Cooperation Is Overrated

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I had a surprising moment of parental pride this morning at the school drop-off.

Hazel, my oldest, has just started Prep. Her brain is exploding with new ideas and discoveries. She already has her first crush (on a much older boy) and is enthusiastic and fearless about trying new things at school. She comes home each afternoon excitable and bursting with stories, which often can’t distinguished between fact and fiction, but also tired and emotional. These are trying times. She’s pushing boundaries. She’s finding her place, and challenging her place all at once. She watched the Labyrinth for the first time recently, and now we hear a lot of “It’s not fair!”

In fact, I’ve been a little worried lately about the extent of this defiance. I’m told it’s normal, a consequence of beginning a structured school routine, but the strain of arguing with a five-year-old over every little thing is taking its toll and making me nervous. Have I raised an entitled brat? To her credit, her defiance is almost always about her independence; wanting to make her own choices, challenging me when I say she can’t do something, or when I tell her to do something she doesn’t want to do (like tidying her room). And while we often have to remind her about selfishness, thoughtlessness and talking back to her parents, I can proudly say that I have never had to tell her off for being unkind or violent to another living soul.

Last night at the dinner table, she told us proudly that her teacher had given her two smiley face stickers. I asked what this meant, and she explained that there is a class Smiley Board and each time a student does something good, the teacher gives them a sticker to put next to their name on the board. Yesterday, she got two.

“What’s ‘doing something good’?” I asked her.

“Oh, you know. Tidying up. Being kind. Cooperating. Being quiet.”

Standard classroom behavioural things, other words. I thought no more of it. I was glad she did something kind or cooperative to earn two stickers. I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be for tidying up.

As I was leaving the classroom after school drop off this morning, I noticed the Smiley Board and took a look at Hazel’s progress. Scanning through the list it seemed almost half the class had a lot of smiley faces, and the other half had significantly less. Looking at each name, I realised that all of the ‘good’ students were girls. In fact, it seemed that every girl except one was way out in front of every boy in the class.

Every girl except Hazel.

Hazel was positioned just one smiley face behind the best-behaved boy in the class. A little smile crept onto my own face.

Don’t get me wrong, kindness is a major parental goal of mine and I feel pretty good about having taught Hazel kindness in all the right ways. She has an abundance of empathy, and is in the habit of comforting people when they are upset. She’s great with babies and younger children. She doesn’t say cruel things, and is genuinely baffled when others do (“Why would they say that, mum?”) But cooperating, being quiet, tidying up… those things are all great things, until they’re not great things. They’re great things when both boys and girls – perhaps more pertinently, men and women – are expected to do them and when they’re not taken for granted. But unfortunately, we still live in a world where women are expected to cooperate in support and men are expected to disrupt and leader. When women are leaders by nature, their lack of unconditional cooperation is considered aggressive, when men are supportive by nature they are are classed as weak. This is a big topic, much bigger than a paragraph in a blog post. It challenges so much of what we culturally consider to be feminine and masculine behaviour. It challenges what is acceptable in women, but undesirable in men – and vice versa. In spite of the huge progress feminism has made in recent years, here is a 2016 Prep classroom split right down the middle with cooperative little girls and less cooperative little boys (and Hazel). These are behaviours they learn through watching their peers and their role models. It will take time for all the little girls in the world to see women challenging the status quo so that they will learn to do it themselves. It will take time for all the little boys in the world to see more men cooperating and supporting others so that they will learn to do that, too. Without shame.

Knowing that I am her primary role model, I walked out of the class with a little spring in my step, recalling my days raising hell and eyebrows in mandatory Religious Studies class. Unquestioned cooperation has never been my idea of a good time. And long may it be so for Hazel.

Right after she tidies her room, FFS.

Give Peace A Chance

Breastfeeding in public is not a war zone.

