Tuesday, November 5, 2013

the greer woman

I have not read The Female Eunuch. I don’t know that much about Germaine Greer except that she did her best work in the 1960s and 70s and more recently has been known for criticising a former female prime minister’s choice of outfits because they made said PM’s bum look big.
I have watched Greer on ABC’s Q & A and enjoyed her witty retorts at right-wing nutcases, and last night’s program was no exception, featuring possibly the biggest right-wing nutcase I’ve ever seen, one UK author Peter Hitchens. The rest of the panel, writer Hanna Rosin and writer/activist Dan Savage, did their level best not to jump over Tony Jones and punch Hitchens in the face when he suggested the world was hurtling towards certain doom led by same-sex couples and their evil, selfish, drug-taking, alcohol-chugging ways.
It was a lively affair, despite the more eloquent surroundings of the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall. But then it was part of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, so we had fair warning.
But then a woman, probably in her 40s, dared stand and pose a question to the panel. Specifically to Greer, she asked was it possible the women’s movement had gone too far? Had women moved away from their roles as nurturers by outsourcing the raising of their own children to paid strangers? Were we raising ever more narcissistic children as a result, and missing out on time with them, more tired and depressed than ever?
From my position on the lounge, I gave this woman a standing ovation. Because for the past several months I’ve been asking myself the very same thing. I am at home with my three-year-old daughter every day, for lots of reasons: because I was made redundant last year, because I did not have formal childcare arranged for her, because I do not have a job and therefore cannot afford childcare but also because I cannot get a job without first having childcare arranged. Turn left at the rock and you’ll find me just in front of the hard place. But I am also at home because I choose to be. I want to be. I know from experience, having had two other three-year-old daughters in my life at various times in the past decade, that this time does not last. One day you’re sitting on a very small chair opposite your sweet child, sharing Vegemite toast and discussing the various shades of green, and the next you’re driving home from school in tears because they are not in the back seat any more and you won’t see them again until 3.30.
This is not to say it’s all peachy. I have had many days in the past year where I’ve felt like I almost ceased to exist. I am the unpaid washerwoman, cook, cleaner and scullery maid, and on the lowest of low days I question my sanity and my ability to be a good mother. Actually, I question that last bit almost on a daily basis.
There are working women who do all these things too, I know. I did them all and worked part-time up until last year, but even that small window when I was at work was enough for me to come up for air. It gave me some balance. And sometimes I struggle to find any silver linings, but the struggle always passes and I am so grateful for the time I get to share with my littlest little girl.
Now back to the studio. What will Greer say? How will she respond to this woman who is asking, almost pleading, why is it not okay to just be with our children? I’m afraid the answer made me feel sick, and it still does make me so angry and frustrated and disappointed that I’m not sure what to do with it. This woman, who stood before a huge audience inside the Opera House and thousands more watching from home, was laughed at. Openly. By everyone on the panel except the right-wing nutcase. Savage gave a flippant “Well we should just enslave women again ..” and Rosin was similarly dismissive. When she finally got her turn, Greer was equally condescending and even concluded that what we need is more nursery schools (daycare centres) and preschools. Now Germaine Greer may be many things, but maternal is not one that instantly springs to mind. I think she might benefit from giving women the right to decide what is best for their own children.
I can’t believe that such a lively, informed and educated debate on subjects as diverse as hook-up apps and the decline of Christianity descended so rapidly. I was so disappointed I just wanted to slink into bed and forget it ever happened. But I couldn’t. The questioner (one Kimberley Adler, and I wish I could thank her and say how sorry I am for the way she was treated) even had to clarify her point because it was taken and shredded like a lump of raw meat in the lions’ enclosure. But it was to no avail. They weren’t listening.
I just want to know, if Germaine Greer’s whole life has been dedicated to making women’s lives better, and fighting the good fight for equality in the workforce and in society as a whole, why is there still this one category of women who are worthy of nothing more than denigration, humiliation and contempt? I thought it was about a woman’s right to choose. I thought we were all in this together. I thought we could decide to just be women, and for once stop trying to be men.

