• 07Mar

    There is not much in the way of quality programmes on TV, so it was with some delight that I looked forward to last weekend when three of my favourite programmes – Broadchurch, Call the Midwife and Vera  were going to be on ABC TV in Australia.

    And each of them dealt with male violence against women.

    In Broadchurch, Trish, played by Julie Hesmondhalgh is a victim of sexual assault. She portrays the trauma of rape very realistically and sympathetically, forgetting her name and many of the details of her experience.

    We see the detail of the forensic investigation, such an intrusion in itself. The detectives, Ellie Miller played by Olivia Colman and Alec Hardy played by David Tennant, respond to Trish with compassion and sensitivity.  The whole ambiance of these scenes acknowledges the trauma and pain of sexual assault.

    “The considerable effort they have put into portraying the trauma of sexual assault sensitively and accurately is hugely welcome. Broadchurch, along with the likes of the BBC’s Apple Tree Yard, is helping to make significant strides in dispelling the myths and stereotypes around sexual violence.”  Rowan Miller

    And when another young detective raises the possibility of the allegation being false, Ellie Miller deals her a severe verbal blow:

    “When you’ve finished your sexual offences training Kate you’ll understand we start from a position of believing the victim…” 

    Certainly a welcoming approach by this television police force, but how realistic is it? How often are women met with disbelief and ridicule when approaching the police in regard to sexual assault? How seriously are their allegations taken? And are they treated with such sensitivity and understanding? And well we know how difficult it is for the justice system to adequately address male violence against women with an abominable low percentage of rape convictions.

    In Call the Midwife, we see violence against women enacted in the prostitution industry. We meet a young woman who has left the industry and is now married and delivers a baby during the programme. But due to her past – having been abandoned, raised in an orphanage and been in the prostitution industry, she feels inadequate and unworthy of a ‘normal’ life.

    “I ain’t fit to raise that child” are her words.

    She leaves her home and returns to a friend who continues to be involved in prostitution. Her friend tells us what it is really like to be trapped in prostitution:

    “I do what I do to feed my kids. Do you think I would do this if I had a choice?”

    “I’d die before she goes on those streets. I take those men, those filthy sods and I save every shilling because my girl’s gonna have a better life”.

    A realistic picture of the degradation and humiliation of having men buy women’s bodies for sex and confirms those who would argue that prostitution should not be decriminalized.

    Vera (played by Brenda Blethyn)  one of my all-time favourite shows investigates the murder of a woman – strangled and left on the moors.  We eventually learn that the murderer is her son-in-law and the woman was helping her daughter escape her abusive husband, to a refuge. When Vera learns of the history of his violence to his wife and approaches the wife, she sensitively talks to her:

    “It’s normal to feel ashamed, to feel it’s all your fault”.

    Again an understanding of the shame and humiliation of victims of male violence.

    And when she is able to finally confront the abuser, she angrily challenges him:

    “You just have to know where she is, what she’s doing because you’re a controlling nut job who beats his wife.”

    Now there are a number of ways one can respond to these programmes. We can be pleased that the issue of male violence against women is getting such publicity. We can be gratified that such sensitivity is being shown to the women who are victimised – that they are being believed, and treated with respect and compassion.

    But we also need to ask the question – isn’t this what should be the norm? And we ask that question because we know it is not.

    t

    Green Left Weekly

    For at least 50 years, women having been raising their concerns about male violence against women- about sexual assault, rape, domestic violence and violence inherent in the prostitution industry. And still our justice systems’ responses are at the least inadequate, at the worst, compound and further traumatise women seeking help.

    I want to go off here on what might seem like a side-track. On March 8th  at 3.20pm child care workers in Australia are going on strike. So it is only for a few hours at the most. They are going on strike because of the deplorable wages that they receive.

    The United Voice union says some are being paid as little as $20 an hour, half the average national average.

    In January of this year the Australian FEDERAL Senator David Leyonhjelm summarised the role of childcare workers as merely “wiping noses and stopping the kids from killing each other”.

    He made these comments in arguing that increased funding for child care workers was not necessary, and neither was there a need for their qualifications.

    I raise this issue in the context of the discussion about male violence against women because they are intrinsically linked.

    And of course they are linked because it is about patriarchal capitalism.

    Maria Mies makes a very good thesis in Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale.

    In this excellent book she argues that patriarchy is at the very core of capitalism. That capitalism would not have been able to progress and “accumulate capital” if it were not for the exploitation and oppression of women.

