Tuesday, 31 October 2017

The Rare Occasion a Feminist Cries Tears of Joy

Two Thursday’s ago, I sat on a bus after a long day at work and I openly cried.  I didn’t give one single f*ck who saw me. 

It would be a safe bet to think my marshmallow eyes were in some way the result of my outrage at the floodgates recently opened by mainstream media reporting on the abuse of women by men in power. 

In October 2017, the news of Harvey Weinstein’s behaviour broke and there was a proliferation of the #metoo hashtags popping up in status updates and newsfeeds across all social media platforms. Men  did some fantastic white-knighting, coming to the defence of women through the lens of their fatherhood, as if our humanity is predicated on our position as someone’s daughter.  If I read another man say he, qua Dad, feels for all these poor, abused women because he has daughters, I might pop each eyeball out, slowly, and consume them, with a nice chianti. 

But this is not why I was crying. 

Despite the rock that still remains in the deepest recess of my stomach, the near constant ache in my bones and the weariness I feel for all women who society tells must assume the responsibility for their own abuse – my tears, at that particular moment, were born of joy and of hope. 

On Thursday 19 October 2017, I learned that Jacinda Ardern was to become the 40th Prime Minister of New Zealand.  After a tortuous month of backroom discussions, wheelings and dealings – the news broke via a press conference

I was at my office in Melbourne, had my headphones in and was pacing around muttering things to myself about politics as I waited for the announcement.  I had drawn the attention of my work colleagues, who admitted to not knowing much about the current political landscape in New Zealand, but shared my hope in a Jacinda victory (I work with a good bunch). 

During the press conference, when Winston – the Queen-maker – finally gave media the information they had come for, I heard him say that he had chosen to form a government with the National Party.  Devastation levels were at red.  I stopped listening and began to spiel to anyone within earshot about the ‘inevitability’ of this decision. 

How wrong I was. 

Within five minutes of the announcement a friend from New Zealand gave me call, congratulating me on picking the golden ticket despite the fact I voted for the Greens. 
“But Winnie (my pet-name for Winston) went with National!” I proclaimed.  “We lost.”
My dear friend said I should get my hearing checked as I had completely misheard the announcement.  It was not until I was on a bus, maybe an hour later, that I re-watched the press conference.  And subsequently bawled. 

Now, here is a disclaimer.  I understand the irony that the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister was effectively elected by the will (or whim) of a male politician (Winston Peters).  However, the New Zealand public did, as a majority, vote for the changing of the guard, which meant Jacinda was the only viable alternative to the status quo.  I am not interested in attending to policies or platforms or promises or, even politics, per se. These are all matters for another day.  Right now, I want to bask in the glow of a woman’s success at attaining the highest political office in New Zealand.  It feels damn good to be here. 

So who is Jacinda Ardern? 

(From News.com)

She is a 37-year-old, unmarried, childless woman but these are peripheral facts.  She is also a self-proclaimed feminist who left the Mormon church due her belief that LGBTI people should have the right to marry whoever they damn well choose to.  She wants to bring kindness back to government, challenging the widely held belief this is equivalent to weakness.  Lastly, she is a no-holds-barred, bad-ass champion for all women.  If you have yet to watch her call out a reporter’s BS when asked whether women have a duty to inform employers of their baby-making intentions, then it is definitely worth checking out.

The facts of Jacinda will make her a target for trolls and she will be scrutinised for every perceived misstep, more-so than any male leader to have preceded her.   But I look forward to watching Jacinda rise to meet these challenges and give as good as she gets.  It takes a hard-as-nails, politically savvy operator to become Prime Minister at 37 years old, regardless of their gender, marital or baby-status. 
While there is so much work to be done in terms of true equality for all women -black women, trans-women, lesbians, fat women, childless women, unmarried women, poor women - I believe we can be hopeful.  Let us reframe the events of October 2017 in hopeful terms for these two reasons:

 (1) Positive change is possible.  It might be glacial, and regression might mean re-covering steps we have already taken thousands of times before.  But change will happen, you have my word on that. 
(2) Collective silence is our enemy, which is clearly illustrated through Weinstein-gate.  Problematic discussion - from men - has already begun, relating to Jacinda’s appearance and so I have begun to steel my resolve for the inevitable downward spiral to full blown violent commentary.  So to you ladies, sharpen those pitchforks we are going-a-troll-hunting, en masse. 

And to any male allies reading this, I hope you are disgusted by the way your peers speak about women and I implore you to call it out.  This is the least you can do. 

Let us treat, and hold, Jacinda to the same standard as those who have preceded her – no-more, no-less.  When we disagree with her viewpoints let’s keep ‘F*ck you Slut’ (actual quotation from a male Student at Lincoln University) out of our discussion.   She deserves better.  We deserve better. 
When one woman succeeds, others gain hope; when women progress, we all do. 

