down-a-big-hill style stack that would have appeared painfully spectacular to onlookers.

Perfect fodder for funniest home videos; ugly but hilarious all at the same time, with the rider “no outdoorsy mothers were injured during the filming of this video.”

I can still feel the massive blow to my chin as I ploughed into the concrete path, and that was more than six months ago.

The flashbacks only hit me occasionally now. For a while there everything I thought about doing, driving the car, riding ‘the’ bike, even going for a walk, would end in an eye-scrunching memory of that “bang”. It made me much more paranoid about the possible negative outcomes of doing everyday things, too. I’ve since progressed to riding my bike again, even down that big hill, although I avoid that part of the path if I can. And I am very conscious of never, ever again applying the front brakes without first engaging the rear ones. Doh!

I ended up with a deep gash under my chin that needed six stitches, various superficial facial and limb grazes, two breaks to my left wrist, a broken bone in my right hand and a fracture to my left elbow.

It could have been so much worse – not long after my accident a front-page story on a weekend city paper detailed the story of a cyclist who wound up a quadriplegic after crashing into other bike riders on a Perth cycle path.

For a week I had both arms in plaster. I was unable to drive for six weeks because of the (fluoro pink – so me) fibreglass plaster that remained on my left arm, this initially scared the hell out of me – the loss of control and freedom was claustrophobic. I was unable to work for nearly four months as my wrists strengthened and eventually realigned thanks to lots and lots of physiotherapy (and patience), and as a casual journo, the loss of wages was another hurdle to overcome.

Why did I put my front brake on anyway, I hear you ask? Well, as my two daughters and I coasted down the hill that afternoon, I became aware of walkers chatting on the pathway up ahead and called out for the girls to ring their bells.

I also began ringing my bell, then put a hand to my head to stop my hat from blowing off (no, I was very stupidly not wearing a helmet) and swiftly realised I was about to crash into the rear of my seven-year-old. I immediately applied my right hand brake, it seemed instinctive at the time, being right-handed and already using my left hand to keep my hat on.

The rest is family history. I came to a very sudden, crumpled stop. My children stopped when they heard my squeal, which was all I could manage, and the walkers ran over to help. My 12-year-old called my partner on my mobile, and my father arrived, along with the ambulance.

So what did I learn from this experience? Heaps. It challenged my need to always be in control and to constantly do things for myself without asking for help. It made me realise how we coast through life never realising how lucky we really are and what dangers potentially lurk in even the most innocuous activities. It made me realise I had to slow down and stop trying to do a million things at once.

Being a working and studying mother of two busy children meant it was commonplace to do several things at once to capitalise on my time – when I look back now, my frenetic lifestyle was always going to come crashing down around my well-organised ears. I am just so thankful I didn’t have a car accident, or hurt other people during the “crash I had to have”. Even my bike escaped unscathed. Now, when I feel my life speeding up, I take steps to slow down and yes, the roses do smell great.

PS: The obscure words that related but not necessarily resonated were Lachesism: The desire to be struck by disaster – to survive a plane crash, or to lose everything in a fire. Are you kidding!!!; and, Exulansis: The tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it. Except that they do…everyone’s taken the bark off or smashed their ego when gravity separates bike and rider.