    She follows on from Silvia Federici’s work – Caliban and the Witch

    “It is generally agreed that the witch hunt aimed at destroying the control that women had exercised over their reproductive function and served to pave the way for the development of a more oppressive patriarchal regime. It is also argued that the witch hunt was rooted in the social transformations that accompanied the rise of capitalism.”

    Mies describes how the dividing if the economy into visible and non-visible sectors are the main structural characteristic of capitalist accumulation. That women’s unpaid work in ‘private’ sphere is essential for capitalist accumulation. Thus patriarchal capitalism benefits from creating the sexual division of labour and also the control of women’s reproduction.

    “The nuclear family, organised and protected by the state, is the social factory where the commodity ‘labour power’ is produced. Hence the housewife and her labour are not outside the process of surplus value production, but constitute the very foundation upon which this process can get started. The housewife and her labour are, in other words, the basis of the process of capital accumulation.” (p.31).

    Capitalism created the ideology and practice– what Mies labels as ‘housewifisation’  -where women’s roles are restricted to that of housewives and mothers – and sometimes as a supplementary income stream  in unqualified, low paid and insecure jobs. Hence our current politicians minimizing women’s child care work and the continued lower wages for women.

    Thus the positioning of women as outside the capital means of production has allowed for the accumulation of capital and thus success in this accumulation.

    Mies extends this thesis to other forms of invisible/non-waged work – slavery, colonialism, subsistence peasants, marginalised people. So that not only is there a sexual division of labour but also an international division of labour.

    “The subordination and exploitation of women, nature and colonies are the pre-condition for the continuation of this model.”

    When we examine the current levels of male violence against women, it is important to remember the witch hunts and acknowledge that today’s male violence is part of an historical continuum of violence against women.

    “Witch hunting was also instrumental to construction of the new patriarchal order where women’s bodies, their labor, their sexual and reproductive powers were placed under the control of the state and transformed into economic resources.” (p.170) Federici

    Our attempts to raise awareness, to educate, to advocate for changes to all of our systems’ responses to male violence against women are important. It is a vital survival mechanism. We have some successes.

    But like Mies I doubt that these strategies will eliminate male violence against women and children. The idea that social role stereotyping and socialisation are at the core of women’s oppression fails to identify the “structural roots” of the problem.

    It is vital that the women’s liberation movement develops a “historical sense of our common past.”(Federici); that we develop a radical, robust theoretical feminist analysis in order to challenge patriarchal capitalism and create a sustainable alternative.

    “What is needed is a new historical and theoretical analysis of the interrelation between women’s exploitation and oppression, and that of other categories of people and of nature.” (Mies p.13).

     

     

     

  • 21Sep

    caliban-and-witch

    “Most important the figure of the witch…in this volume is placed at the center-stage, as the embodiment of a world of female subjects that capitalism had to destroy; the heretic, the healer, the disobedient wife, the woman who dared to live alone, the obeha woman who poisoned the master’s food and inspired the slaves to revolt.” (p.1)

    I have just finished reading this fascinating and excellent work.

    I am avid enthusiast of the need for the reclaiming of women’s history and the necessity to document and learn about women’s past roles in our history. So it was with excitement that I came across this important work.

    Federici gave me an interesting perspective on women’s history as she claims that it is not just about reclaiming women’s hidden history but understanding how women are often at the centre of historical events but their role has been diminished by historical accounts.

    She talks of the “enclosure of knowledge” whereby new generations of women are increasingly losing a “historical sense of our common past.”

    “Women then in the context of this volume, signifies not just a hidden history that need to be made visible; but a particular form of exploitation, and, therefore, a unique perspective from which to reconsider the history of capitalist relations.”

    This is a study of the witch hunts of the 15th and 16th centuries in which Federici explains how the witch hunts were a central aspect of the development of capitalism.

    “It is generally agreed that the witch hunt aimed at destroying the control that women had exercised over their reproductive function and served to pave the way for the development of a more oppressive patriarchal regime. It is also argued that the witch hunt was rooted in the social transformations that accompanied the rise of capitalism.”

    What this analysis is attempting to do is to revisit the transition from feudalism to capitalism from the viewpoint of women and argues that capitalism is “…necessarily committed to racism and sexism” (p.17)

    There are a number of issues that Federici raises to highlight the centrality of the witch hunts in the development of capitalism and the on-going misogyny and sexism which prevail today. She argues that this was a turning point in the history of women which led to:

    • Deepened divisions between men and women
    • Created the sexual division of labor
    • State intervention in the reproduction of labor
    • Control of women’s reproduction
    • Creation of women’s roles as housewives and mothers
    • Creating women’s dependency on men and employers
    • Family sphere separate from public sphere
    • Exclusion of women from paid work and therefore wages.