Monday, October 7, 2013

this one, she's a beauty

The Song of Wandering Aengus

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;

And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

                                             W.B. Yeats

Friday, October 4, 2013

pause for celebration

I used to love my birthday. Even up until my 30s, when babies and toddlers and bone-deep fatigue threatened to derail my excitement for them, I would find myself childlishly restless at the prospect of a day to just celebrate being born. This feeling began creeping up on me a few weeks back when I realised my birthday was not far away, but it didn't last very long. Long enough to count to forty-one.

But in the past few days I've come to a new appreciation of the whole birthday thing. Now I see them as a time of renewal. A time to let go of old fears, old foes, old habits, old ways of thinking. A time to let go of anything that's no longer serving you and make room in your life for something brand new.

It's my birthday tomorrow and I'm feeling excited, but not in a child-like way any more. Unless you count my anticipation of cake. Because that never gets old.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

just something I needed to say

Dear Julia Gillard,

I think you’ve been treated very badly and I wanted to tell you how sorry I am about that. Not because I had anything to do with it personally, but because the whole thing has left me reeling, questioning how far our supposedly equal society has come and wondering how I should encourage my daughters to be anything they want to be without inadvertently throwing them to the wolves.

I know it’s a week ago, and that most people have moved on, but it’s taken me that long just to attempt to get my head around what just happened. How does one of our most promising female politicians allow herself to be used as a pawn by ALP powerbrokers, in turn cauterising her career path and giving all naysayers the chance to say she didn’t deserve to be prime minister because she didn’t get there on her own merits. And as for the naysayers, the many and the vocal and the misogynistic, how does a nation bury its head in the sand while one of its most prominent voices calls for the brutal death of the prime minister? How does that happen? Years before Howard Sattler’s unbearable attempt at character assassination (only successful if you count his own character), Alan Jones was practically running a reprise of the Salem witch trials, with nothing to go on except his own hateful prejudice and a liberal (pardon the pun) dose of misogyny and sexism. The fuel for his fire and brimstone was an equally hateful audience of listeners, encouraging his every rant.

So now the haters have got their way. The men who played you for a fool back in 2010 are now seeing a catastrophic end to their little experiment, and it turns out the man they sacrificed was a little harder to slaughter than they realised. The fact that all these men now sit side by side in a massive circus known as our democracy is more than a little hard to fathom.

I was raised in a household where equality of the sexes was a given. Any other reality never entered my head. Why wouldn’t my parents be equal when they both worked to put food on the table, both loved and respected one another and both loved my sister and I? Perhaps my first glimpse of an unequal reality was when I started working as a journalist, but I was fresh out of high school - I still believed that hard work and due diligence would speak louder than a nice pair of heels. For a long time I tried to ignore all evidence to the contrary. But I told myself that in the ancient world of newspapers it might take a little while for things to change, like they had in the real world.

But whose reality are we talking about? Because the reality I thought I knew didn’t involve women being raped and murdered in city laneways for sport, didn’t include a ‘goddess’ being held by the throat in broad daylight by her abusive husband who then dismisses the whole affair as a ‘tiff’ and is excused, if not by society as a whole, at least by the local constabulary. This reality sucks. It makes me angry and it makes me scared. Which in turn makes me even angrier.

As I sat watching the vote last Wednesday night, Julia, knowing that your time was very nearly up, I felt sad that Australia had not grown up enough to treat a female prime minister with the respect you deserved. In the hour or so that passed while I waited for a result, my faith in the ability, intelligence and stamina of women never wavered. In fact, as I watched Leigh Sales and Annabel Crabb on the ABC in their unscripted discussion of the state of politics in this country, I marvelled at them. These two women, two wives and mothers, were consummate professionals without ever having to resort to superiority or spin. They were real, and they were spectacular.