Dear new mothers and expectant new mothers,

By now, you have probably been bombarded by the ‘breastfeeding in public’ debate. Facebook and their clever (evil?) algorithms will ensure you see these arguments because you are their target audience. You’re going to witness an online shit-fight (complete with staged ‘candid video evidence’) between well-meaning folk who want to EMPOWER you to breastfeed in public, and ignorant folk who want you to HAVE SOME DECORUM. It’s going to get messy. The ideologies, the flawed logic (“hot boobs are OK”) and the spelling may confound and possibly amuse you. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the 21st Century is a surprisingly hostile place to breastfeed. You’d be forgiven for thinking that to breastfeed in public is a political statement; an act of civil disobedience. Which is peculiar because it’s been a woman’s legal right to breastfeed publicly in Australia for over 30 years. Your mother may have actually breastfed you publicly. THAT’S how post-war we are on this topic. Maybe feeling like a rebel floats your boat and if so – rage on warrior, and all power to you, this post is not for you. But maybe (and I suspect this is many of us) you’re not a fan of conflict or political statements or disobedience. Particularly where your kids are concerned. Maybe seeing this online shit-fight will make you anxious or even refrain entirely from breastfeeding in public. I know it scared me and significantly hindered my experience in the early days.

So here’s a little nugget of truth for you.

Brace yourself.

Deep breath.

Here it is:

An overwhelming majority of people don’t care or even notice you breastfeeding in public. You’d be lucky if they look up from their smartphones or see you at all. There’s a moment at the beginning of a feed when, depending on your attire or posture, you may feel exposed because you are literally ‘exposed’ and if someone catches a glimpse of nipple in that moment, they generally look away or comically avoid eye contact. I breastfed both my babies in public, in all kinds of places, and these were the only three responses I ever got, in order of most common:

1. Didn’t even look/notice/register what I was doing.
2. Saw me breastfeeding, registered I was breastfeeding and did nothing to indicate whether they were for or against the situation.
3. Copped an eyeful and a) looked away embarrassed or b) smiled at me. Option b) were women who ‘knew’. Option a) were prudes and dudes.

The three things that never happened to me:

1. I was never asked by wait staff to breastfeed in the toilet.
2. I was never stared at with disgust.
3. I was never approached by a stranger and told that what I was doing was wrong or disgusting.

Do I think that vilifying public breastfeeding doesn’t exist at all? Hell no. There are douchecanoes hiding in all corners of the globe. But the truth is that these people are statistically insignificant cowards, afraid to say anything to your face and, chances are, they won’t. I’m not trying to minimise the real-life stories of women who have been personally shamed, but please know that these stories represent an incredibly tiny minority of the overall public breastfeeding experience. Don’t let the Facebook echo chamber hinder your efforts in those fragile early days of new motherhood.

Forget the fight exists, because in the real world it doesn’t. Don’t waste your energy thinking about it and definitely don’t be afraid of encountering detractors because it’s highly unlikely that you will. The boob-haters are far more comfortable airing their views on Facebook. Facebook is not where you are breastfeeding in public.

If you’re so inclined, get your tits out and don’t be scared. The overwhelmingly likely outcome is that nobody will notice, but those who notice won’t care, those who care won’t complain and those who complain are morons.

🍥🍥

Images courtesy of What Does Breastfeeding Look Like? An incredible Tumblr project by photographer Suzie Blake.

The Irresponsible Asshattery of the AFR

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There isn’t much one can meaningfully add to the shit storm of an argument surrounding Mark Latham’s latest opinion piece in the Australian Financial Review. But with a headline like “Why left feminists don’t like kids”, the agenda was clear: break the Internet, no matter the human cost.