    “Witch hunt destroyed a whole world of female practices, collective relations and systems of knowledge that had been the foundation of women’s power in pre-capitalist Europe and a condition of their resistance in their struggle against feudalism” (p.102)

    The end of feudalism and the creation of capitalism involved land privatisation and, in Britain, enclosures, where land became privatised, and monetary relations began to dominate. It is women who were most affected by these developments – “…when land was lost and village community fell apart.” (p.73)

    And she argues that women were at the forefront of rebellion against such forces, and thus prime targets.

    It was also when paid labor force was developed, which excluded women, and where they were able to work, they were paid a pittance of men’s wages. So that by the 19th century full time housewives became the norm.

    “In the transition from feudalism to capitalism, women suffered a unique process of social degradation that was fundamental to the accumulation of capital, and has remained so ever since.” (p.75)

    Federici agrees that sexism and misogyny existed prior to the 15th century, and she describes how the power of the Church, which was the “…ideological pillar of feudal power, the biggest landowner in Europe, and one of the institutions most responsible for daily exploitation of the peasantry.” (p.33-34)

    She argues that this set the scene and prepared the ground for the witch hunts.

    “Without centuries of the Church’s misogynistic campaigns against women, the witch hunts would not have been possible.” (p.168)

    But Federici points out that it was collaboration between the State and Churches involved in the witch hunts, thus highlighting the political, as well as ideological, motives for the witch hunts.

    “If we consider the historical context in which the witch hunts occurred, the gender and class of the accused, and the effects of persecution, then we must conclude that witch hunting in Europe was an attack on women’s resistance to the spread of capitalist relations and power, that women had gained by virtue of their sexuality, their control over reproduction and their ability to heal.” (p.170)

    “Witch hunting was also instrumental to construction of the new patriarchal order where women’s bodies, their labor, their sexual and reproductive powers were placed under the control of the state and transformed into economic resources.” (p.170)

    Feminists were quick to recognise that hundreds of thousands of women could not have been massacred and subjected to the cruelest torture unless they posed a challenge to the power structure.

    Federici highlights the importance of our knowing this history, because the same forces continue in current day capitalism. As contemporary capitalist forces continue to accumulate capital in past-colonial countries, misogyny and the destruction of communities continues today.

    “But if we apply to the present the lessons of the past, we realise that the reappearance of witch hunting in so many parts of the world in the ’80’s and ’90’s is a clear sign of a process of “private accumulation”, which mean that the privatisation of land and other communal resources, mass impoverishment, plunder and the sowing of divisions in once-cohesive communities are again on the world agenda.” (p.237)

    Federici states that this study is an attempt to:

    “…revive among younger generations the long history of resistance that today is in danger of being erased. Saving the historical memory is crucial if we are to find an alternative to capitalism. For this possibility will depend on our capacity to hear the voices of those who have walked similar paths”. (preface)

  • 30Dec

     

    Suffragette_poster

     

    I had the privilege of seeing this film yesterday. I thought it was brilliant. My heart was in my mouth for most of the film, and by the end when they showed the real footage of women marching in white and purple at the funeral of Emily Davison (Natalie Press) the tears were running down my face.

    Suffragette_film_v_3430096b

    One of the most pleasing aspects of the film was that it was centred on a working class woman, Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan). I always had the impression that the Suffragette movement, particularly in Britain, was a middle class white movement. So it was interesting and informative to see it from a working class woman’s perspective. I understand that she is a fictional character so was interested to learn more about working class women and the suffrage movement and came across this article by Missjones4history:

    “The working class, working women who became involved in the suffragette movement have, for the most part, been written out of history. A fact which is astounding considering the hurdles the working class women had to jump in order to secure their right to an involvement in politics.” 

    She writes about the  women of the Lancashire Cotton Mills.

    “ At the turn of the twentieth century, working women increasingly found their work, and their right to work under attack from the ever increasing, male dominated trade unions who wanted to protect jobs for men. They therefore began to organise themselves into unions to protect their rights in the work place and to campaign for the enfranchisement of women. An example of this is the Manchester and Salford Women’s Trade and Labour Council…”

    “In terms of an organised suffrage movement, the working women of Lancashire have been called the ‘original inspiration’ behind the formation of the Woman’s Social and Political Union, the WSPU, infamously known as the militant suffragettes.[4] This was due to a petition that the North of England Society organised, a petition for female enfranchisement; signed exclusively by women working in the textile industry of the North West. By the spring of 1901, the petition was taken to Westminster containing 29, 359 signatures; Mr Taylor, the MP for Radcliffe said that he’d heard of bigger petitions, but had ‘never seen a larger one’.[5] This petition aroused the active interest in the suffrage movement among working women, an interest which was to make many women politically active, a role hard to fulfil taking into account the many different roles a working woman already had.”