By: Rachael Thurston

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

We have a problem with sexual harassment but it's not up to women to solve it

The New York Times and writers Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey published an iconic article
about Harvey Weinstein. The article opened up a floodgate of sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations, shining light into some of the darkest corners of the entertainment industry.

I'm not going to go over the article, other than to say Weinstein is an entitled, predatory man who held a position of power which he happily exploited for decades. Weinstein was shamed. Weinstein was fired from the company he helped create. There were consequences for his actions.
He did release an apology statement, but he was not sorry for his actions, only sorry they had consequences. 

The fallout of the article has an emerging narrative; men who've worked with Weinstein are shocked and disgusted. Some women echo this reaction. But most women are just disgusted, not shocked. They know this sort of exploitation exists in Hollywood, and not just a few are sharing their own sexual harassment stories. 

But exploitation of power dynamics doesn't just exist in expansive, multibillion dollar industries; it exists everywhere. Albeit, without a slush fund to silence abuse survivors.

When writer Anne T. Donahue asked twitter to report on when they met their Weinstein, the responses were overwhelming.

Now there's the "Me Too" movement on twitter, signal boosted by Alyssa Milano, whose tweet has over 57,000 responses as of writing this. 

The purpose of Me Too, and When did you meet your Weinstein, is to help illustrate how vast the sexual harassment/assault epidemic actually is. They also provide a place for victims, who are so often forced to remain silent, to share solidarity, if they so choose.
And again, though appalled, most women won't be shocked by the amount of responses. I know I'm not. More than a few of my female friends are contributing to them.
Most women won't be shocked because most women know this epidemic exists. Chances are we've experienced first-hand, or we've seen it/heard about it happening to others.

I remember getting a temp-to-perm job at a big company when I was in my early twenties. People were friendly; I'm an introvert by nature and it takes me a while to really open up. But within the first few weeks, after a conversation with an extremely friendly male colleague, a female colleague came to me, leant on my desk and said very quietly: "Watch out for him." She said something along the lines of he's a touchy feely kind of guy. 
Immediately, and without a doubt, I believed her. Though I didn't know her, I believed her. This was not the first time I'd received a tip from a woman about a man.
And her advice turned out to be solid; because of this colleague’s actions a few months down the track, which were reported, we all had to undertake sexual harassment training. Of course, the reasons were never advertised and my extremely friendly male colleague still has a job there. In fact, he's been promoted.
Rinse and repeat.

In 2012 the Australian Human Rights Commission conducted a national telephone survey, focusing on sexual harassment.
 It was to investigate the prevalence, nature and reporting of sexual harassment.
*The results of the survey are broken down into gender binary, and do not show data sliced by race.

It found the following:
Most sexual harassment is perpetrated by men against women

  • One third of women (33%), and less than 1 in 10 men (9%) has experienced sexual harassment since the age of 15 (this figure is consistent with what was found in the 2008 survey of the same nature).
  • 68% of those respondents were harassed in the workplace.
  • Being harassed by someone of the same sex is much more common for men (61%) than women (10%)

The survey also found many people experienced negative consequences as a result of reporting sexual harassment

Nearly one-third (29%) of respondents who reported sexual harassment indicated that their complaint had a negative impact on them (e.g. victimisation, demotion).

Nearly one third.

Why are people still being punished for acting within the law and reporting sexual harassment? When you have an almost 1 in 3 chance of experiencing negative consequences for reporting sexual harassment, won't that make someone think twice before reporting? And if you look at the recent US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission study, that number can get as high as 75%.

It's not even just the harassment of other employees. Five years ago, the Sex Discrimination Act was amended to make it illegal for customers to sexually harass employees. 
Fairfax Media investigated customer/client sexual harassment in the wake of this change to find nothing much has changed. Women are still harassed, mostly by men. Men are also still harassed, mostly by other men. Complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission haven't seen much of a response to the law change. 


Former Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, believes this is because this entitled behaviour towards women (who account for most cases of sexual harassment) is normalised. Importantly, there is still a power dynamic being exploited, even in customer/client harassment. As pointed out in the article, power relations are "invisible in many customer-worker encounters because qualities like deference, availability and friendliness are seen as essential parts of the job".

What are businesses doing to protect their employees? 
Some might think it's unfair to ask that question in the case of customer/client harassment because businesses can't force customers to act humanely, but I don't. Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe working environment. What about ad campaigns, what about physical information in retail spaces so sexual harassers know they are not welcome? What about extra training? What about the government disseminating information about the law change?
What about the employee's right to go to work without being harassed? 