Look, I could most certainly take Latham out in straight sets with logical rebuttal. I’d gain his trust by telling him I live in the suburbs rather than his purported inner-city hotbed of parental neglect. Then I’d call BS on his so-called idyllic parenting life – with its gourmet cooking (yawn) and native garden tending (ugh), it sounds like just the kind of mindless bullshit that would have me reaching for the Xanax. Luckily, unlike Mark, I’m not afflicted with the self-serving belief that how I choose to spend my days is how everyone should spend theirs. Next I’d point out that it’s pretty clear he’s never spent any time with women suffering post-natal depression. Indeed, I’m not entirely sure he even understands the dictionary definition. If he did, he may have discovered the cruel irony that post-natal depression highlights: in their pursuit to be good mothers, falling short is devastating. Then I’d go for the jugular by detailing my own personal experience in the matter; suffering depression and anxiety as a result of a miscarriage which, if anything, proves the actual opposite of Latham’s point. Far from the over-simplified accusation that depression somehow means that mothers don’t want the children they chose to have, mine came about as a result of losing a child that I wanted and had already begun to love. Further, my decision to seek help in the form of anti-depressants (which didn’t work for me, but are a perfectly viable option for others) was because of a ferocious maternal need to protect my 18 month old daughter. As her primary carer her welfare depended on me, an utterly terrifying notion while my mind faltered. Not bad for a left feminist, eh Mark?

But I won’t bother. Because Mark isn’t the problem. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a problem. But he’s not my problem, and he shouldn’t be yours. Although he was serious about his opinion piece, it wasn’t published to be taken seriously, but rather to present readers with a head-scratching rendition of What The Actual Fuck on WTF.fm. It flies so firmly in the face of common sense, and is so devoid of research that it verges on comedy. In fact, were it copied and pasted onto The Onion, no doubt we’d all be laughing about it. THAT’S how nonsensical it is. There have been many excellent and meaningful responses, but I think Em Rusciano puts it best when she says his argument is a ‘clusterfuck of asshattery’. And I’m inclined to agree, adding my clear definition of asshat to mean:

  • One who confuses their ‘opinions’ with ‘facts’ (a common complaint of those with an inflated sense of self-importance, but a underdeveloped sense of self-awareness);
  • One who is pathologically lacking in empathy;
  • One who is impervious to logical rebuttal; and
  • Will argue their point long after it has been proven moot.

So. Asshat he most certainly is. Based on the above, I’m sure you’ll find you know a few. To argue with them is pointless (see points 3 and 4). Latham will go to his grave believing the things he says are true and, this is the most important part, it should never affect any of us. Ever.

Because if you were to walk down your street and vox pop your neighbours, asking them about hot button issues like post-natal depression, feminism, refugees or the environment, you will discover that asshats exist. Ditto the Internet and most notably social media where they are commonly known as ‘Trolls’. Unlike Latham, most of them have never been in contention to govern Australia, and aren’t given a national stage on which to spurt their asshattery, but they exist. They wouldn’t go so far as to lobby for the banning of anti-depressants or for women to get back to their ironing boards. In fact, very few act upon their bizarre convictions except through meaningless vitriolic chit-chat. They vote – yes. But they can only vote for what’s presented to them. And though they exist in the world, they are flaccid and ineffectual when it comes to real action. Except when the media chooses to shine a torch on one of them for the purpose of being controversial.

Which brings me to the true villain of this entire debacle: The Australian Financial Review.

While Mark is arguing that feminists should do us all a favour and choose not to have children, and feminists are arguing that Mark should do us all a favour and choose to go to hell, one entity was faced with a very real, black and white choice: to publish an article of such offensive bile as to potentially alienate an already vulnerable group of people. Or to hand it back and say “Mark, you’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid.”

No doubt when Latham’s piece crossed the many desks it crossed, it was met with the salivating mouths of media wolves, desperate to make the masses click. It was the Fairfax equivalent of an oiled Kardashian derrière and its purpose was the same: to incite a virtual riot and make some very real cash.

And so rather than do the decent thing, and toss this piece of (albeit hilarious) ignorant trash in the reject pile, they hurled Mark Latham to the lionesses. And waited. On every left-leaning or just halfway decent internet media outlet, he was cut down. Does he care? No. Will he change? Absolutely not. So who wins, and more importantly, who loses?