    This article, as does the film, highlights the great sacrifices that working class women in particular, made to fight for their rights.

    Maud Watts was born and worked from the age of seven in a laundry. The scenes in the laundry highlight how difficult these conditions were. She is also, as a young child, subjected to sexual abuse by her employer, who continues to sexually abuse the girls in the factory.

    We also see domestic violence when Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff) arrives to give evidence in Parliament with a battered face. There is no horror or shock at this from the other women – an acceptance that this male violence is a part of their lives.

    Violet also withdraws from the most violent acts of the activism, because she is pregnant. In the scene with Maud, she cries – she is worried that she will be unable to cope with yet another child. An example of the lack of options for women in controlling their own fertility. And a reminder that this is still a large issue for women all over the world today, even in our so-called progressive Western countries.

    I was astounded at the level of violence meted out to the women as they demonstrated and held rallies. They were beaten, kicked, belted with police trugeons. And then the mounted police would move in and trample the women with their horses.

    It also showed the humiliation the women experienced when placed in prison – strip searched and demeaned – something that women prisoners continue to be subjected to today.

    And the torture involved in force feeding the women was horrific to watch.  The missjones article argues that this violence was more extreme for working class women:

    “Despite official lines stating that all women were treated the same by the authorities, regardless of social background; it soon became apparent that this was not the case. It was noticed that middle class and upper class suffragettes were receiving preferential treatment, for example, if they resisted being fed, they would only be force fed a few times before being released. On the other hand, the working class suffragettes, who the prison authorities thought to be anonymous, were often subjected to the torture of force feeding on a daily basis for the full term of their sentence.”

    The sacrifices that Maud was forced to make to continue her activism is heart-breaking. She is kicked out of her home by her husband – for bringing shame and social stigma to the family. She loses her son. He is her husband’s property and so he is able to determine that she is not to have contact with him. In another painful scene she is confronted with the fact that her husband has given him up for adoption. A memorable quote to her son

    “Your mother’s name is Maud Watts.”

    Whilst the laws around custodial rights to children have changed since then, I have written extensively about how the family law system continues to punish ‘bad mothers’ and privilege fathers’ rights. http://mairivoice.femininebyte.org/the-fault-that-is-family-law-part-1/

    The film has been criticised for its whitewashing of the suffrage movement and its lack of inclusion of women of colour.

    “Britain was a white society in the main,” Dr Bartley tells me, “and the movement reflected that.” Dr Sumita Mukherjee, a fellow at King’s College London researching Indian suffragettes, notes that the women’s suffrage movement in Britain was “very different from the American case or the Australian case or the New Zealand case, because although there were ethnic minorities in Britain at that time, there wasn’t the same scale or the same questions of citizenship as there were in other countries”. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11914757/Racism-and-the-suffragettes-the-uncomfortable-truth.html

    Anna Leszkiewicz  has written an interesting article about the composition of the British suffrage movement.

    “Anita Anand, author of Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary, tells me that there were women of colour working alongside more famous white suffragettes, most notably the subject of her book, the Indian princess Sophia Duleep Singh. “There were many overlaps between the Indian suffrage movement and the British suffrage movement. Sophia Duleep Singh had every reason to hate the British. They had taken everything from her: her father’s kindgom, wealth, future, everything. But she believed in this sisterhood, and she sacrificed everything to fight for British women’s vote, and also then fought for Indian women’s emancipation as well.””

    asian_suffragettes

    Dr Mukherjee adds:

    “There’s a popular image of Indian women in 1911 involved in a suffragette procession [see above]: they were Indian women living in Britain at the time living with their families. What’s interesting about that photo is that they’re part of a procession campaigning for the vote for British women, but in that procession they had an Empire section with Australian women, New Zealand women and Indian women. British suffragettes tried to convince women from other areas of the British Empire that if they got the vote, they could look after Indian women and other women in the other communes of Britain.

    “There’s an implication that white women felt they were more able to speak for Indian women than Indian women themselves. So although I’m not sure I’d say it’s overtly racist, it is imperialist.”

    This article also briefly raises the issue of lesbian women in the movement, which the film fails to address. An issue which has been controversial in women’s movement then and since.

    “There are many other suggestions of gay relationships within the movement, including Mary Blathwayt herself, Christabel Pankhurst, and Dame Ethel Smythe. “Dame Ethel had realised early on in life that she loved women, not men, and was fairly bold about things,” Pugh adds.”