A culture of male entitlement perpetuates the behaviour that is to blame for most sexual harassment encounters. It operates because there are no consequences for its operation. The same systemic misogyny punishes almost 1/3 (conservative estimate) of people seeking justice for that behaviour. It's the same toxicity that allows our government to devalue this harassment epidemic, which overwhelmingly affects women, and allows employers to, in effect, provide unsafe work environments to employees with no repercussion. 
Women cop most of the brunt of sexual harassment, but it's not up to women to fight for a harassment-free space. It's not our job to police men's behaviour, or not put ourselves into 'dangerous situations' with male colleagues, especially at work. It's not up to any person who's been harassed or assaulted.
The onus is on sexual harassers to stop harassing.
Sexual harassers will stop when they are held accountable. They will be held accountable when the toxic culture in which they thrive is scrubbed clean and becomes transparent.
Weinstein was only apologetic when he lost his power and his support system turned its back.
He was only stopped when his actions finally had consequences. 

By: Tee Linden

Monday, 16 October 2017

Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland: Two Women Who Defied Hollywood

Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland are two of the most famous actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Besides talent, they stand out from their contemporaries because they filed lawsuits against Warner Bros. Pictures. Both were contracted to the studio in the 1930s and were unhappy. Among many other actors of the time, Davis and Havilland were exploited by the studio but chose to take a stand in hopes of voiding their contracts. In a Hollywood contract, actors were expected to follow a strict set of rules – on a film set and in life – and had to make any movie they were given whether they wanted to or not. A studio essentially owned an actor.

Bette Davis was born on April 5, 1908, in Lowell, Massachusetts. Her father left when she was young and she, and her sister Barbara, were raised by their mother. Davis showed an interest in acting from an early age and starred in High School plays. She had a successful Broadway career before making the transition to Hollywood. In 1931, Davis signed a contract with Universal Pictures before switching to Warner Bros. the following year. She performed bit parts in a handful of movies before being loaned to RKO for Of Human Bondage (1934). This was Davis’ first Academy Award nomination. People in and out of the American film industry began to take notice. Over the next few years, Davis received Best Actress Academy Awards for Dangerous (1935) and Jezebel (1938).

By the mid-1930s, Davis was beginning to get fed up with Warner Bros. She was unhappy with the roles she was getting and became disillusioned with the studio. She felt that the average parts were damaging to her career. As a way of rebelling, in 1937, Davis headed to England. Warner Bros. placed an injunction on Davis as they saw this move as a breach of contract. Davis sued hoping to get out of her contract and eventually lost. Though it was a failure, the incident did lead to better roles and a higher salary for Davis. She led the way for her friend Olivia de Havilland.

de Havilland started her life – July 1, 1916 – in Tokyo, Japan, before moving to the United States with her family when she was young. She signed a seven year contract with Warner Bros. in 1935. She made an impact early on in her career starring in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935) and was frequently featured with actor Errol Flynn as an onscreen couple. de Havilland is best known for playing Melanie Hamilton in Gone with the Wind (1939), and – as of 2017 – is the only surviving cast member. She won an Academy Award for To Each His Own (1946) and was nominated for Best Actress for her work on Gone with the Wind. She lost to Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American woman to win the award. She has also been critically praised for her performance in The Snake Pit (1948). She played a woman with a mental illness.

Like Davis, de Havilland was unhappy with Warner Bros. and frequently clashed with them. She kept being cast as a one-dimensional, objectified love interest for the male protagonist. As time went on, de Havilland refused to act in assigned films and was suspended without pay for a period of time. This happened on and off throughout the years. de Havilland’s contract came to an end in 1943. She was shocked to discover she owed Warner Bros. work for the time she was suspended. A total of six months had accumulated. She filed a lawsuit and the case went to court in 1945. This was unheard of at the time as stars never challenged the big studios. de Havilland won and was released from her Warner Bros. commitments. The landmark ruling became known as The De Havilland Law. It states that an actor is contracted to a studio for exactly a seven year calendar period. The case is still regularly referenced in American entertainment lawsuits.

de Havilland’s career soared in the 1940s but slowed down by the 1950s. She appeared alongside Bette Davis in Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). de Havilland was also nominated for Academy Awards for The Heiress (1949) and My Cousin Rachel (1952), winning the former. She received a Nation Medal of Arts award from President Bush for her life’s work in 2008.

Bette Davis had a long and critically acclaimed acting career before her passing in 1989. The story of her fallout with Joan Crawford was turned into a television series, Feud (2017). It stars Susan Sarandon (Davis) and Jessica Lange (Crawford). The two’s bitter relationship started on the set of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). They did not get along at all. Davis was nominated for Best Actress at the 1962 Academy Awards. Crawford was not and felt the nomination should’ve been hers. Crawford took their rivalry to the next level. Davis eventually lost to Anne Bancroft. Instead of Bancroft, Crawford headed to the stage and accepted the award in her place. Prior to the event, she had contacted all the other nominees and offered to accept on their behalf. Davis was at a loss for words.

de Havilland is suing the producers of Feud for using her likeness without permission. She retired from acting in 1988 and currently resides in France.