The Australian Financial Review wins, of course. Considering online access to the article required subscriber sign-up, I’m sure subscriptions by the curious masses surged. Clicks are currency for online advertisers and they are worth their virtual weight in real gold. The AFR then washes their hands of all responsibility by blaming Mark in a follow-up opinion piece arguing how irresponsible his column was. If it was so irresponsible, where the hell were your editors whose actual job it is to take responsibility for content? Please don’t mistake this as sympathy for Latham (God no), but it’s a classic case of the puppeteer blaming the puppet. And getting squarely away with it.

Meanwhile, Mark gets his thick head pounded by a bunch of feminists but is probably right now working on his next column filled with even more privileged ignorant trash. The feminists get worked up for a few weeks before resuming their regular scheduled programming of fighting the good fight. And the real loser in this is the vulnerable sufferers of depression, and the already under-funded, overworked mental health organisations whose mission it is to eradicate attitudes like Latham’s. We won’t ever know whether there was a true human cost in this act of media terror, but I can say with certainty that PND is a grave issue that can, at its worst, end in suicide. Sometimes murder-suicide. Hey AFR, I’m not sure I’d be intentionally firing up a game of link-bait roulette when the cost might be the loss of innocent lives. But then, I’m just a selfish leftie feminist who doesn’t like kids so what the hell do I know?

So while the AFR is off collecting its winnings and Mark Latham is enjoying the sensation of his own head up his own ass, a mother somewhere throws her hands in the air and says “enough.”

*slow clap*

In Search of Silence

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I’m a nitpicker from way back.

Don’t get into a semantic argument with me. I love them more than I care to admit. Don’t use the word ‘literally’ if you really mean ‘metaphorically’. Unless you’re being ironic. And good Lord, don’t get started on ironic. I was so disappointed in my first musical obsession, Alanis Morisette, for writing a song about a bunch of unfortunate coincidences and calling them ironic. But I digress (yes, yes I do. And often.)

One of the things getting me all hot under the collar recently is the whole introvert/extrovert definition. Ten years ago, I would have called myself an extrovert: I enjoy people, socialising, talking. I’m not shy or reserved. Ten years ago, that’s what I thought an extrovert was. But ten years ago I didn’t have children, so ten years ago I ran my own show. And ten years ago I was always able to come home after a busy day of work, or a crazy weekend of socialising, and relax. Alone. I could choose to socialise or, if I didn’t have the energy, to stay in and read or write. Being alone with my own thoughts gave me the energy to go out and be social. Which, it turns out, is the exact definition of an introvert. Being shy isn’t necessarily being an introvert. It’s just… being shy.

So becoming a parent has been inexplicably hard to manage at times. My kids are awake from around 5am and for the next 12-14 hours, there is no silence and I am never alone. 7 days of the week. I remember when Freddie was about 3 months old and I spent a day working for the first time since before he was born. The 30 minute drive to my studio was euphoric. With nobody talking, crying, asking, demanding, wanting. Listening to my own choice of music! Being alone. Being silent.

This weekend I had to have it, I had to have silence. After spending the morning at the Vic Market as a family (which I love!), we were driving home. John was asking what else we need to get at the supermarket. I was trying to formulate a shopping list while reading recipes on my iPhone which, for anyone who knows me well, is about as effortless as trying to read something in a foreign language. There was an interesting but semi-infuriating segment happening on the radio that my brain just would not tune-out to. And Hazel was demanding, ad nauseum, to listen to the Frozen soundtrack. Which was really just the choice between listening to one thing ad nauseum or another.

I felt the panic attack creeping up. I know it’s coming when I try to take a deep breath, but the breath seems to only make it half way to my lungs. The deeper I try to breathe, the shallower the breath seems to go until I’m almost panting and gasping. My logical side was saying “what the hell is wrong with you?” and my emotional side was screaming “jump out of the car!” We were on the freeway so… lucky I’m not a slave to my emotions.