    Whilst the list of when women were given the right to vote in different countries at the end of the film was informative it should be noted that this really does not cover the full picture. For example in South Australia until 1973 the Legislative Council vote was available to any person who owned, rented or leased any dwelling house(thus excluding many women who did not own property) and it excluded joint occupiers, which effectively allowed only one vote to a married couple, disenfranchising one partner – inevitably the woman. It was not until the 1975 elections that voting for the Legislative Council was open to all adults.

    Aboriginal Australians have had full voting rights at all levels of government in Australia only since the 1960s.

    Aboriginal Australians had first begun to acquire voting rights along with other adults living in the Australian colonies from the late-19th century.[1] Other than in Queensland and Western Australia, Aboriginal men were not excluded from voting alongside their non-indigenous counterparts in the Australian colonies and in South Australia, Aboriginal women also acquired the vote from 1895 onward.

    Following Australian Federation in 1901 however, the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 restricted Aboriginal voting rights in federal elections. For a time Aborigines could vote in some states and not in others, though from 1949, Aborigines could vote if they were or had been servicemen. In 1962, the Menzies Government (1949-1966) amended the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 to enable all Aboriginal Australians to enroll to vote in Australian federal elections. In 1965, Queensland became the last state to remove restrictions on Aborigines voting in state elections. By 1967 Aborigines had equal rights in all states and territories.

    So the film had flaws. But this does not prevent me from feeling great admiration for the strength and courage of these suffragettes.

    I was also struck by how the film raised issues for women that are still relevant to our struggle today – violence against women; child sexual abuse; poverty; women’s rights to birth control and abortion; lack of economic parity and independence; lesbian visibility and freedom from discrimination. All these issues remain significant to real freedom from oppression for women.

    This film acts as a commemoration to all the women throughout history who have sacrificed, who have shown strength and courage, who have given up their lives for the freedom of women everywhere. As the film quotes Emily Pankhurst:

     “Never surrender. Never give up the fight.”

  • 29Oct

    I am Woman Hear Me Roar

     

    feminist sign

     

    Helen Reddy sang this song in the 1970’s and it became an anthem for Women’s Liberation.

    I sang it loudly and proudly. I was a University student in the early ‘70’s and I was just beginning to learn about Women’s Liberation. I cannot say that I was part of the so-called ‘Second Wave’ of feminism. I was not actually involved in the movement. But I was inspired by it and benefited from it.

    It enabled me to reject the notion of becoming a wife, mother and housewife and to recognise that I could have a career.

    It wasn’t until I began working in the field of social work that I began to realise that women’s liberation meant more than achieving equality and individual choices. This was when I began to learn about the true extent of male violence against women and children – child sexual abuse, domestic violence, rape, and sexual harassment. I learnt this through talking to and working with women and children who had been traumatised and victimised by male violence – their lived experiences of surviving in a patriarchal world.

    So began my quest to learn as much as I could about women’s experiences in this patriarchal world. My feminist education began – and continues.

    Now in my sixties and I read about the attempt to no-platform Germaine Greer.

    The_Female_Eunuch_(first_edition)

    “no platforming” is a rather modern phrase which is “… where someone is removed from the list of speakers at an event because someone else has objected to what they might say or what they have said in the past.”  Jean Hatchet

    This was an attempt to stop Germaine Greer from speaking to Cardiff University students on Women and Power. And it was trans-activists who were attempting to silence her.

     

    Does it seem strange to anyone that men who claim they are women are silencing a woman for a talk on woman and power? Sounds like male privilege is at work here.

     

    What concerns me in the fanfare about this on social media has been the criticism of Germaine Greer because she is “an older woman”, “past her time”, a “second-wave” feminist.

    Meghan Murphy has written eloquently about the ageism and sexism inherent in these critiques.

    “Stereotypes about second wave feminists abound — they are “stuck in the past,” “anti-sex,” dowdy, no-fun bra-burners. “That’s so second-wave” is not perceived as a compliment among many younger feminists. The problem with these sweeping accusations is not just that they are untrue, but that they are sexist.”Kicking against our foremothers: does feminism have an ageism problem?

    One of the important things that I have learnt in my feminist journey is the importance of women’s history. I have written about this before on this blog.

    images

    “I have become extremely interested in learning about women’s history since I discovered Gerda Lerner’s work on women’s history. Her books ‘The Creation of Patriarchy’ and ‘The Creation of Feminist Consciousness’ are ground-breaking in their analysis of women throughout Western history.