I think that you were real too, but you just had trouble showing it. When you gave your final speech as prime minister, I heard your voice waver when you spoke of the women who will follow you into that office in years to come. I love that it was that line where you couldn’t conceal your emotion. It shows that no matter what the polls say, your heart was in it all along. You are a brilliant woman, a passionate politician, across everything from disability care to international diplomacy, but when it comes down to it, you’re just  a big girl. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

getting to the bottom of the deep blue sea

This weekend my home town is abuzz with the inaugural Newcastle Writers Festival  and this morning as I took in the spectacular view of Newcastle Beach from a nearby hotel, I had the incredible privilege of listening to five writers share their thoughts on the ocean and why it inspires them. Robert Drewe, Rebecca Oliver, James Bradley, Tim Baker and Gerry Bobsien had the room enthralled, which was not an easy task given the show being staged behind them by the Pacific Ocean and a pod of dolphins, and I came away feeling very inspired and very grateful. I immediately visited Rebecca Olive's blog and felt more inspired, more grateful and a tiny bit astounded by how things, words and people and ideas and inspiration, can come to you in unexpected ways. One post of Rebecca's rang particularly true for me, so much so that I think I should print it out and put it on my fridge (or my computer):

From 'The Ultimate Guide to Writing Better Than You Normally Do', over at McSweeney's
Procrastination is an alluring siren taunting you to Google the country where Balki from Perfect Strangers was from, and to arrange sticky notes on your dog in the shape of hilarious dog shorts. A wicked temptress beckoning you to watch your children, and take showers. Well, it’s time to look procrastination in the eye and tell that seafaring wench, “Sorry not today, today I write.”

Friday, March 22, 2013

don't dream it's over

Do you remember the first boy you ever loved?
I was 14. He was much older, but I didn’t care. I’d watched him on Countdown completely smitten, and when my friends bought me Crowded House the album for my birthday I was gone for all money.
I went home from school that afternoon, and every afternoon for months, and dropped the stylus on my Dad’s record player, just waiting for that voice .. She came all the way from America .. and on and on he sang, while I read the print off the liner notes and memorised every line.
I loved Neil Finn then, with every fibre of my being. I loved him so much that the feelings I had for him as a 14-year-old girl have never really gone away. They’re hidden by other things - let’s call them reality - until I hear a Crowded House song on the radio and that voice is singing Shakespeare to me all over again. Or until, as so happened last Monday night, I am sitting in a front-row box seat in the Sydney Opera House concert hall, watching my first love and trying not to let my heart beat right out of its chest.
When I heard that Neil Finn and Paul Kelly were touring together, it was like a Christian being told that Jesus was moving in next door and bringing his Dad. I was 19 when I first fell in love with Paul Kelly and his stories - a little bit older but not much wiser .. Kiss me quick, kiss me warm, put your dress on and hurry back home .. I knew I couldn’t miss it. But I didn’t know if I’d be able to handle it - at all. What if I was overcome and had to be ushered out of the room, collapsing in the foyer in a puddle of hormones and emotional immaturity? What if I just started sobbing uncontrollably?
I’m not ashamed to say that both of these scenarios were a real possibility as the lights dropped and the Finn/Kelly experience began. There they both were, guitars in full song, and I was mesmerised.  I soon let go of any tenuous link to my real, 40-year-old life and just relished every minute, like I was 14 (or 19) all over again.
Several times I was struck with complete awe. There was Paul Kelly, singing his beautiful heart out, making new poetry out of the words of Neil Finn. And there beside him was - yes, it really was - Neil Finn.
It went like that for almost three hours, and as each hour passed I started to dread it coming to an end. But after three encores and more beauty than I could ever have imagined, the two men returned to centre stage, picked up their guitars and sang Moon River.
I could have wept and kept on weeping, but my heart was too full.