“Let me out at the supermarket. I’ll do the rest on my own.” I said.

So they did. I stood inside the entrance to the supermarket, for what felt like an eternity, just trying to unscramble my thoughts. Slowly, I began making my way around. And at the end, with shoulder bag filled to the brim with groceries (including plenty of heavy cans and bottles) and a jumbo-pack of nappies slung over one arm, I walked home in spite of the looming storm clouds.

It’s about two kilometres of undulating urban hills, or a half hour walk without 10 kilos of groceries. I’ll admit, it wasn’t physically pleasant. But it was mentally and emotionally necessary. A re-set button I used to be able to press on a daily basis that hadn’t been pressed for months.

So, to all you introverted parents out there (not just the shy, socially awkward or agoraphobic ones – but hugs to you guys, too), we all need silence more than we realise, so make sure you take some much needed silent time today.

And not just on the toilet. If you’re lucky enough not to be followed in there, anyway.

Bollocks to that

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Dear Grant, (@grantfeller)

Oh man, where do I begin with this?

So I read your article in Sunday Style Magazine (Why Men Make Terrible Mothers, 28/10/14) and I’ll be honest: I had to close the magazine and go for a walk in the fresh air. Because, really. Are we still doing this? In 2014? In the face of actual real life statistics that prove what we all inherently know – that the bond between an adult and a child is profoundly influenced by the quality time that they spend together, not whether or not the adult has lady parts or man parts – you still want to get out of nappy duty by playing the gender card.

Oxytocin – the love hormone – is a wonderdrug. It helps women grow healthy babies in their bellies. It helps them get those babies out. It masks the pain and trauma of childbirth. It forces a bond between mother and child so that the child won’t be abandoned. It assists with the creation of milk for those babies. That’s a whole lot of crazy shit, but it all happens over a very short space of time in a new human’s life – 6 months, 12 months, or for the hardcore amongst us, a couple of years. But what’s a couple of years compared with the 18 that you are legally obligated to take care of that child? Or the lifetime that your heart compels you to be there for them? Women get a head-start in the bonding department – absolutely. But without constant and consistent time spent with that child, a bond won’t form on its own. Love grows and continues to grow long after the maternal oxytocin wears off. And men produce oxytocin, too. Why do you think that is? So that they can bond and connect with fellow human beings. Think about the people in your life whom you love – do you honestly think you love them less than the women in their lives?

This whole backhanded ‘Women: The Altruistic Wonders’ argument is precisely the kind of manipulative shit that keeps women from pursuing the same social privileges as men. Because why bother hiring a woman if she’s just going to exercise her natural instinct to go off and have babies? Why bother educating her if she’ll never fulfil that potential? In fact, why bother letting her out of the house in the first place if all she’s ever going to do with her life is raise children because she naturally wants nothing more than to live it in servitude to her kids?

As nicely and jovially as you tried to put it, you essentially said that women belong at home and men belong in the workforce. Bollocks. Humans belong where they are best suited, whatever bits they have between their legs. Gender roles are a dangerous social construct that only serves a small few (but perhaps you are one of those few). This constant suggestion that women have a set role to play isolates and limits them, and in turn isolates and limits men. This is problematic for both of us; it causes deep-set anxiety in women who find themselves not enjoying motherhood as intensely as society expects them to, and it breeds a sense of powerlessness and obligation in men. What will men do without the women in their lives if they are so inherently incapable of taking care of the kids? What if they are unable to provide for their family? What control do they really have over their own offspring as mere men? God forbid they actually enjoy caring for their children and feel emasculated by doing something they love.

Insistence of set gender roles has darker and more sinister undertones, too. There is a proven link between the respect and authority that women have in society as a whole and the incidence of violence against them. In communities where women are represented in a diverse range of roles and responsibilities, and revered in positions of authority, lower instances of domestic abuse and rape are recorded. And it’s not just women who suffer from the crippling social expectation of strict gender roles. The most common cause of death in young men is suicide. Men, who are taught that feelings are something they shouldn’t have, would sooner die than talk about what’s troubling them. This is not a coincidence. I want to be part of a world where women have more choices, but I also want to see men living long, happy and healthy lives. The two can’t be separated.