    She documents how throughout history women have been present, have contributed to the development of society and have challenged their restricted roles in society.

    They have written and fought for women to have a voice. However, their voices have been silenced, ignored and unrecorded.

    She argues that women have been denied knowledge of their own history.

    This lack of awareness of our struggles and achievements – and exclusion from theoretical thoughts and ideas – has maintained the subordination of women in patriarchy.

    This has resulted in women being alienated from their own collective experience.

    She outlines how women can be shown to have, throughout generations, developed intellectual thought and ideas and resisted the constraints of patriarchy.”

    Gerda Lerner was instrumental in the development of women’s history and Women’s studies in Universities in the United States.

    Sadly such courses have now been relegated to “Gender Studies” and the idea of teaching women’s history and feminism seems to be rapidly disappearing.

     

    I don’t have much time for the concept of waves of feminism. It appears to me, as argued by Gerda Lerner, that throughout history there have been women challenging patriarchy and the constraints placed on women by patriarchy.

     

    It also seems to me that those young women today who reject ‘second-wave’ feminists, who focus on individual choice/empowerment and who reject the theoretical feminist analysis that comes before them have in fact been captured by patriarchy.

     

    “What depresses radical feminists (don’t get scared of that word – it just means “root” as in “getting to the root of the problem”) is that young feminists are being force fed a version of feminism that is shaped and defined by men.”  Jean Hatchet

     

    It suits patriarchy very well to denounce and ridicule the ideology of radical feminism; to create divisions within feminism and to alienate us once again from our own history.

    It is radical feminists who first challenged the notion of gender – how women and men are socialized in different ways such that men are the oppressors and women are the oppressed.

    Simone de Beauvoir said it very succinctly

    “One is not born a woman, one becomes one.”

    I don’t agree with everything that Germaine Greer says or does. I don’t have to. But we must be able to have serious, critical discussions about gender and what it means to be a woman, in safe spaces.

    Meghan Murphy cites Astrid Henry, the author of Not My Mother’s Sister: Generational Conflict and Third-Wave Feminism:

     “There has never been just one kind of feminism that ‘gets it right’ and many of the same debates have always been present,” Henry says. When people make sweeping generalisations about the second wave, it erases the reality, diversity, and work of women who were there, as well as the lasting and immense impact they had on society.

    “It ignores the huge range of feminism and feminisms that have existed for ages,” Henry says. “I can see why it’s effective to simplify history in that way, if it serves your purpose, but I think we should be more critical of that.”

     

    Do not forget our history. Do not allow patriarchy to divide us. We must work together, collectively – to discuss, to argue, to find ways to dismantle patriarchy together.

    Finn Mackay stated it very well in her closing speech at the Feminism in London conference:

    “Women’s Liberation is serious, it is revolutionary, we are not tinkering around the edges here, we are not interested in leaving a brutal and backward system intact, we don’t want equality with inequality.

    One of the ways we get there is through our own activism and through our activism together as women, is through women-only space. Because we are not our own worst enemy, because we are not each other’s enemies, because it is a lie that women cannot work together, one of the many lies told to hold us back. But we are not fools, we look through the herstory of our Movement and we know that women-only space is a tried and tested method of activism from which great ideas have grown. From small meetings in kitchens and playgroups and community centres sprung Women’s Aid, sprung Rape Crisis, and came the political theory which our Movement was built upon and still rests.” 

    Freedom Fallacy pic

    Update

     

    A very interesting article from Caroline Norma:

    “This comparison of male hurt feelings with the violence, poverty, ridicule, disgust and social erasure that older women inevitably endure goes to the heart of the Left’s misogyny: never in history have we seen a broad-based progressive social movement dedicated to championing the rights of the group of human beings who are devalued in male sexual terms as no longer having perky breasts or youthful faces. Even though these women make up the most impoverished and despised of all social groups, Greer reminds us that we instead worry about hurting the feelings of men who embark on extreme feminine beauty practices, and champion them as “a better woman than someone who is just born a woman.” In other words, anyone is preferable to an old woman, even a man parading as one.

    Transgenderism is not a political movement motivated by progressive concerns – it’s just the latest weapon in the Left’s covert battle against feminism. Women like Greer, Raymond, Jeffreys, Bindel and Brennan who authentically concern themselves with the condition of women at the bottom of the pile are the feminists being purged in the twenty-first century version of the Leftist wedge.”