By: Matthew J. Healy


Bette Davis Biography.com (https://www.biography.com/people/bette-davis-9267626)
Bette Davis vs Joan Crawford – Hollywood’s most notorious feud (http://www.queensofvintage.com/bette-davis-vs-joan-crawford/)
De Haviland v. Warner Bros. Pictures (http://law.justia.com/cases/california/court-of-appeal/2d/67/225.html)
How Bette Davis Became a Hollywood Icon By Refusing to Conform at Every Turn (https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2016/04/bette-davis-birthday)
Olivia de Havilland Biography.com (https://www.biography.com/people/olivia-de-havilland-9269867)
Olivia de Havilland: The actress who took on the studio system and won (http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-stipanowich-de-havilland--20160701-snap-story.html)
The Clippings File: Bette Davis and the System (https://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/the-clippings-file-bette-davis-and-the-system)
The Star System (http://www.classichollywoodcentral.com/the-star-system/)

Why Olivia de Havilland Is Suing FX Over Feud: Bette and Joan (https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2017/06/olivia-de-havilland-feud-fx-lawsuit)

Sunday, 8 October 2017

We need to demystify abortion, and its costs.

 Accessing an abortion in Australia is complicated thing, and it shouldn't be. Abortion is a medical procedure. Children by Choice state an estimated 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in abortion. 1 in 4. Abortion is the most common medical procedure for Australian women. For something so commonplace, access to it is incredibly difficult, and varies wildly depending on where you live.

In South Australia. for example, abortion is legal. As long as two doctors have agreed that the pregnancy would be harmful to the women's health or if the child is at risk, and you have the procedure performed in an approved medical facility. In South Australia, in an approved medical facility, surgical abortion is free.

In New South Wales, like Queensland, abortion sits snug in our criminal code, accessible through a legal loophole for women. We have to prove the abortion is to protect our mental or physical health, or that we can't afford to have a baby. It then, essentially, becomes the doctor’s decision as to whether someone else is going to have an abortion.

Until recently, in NSW, we also had to find our way to them, which is difficult if you’re not near an abortion provider. That was until RU486 became available (Labor added RU486 to the pharmaceutical benefits scheme in 2013).

RU486, a medical abortion drug which aims to terminate abortions without surgery, is on the PBS at about $38. It's meant to make abortion more accessible, because you don’t have to find an abortion provider to have a surgical abortion, and some providers can mail you a pack. It’s more accessible, but it’s still complicated, because some people are paying hundreds of dollars for it. This especially affects women living in rural areaswho can pay up to 800 dollars for a first trimester abortion.  The Tabbot Foundation (again, depending where you live) can provide the same medical abortion drugs, antibiotics, analgesics and anti-nausea medicines, nurse on call and follow up services for $250.
People seeking abortion, 1 in 4 pregnancies, might endure inflated costs for simple medical care.


Some of the extra costs are down to a "GP management fee", to be on call in case the drug doesn't work. But this outcome is estimated to only happen in 7% of cases; so what are we paying for? And with all the outdated and onerous regulations attached to abortion in various states, who is regulating this part?

When Sky News questioned Assistant Health Minister Dr David Gillespie about the costs associated to abortion, he seemed lost.
"You got me there, I didn’t realise that was the situation.".

He didn't realise some people were being charged obstructive amounts to access medical care.
The idea seems as though it is foreign to him. But it shouldn't be. Is it so much to ask, for our officials, our health ministers no less, to be well versed in abortion issues - when it affects so many of us? Again, abortion is the most common medical procedure for Australian women; it’s not an obscure medical problem affecting 1 in 500,000. And if people are paying unnecessary extras for any medical procedure, obstructive extras, shouldn't our government know enough to step in and help? Shouldn't we expect our government to help us?

Abortion should not be complicated or mystifying. The access to a medical procedures or drugs should not be obstructed by archaic laws
, logistical nightmares or inflated costs. As Australians, we expect our medical care to be easy to access and fair for all.
As Tanya Plibersek said in her speech to Emily’s ListOration:  “The cost for medical terminations can rise to almost $800 in some parts of the country.  One in four Australians doesn’t have $400 available in case of an emergency.”

We should expect more. In the case of RU486, where some people are paying five hundred or eight hundred dollars for a medical procedure and those costs can't be explained, or may not have been assessed, we should question it. And we should question our government health officials, because they need to be across issues relating to abortion.

They need to demystify abortion. It should not be this complicated.

By: Tee Linden

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