I’m gonna level with you. The job you’re doing – being at home as the primary carer of a child, while also trying to nurture a fledgling business – that shit is HARD. It’s not hard because you’re a man, it’s hard because it’s HARD. I know. I do the same job and I’m a woman. I was legitimately surprised at how shit I am at this job. The suggestion that you’re not good at it simply by virtue of being a man is a cop-out. And if that’s the case, what’s my excuse? Women are expected to be good at raising kids so they pretend they’re happy, even when they’re struggling (#lovemyjob). Men are not expected to be good at it, so are either praised when they manage a basic task, or excused if they drop the ball. But it’s all unfounded bollocks; if you’re not enjoying it, or you’re finding it hard, the problem and its solution lies with YOU. If you’d rather be at the pub than at a play date, it’s not because you’re a man, it’s because those are your priorities. And OK. No judgment. I’d rather be at the pub some days, too. It might get better with time or it might not, but ultimately you have choices – far more than I do over here in the same boat – that you can exercise to better your situation. If your choice is to walk away from being a primary carer, have the courage to say that you couldn’t make it work. Not that you are a man and all men are incapable, cleverly ridding yourself of the disappointment and responsibility that you might actually have to face.

I grew up with less choices than my male counterparts on the basis of my gender. I want more choices for my daughter. And more again for the granddaughters I may one day have. I want my son to never feel trapped or emasculated if his favourite film isn’t Full Metal Jacket. Please, be part of the solution. It’s easy, even trendy, to stand up to blatant sexism and misogyny – those lines have long been drawn in the sand. But it is so hard for women like me to stand up to the kind of everyday sexism that you have displayed in your article because you either think it’s a joke or it makes no difference. Please, it is not a joke and it makes a difference. It’s puts women in their place, with a smiley face.

You’re doing a hard job. I’m doing a hard job. We’re neither of us particularly good at it, or enjoying it as much as we’d like, but we’re doing our best. And for fuck’s sake, let’s get on the same side here because we’re all in this together.

 

Caroline says: Yeah, what she said ^^^. Grant, I’d be happy to catch up with you during the day to lament together how our businesses aren’t traveling at the warp-speed they could be because we chose to have children. Let’s whine in unison over a soy flat white in a (pram-friendly) cafe and compare notes on how boring sheet-changing really truly is and how we just aren’t congratulated enough for those little jobs around the house. Friends got a promotion and a new car? What about us? My kid is rolling like a trouper but where is my thanks? We can congratulate each other Grant, cos lord knows we deserve it. But let’s please do it as people, as parents and as ourselves. Not as sweeping generalisations of our gender. Men and women deserve more than that.

Why the WAF needs Feminism

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I’ll be honest with you WAF, when I first visited your tumblr with all those haughty opinions of yours, I kinda scoffed. I mean, really. A bunch of women making the ultimately feminist choice to express their opinion by making largely feminist statements under the banner of not needing feminism. If I could have located just one woman holding a sign that said ‘I don’t need feminism because I believe that men are superior to me and that my opinions don’t matter’ then maybe you would have made your point. Instead, it’s just a bunch of feminists deniers dissing on feminism. Some of the best ones are:

I don’t need feminism because I made a choice to be a stay at home mother.

I don’t need feminism because I don’t need a pack of angry vaginas to fight my battles.

I don’t need feminism because having sex with a stranger is irresponsible, not rape.

I haven’t needed feminism since the 1920s.

LOL.

I promptly forgot about WAF. Their issue isn’t with feminism but with their skewed perception of feminism. And, it seemed, the underlining fear that aligning themselves with feminism might make them seem angry or unattractive. Far be it for me to tell them otherwise. They’re big girls (so they keep insisting). They can work this stuff out for themselves.