  • 08Dec

    I watched two programmes on ABC television this weekend which caught my interest.
    The first was a re-run of “Call the Midwife”. I have loved both series of this feel-good programme about life in post-war, poverty-stricken London.

    call the midwife

    It is about a group of midwives working out of a nursing convent, which is part of an Anglican religious order.
    When it was first advertised I was reluctant to watch it because of it being based in a religious convent. And the religion is a core part of the storyline.
    The series takes a positive slant on how religion impacts on the community.

    Despite that, I thoroughly enjoyed it. And I believe the reason is that its focus is on women – and women as a community.

     
    (As an aside I also wonder whether women find some kind of sanctuary in convents – away from men’s gaze. I have also often thought if convents, at some time, may have acted as women’s refuges do today, in providing a safe haven for women escaping abusive men. Rather ironic given that Church organisations are increasingly taking over women’s shelters here in Australia.)

     
    The programme does not shy away from the hardships and poverty that the women experience in this part of London. It tackles issues such as domestic violence, abortion (backstreet of course), teenage pregnancy, racism, miscarriages, poverty and the challenges of disability.

     
    For example, Saturday night’s programme was about a woman tramp, living on the streets in extreme poverty and racked with disease and illness. We learn that she has spent 30 years in a workhouse in London. She is forced to go there with her 5-6 children as a result of poverty. Her children are immediately removed from her – put in another section of the workhouse. She never sees them again – but knows that they have died because she can no longer hear their cries. The programme makes no effort to romanticise the terrible treatment that such women received under the Workhouse conditions.

     
    It is the heartbreaking stories that are handled both realistically and sympathetically which makes this such a successful programme.
    For me, however the success of the story is that it is about women – told from their perspective, highlighting their lives – and whilst it may romanticise the relationships in this community of women, and their relationship with the church, this is what I find most empowering about the programme. This is how women survive oppression – by standing by each other, by supporting each other, by being a community together.

     
    However, I am quickly brought back down to earth by watching on Sunday night – ‘World without End’. I understand that it is based on a book by Ken Follet, which I have not read and know nothing about.

    world without end

    It is set in the aftermath of a civil war in Medieval England, during the 1300’s. And aptly shows the difficulties, the violence and frailty of life in these times.

    The programme presented strong female characters – but also illustrated how misogynistic the society was. A woman is sold to a man for a cow; another is forced to marry in order to secure her father’s business interests – and is subjected to violence and rape; and the female healer of the town is labelled a witch and executed.

    And the backdrop of these happenings is the powerful church – and its blatant misogyny.

    I couldn’t but reflect on the different images of the church that these two programmes show.

    For centuries the church has demonised, ostracised, condemned and oppressed women. The Medieval Church helped lay the groundwork for the current misogyny of religion today. There is no doubt that the church today continues to be misogynistic. The oppression that women in the 1950’s faced, and continue to face today – such as anti-abortion laws; demonising of single mothers and teenage pregnancy and the cruelty shown towards women who don’t fit the norm – stem from a long history of oppression of women by the church.

    But somehow women survive; they create communities and allegiances and they struggle against their oppression.

  • 16Oct

    Update: ABC television did a programme on Muriel Matters on Sunday: http://www.abc.net.au/tv/programs/muriel-matters/

    Muriel Matters
    This information comes directly from the Muriel Matters Society

     

    Muriel Lilah Matters (November 12, 1877 – November 17, 1969) was an Australian born suffragist, lecturer, journalist, educator, actress and elocutionist.
    Matters was an extremely prominent member of a critical mass of people agitating for women’s suffrage in London.
    Matters is most recognised for chaining herself to the grille of the Ladies’ Gallery in the British House of Commons on 28 October 1908. The ‘grille’ was a piece of ironwork placed in the Ladies’ Gallery that obscured the women’s view of parliamentary debates. A symbol of the oppression of women in a male-dominated society, it was her firm conviction the grille should be removed.

     

    Her non-violent solution to chain herself to the grille was the centre-piece of a larger protest conducted by the Women’s Freedom League. While attached to the grille Matters, by a legal technicality, was judged to be on the floor of Parliament and thus, the words spoken by her that day are still considered to be the first delivered by a woman in the House of Commons.

     

    votes for women

     

    Matters is also identified with attempting to shower King Edward VII and the British Houses of Parliament with handbills dropped from an airship on 16 February 1909.
    The South Australian Parliamentary Library Reading Room has been named in honour of Muriel Matters on 5 August 2014.