Then just yesterday I read a really, really, really sad article about real life marital counselling in the 1950s and 60s. It’s a long read, but you can check it out here.

It uncovered an epidemic in 20th Century social culture to blame women for any kind of discord present in an unhappy marriage. Even violence against them. The ‘Can This Marriage Be Saved?’ column was published in a widely read and very popular women’s magazine. And I imagine the published cases only represent the very tip of the iceberg.

Take ‘Elsa’ and ‘Josh’. Elsa was beaten and humiliated publicly by Josh on a number of occasions. After giving birth to a baby girl, Josh ignored Elsa and their daughter showing his disappointment in the fact it wasn’t a boy. When he had to make his own breakfast one morning shortly following the birth, he flew into a rage. The counsellor’s comment, as published in this national magazine:

“If she wanted a serene family life, she would have to learn to give Josh what he wanted from their marriage and thereby help him control his temper.” In other words “This wife needed to be convinced out of her own self-righteous understanding of the situation.”

In response to more and more women writing in to discuss domestic abuse, he comments: ‘it was interesting to find how bitterly the average man resents a sloppy and slovenly wife.’

Still think you don’t need feminism? Still think you haven’t needed it since the 1920s?

Find me one woman on the WAF tumblr that thinks this is OK. Not just the abuse, but the justification of it.

Find me one woman on the WAF willing to put on a placard ‘I don’t need feminism because in cases of domestic violence it is my duty as a wife to help my husband control his temper.’

Find me one woman on the WAF who wouldn’t fight tooth and nail if Elsa were her sister or her friend.

Let me tell you something WAF: you’re here, expressing your opinion on a global scale, because of feminism. And let me tell you something else, if you ever find yourself married to a ‘Josh’, that ‘bunch of angry vaginas’ you hate so much will not rest until you are safe.

I’m gonna level with you, WAF: there are some angry feminists and there are some peaceable ones, too. Lucky for you, you can ignore the angry ones if you find them so displeasing – believe me, it will never be illegal to shave your legs, like men or wear short skirts. But all in all, this developing global community of ours hasn’t reached a point where all women out here have the choices that you seem to think you have. You think you don’t need feminism, but your mother probably did and your sister might, your daughter might, your neighbour might. I’d love nothing more than to say, with all honestly, that we don’t need feminism anymore. But we still do.

So when you say your prayers tonight, and find yourself grateful to live in an imperfect but improving society, feel free to give your thanks. To feminism.

Remember ‘Elsa’. Not her real name, but she was a real person. A woman who was told, publicly and not so long ago, that her husband might beat her if she finds herself unable to tend to her prescribed household duties. Remember her and the many women like her who still live in the same fear. Lest we effing forget.

The God Spotlight

Throughout my life, I have experienced moments that I have come to refer to as ‘God’s Spotlight’.

It’s a little hypocritical of me. I don’t really believe in God. Not in any traditional sense, anyway. I guess I would call my morals and values non-denominational Christian but, if I’m honest, that’s simply because Christianity is mainstream in my environment so it’s the religion I know the most about. I’m fairly certain that these same values that I live my life by are the backbone of most religions. And, um, the law.

Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Be kind. Love one another. Ya know?

I also support a lot of things that most religious denominations, in practice anyway, typically don’t. I’m Pro Choice. I’m Pro Marriage Equality. I’m a feminist, too which isn’t sacrilegious as such. It just gets under their fingernails a little bit. I rather reluctantly went to a Catholic School and was an argumentative little hellraiser in mandatory RE class. “But Miss, how can you believe that God loves you when he drowned EVERYONE!? Even the ANIMALS!? I’m sorry, but that guy can’t be trusted.” But when all’s said and done, I guess I believe in a ‘God’ (poor ‘God’. He will always be an inverted commas kind of thing for me). Maybe it’s not a him or a person at all that I believe in but a force, that’s both within me and also everywhere. I don’t know. Whatever. I like it. It suits me fine.

So anyway. In my life, typically my childhood, I often had moments whereupon my experience of a situation was inexplicably heightened. They would be moments of little or no spectacle, forgotten quickly by the others right there sharing the same experience. But for me, it was as though a spotlight was shining and the moment would be recorded by my mind with such precision so to never forget. I have a catalogue of them, many of which I’ve never truly analysed for their potential meaning. I’d like to go through that catalogue one day and try to figure out exactly what it was they (or He or It) were teaching me at that moment. But my favourite and most important one was this:

It was 1992 or 1993. So I would have been 11 or 12. I had gone with my aunt and uncle and cousins to a holiday house on a river at a tiny little place called Tunnel Bend on the Howqua River. The house was a shack deep in the bush. There were blackberries everywhere. And a really cool badminton court. And a river with a fairly strong current that travelled around in a circle through a man-made tunnel that had been cut from the earth during the Gold Rush. The shack backed onto a small stony beach where we’d paddle downstream to the tunnel on lilos, drag them up through the dark tunnel over rocks and rockpools, and then resume paddling on the other side, arriving right back where we started.

We had all set out one mild morning – not hot, I remember that – to a spot further up the river that had a nice stretch of stony beach, where the current wasn’t too strong for kids to swim. We didn’t drive or walk, we got on lilos and floated up to the spot. I shared a lilo with my cousin. My uncle kayaked.

We splashed around for a while, but I felt a bit cold so I jumped out of the water and sat on the stony beach wrapped up in a towel next to my sister and my aunt who wasn’t there to swim, so she was wearing jeans, shoes and a jumper. My cousins and uncle were still out in the water. I turned away for a split second and before I knew what was happening my aunt was in the water – in her jeans and her shoes and her jumper. I heard her yell something beforehand, but I didn’t hear what. I looked out into the water at her four boys swimming, but for a moment I couldn’t see my uncle… and then, within seconds, his kayak flipped up out of the water and he was there again. My aunt was still swimming out to him, fully clothed. She must have looked up and realised he was OK and stopped, treading water, for one electric moment while we all looked on a little confused. Then she waded back to the shore and my uncle followed her.

“I saw you go under,” she said. “I thought you were drowning.”

He looked at her with a proud smile and said something along the lines of ‘you silly sausage’, gave her a kiss and a hug. She was drenched, her jeans and her shoes and her jumper. And she was magnificent. A woman who had leapt to save her husband, without thinking of the consequences. Without a care that it wasn’t a particularly warm day and she had no other clothes. Without a care that she might look silly. She jumped in the river! In her jeans! In her shoes! In her jumper! She didn’t waste a moment to consider whether he was perfectly OK, perhaps not drowning at all. It didn’t matter.

THIS. Said ‘God’. Pay attention to THIS.

I was 11 or 12. I didn’t know anything about love. I knew I loved my family and they loved me. But I didn’t understand this kind of love, or this kind of fear of loss. I had no context with which to process this moment but my naive little mind, yet to experience love or hurt, opened up and swallowed it all.

That little spotlight film has played and re-played in my head for many years. Throughout my teens, when love was confusing, it taunted me like a puzzle I couldn’t solve. It would be years before I began to see its relevance. That spotlight has helped me to recognise when someone loved me. And it has helped me recognise when someone maybe didn’t. It taught me to leap without fear of being wrong or looking silly. That even when you are wrong or look silly, you are still magnificent and brave. It taught me that the magazines, with all their advice on playing it cool and keeping your cards close to your chest, are wrong. Most importantly, it taught me that women are not just the objects of love; we are capable of loving with the same ferociousness and foolishness as men. Simply put, that moment taught me how to love.

And so I credit this funny little moment with so much of the love that I have in my life. So thanks ‘God’. If that really was you, it was a darn cool trick.