    Muriel Matters room
    A docudrama Muriel Matters!, featuring the suffragette’s story, premiered at the Adelaide Film Festival on Sunday, 13 October, 2013 and screened on ABC1 .

    film of muriel matters
    Photo from The Guardian

     

    For more information: https://www.facebook.com/murielmatterssociety
    https://twitter.com/MurielMattersSA

  • 26Jun

    Emma Miller

    Happy birthday to Emma Miller

    One of Australia’s first leaders in women’s suffrage, and a major fighter for women workers’ rights, Emma Miller was the foundation president of Queensland’s Women’s Equal Franchise Association.
    She campaigned for equal pay and equal opportunity for women in the workplace.
    Along with May Jordan, she formed the first women’s union in Brisbane in September 1890
    The Women’s Equal Franchise Association fought for the right of women to vote, under the banner “one woman, one vote“. The Association triumphed in 1902, with women allowed to vote in federal elections. Women were enfranchised under the Federal Electoral Act on 9 April 1902, becoming the first women of the world to win the right to vote for a national parliament. (Women in New Zealand won the right to vote in colonial elections in 1893)
    Members of the Woman’s Equal Franchise Association actively canvassed for the women’s vote for the December 1903 Federal election, by forming the Women Workers’ Political Organisation with Emma Miller as president.
    On 2 February 1912, 73-year-old Emma Miller led a contingent of women on a march to Brisbane’s Parliament House.
    She was also involved in anti-conscription activism over the course of World War I by joining the Women’s Peace Army when Cecilia John and Adela Pankhurst visited Brisbane in 1915.
    A memorial statue is in King George Square, Brisbane. There is also an Emma Miller Place located off Roma Street in Brisbane. The Emma Miller Award is presented each year by the Queensland Council of Unions to women who have made an outstanding contribution to their Union.

    Information from the Australian Women’s History forum    and Wikipedia

  • 11Jun

    Update:

    Check out these:

    Six accomplished women in maths and science who deserve more respect by Ruby Hamad in Daily Life

    And:

    10 intriguing female revolutionaries that you didn’t learn about in history class WHIZZPAST

     

    I was so pleased to hear that Clare Wright won the Stella Prize for “The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka”.

    wright-forgotten-rebels-eureka
    It is so important that women’s contribution to history and women’s development is acknowledged and documented.
    I have become extremely interested in learning about women’s history since I discovered Gerda Lerner’s work on women’s history.

    images

    Her books ‘The Creation of Patriarchy’ and ‘The Creation of Feminist Consciousness’ are ground-breaking in their analysis of women throughout Western history.
    She documents how throughout history women have been present, have contributed to the development of society and have challenged their restricted roles in society.
    They have written and fought for women to have a voice. However, their voices have been silenced, ignored and unrecorded.

    History as we have known it has been written by men and about men.

    “Historical scholarship, up to the most recent past, has seen women as marginal to the making of civilisation and as unessential to those pursuits defined as having historic significance.” (Lerner, p.4, The Creation of Patriarchy)

    She argues that women have been denied knowledge of their own history.
    This lack of awareness of our struggles and achievements – and exclusion from theoretical thoughts and ideas – has maintained the subordination of women in patriarchy.
    This has resulted in women being alienated from their own collective experience.
    She outlines how women can be shown to have, throughout generations, developed intellectual thought and ideas and resisted the constraints of patriarchy.
    However they were ignored in the passing down of historical thought, which was confined to male thinking. Thus there was a “Discontinuity in the story of women’s intellectual effort.”

    “Men develop ideas and systems of explanation by absorbing past knowledge, and critiquing, and superseding it. Women, ignorant of their own history, did not know what women before them had thought and taught. So generation after generation, they struggled for insights others had already had before them.” (Lerner, p. 19, ‘The Creation of Feminist Consciousness’)

    Her analysis also considers race and class and how they intersect with patriarchy.
    However, Lerner’s analysis ends on a positive note. She explains how the women’s movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s has begun to develop a written history of women’s experiences, intellectual thought and knowledge.
    The establishment of women’s studies and women’s history courses throughout educational establishments has played a major role in this. And women’s thoughts can no longer be dismissed.

    “Once the basic fallacy of patriarchal thought – the assumption that a half of humankind can adequately represent the whole – has been exposed and explained, it can no more be undone than was the insight that the earth is round, not flat.” (Lerner, p. 273 ‘The Creation of Feminist Consciousness’)

    She describes the need for a “Feminist consciousness” which recognizes that women “…belong to a subordinate group and that, as members of such a group, they have suffered wrongs;” and that this subordination is socially determined.
    What has developed in recent times is the “…development of a sense of sisterhood.” And thus women have been able to define

    “.. goals and strategies for changing their condition; and… the development of an alternate vision of the future.(Lerner, p. 274, ‘The Creation of Feminist Consciousness’)

    Throughout history when women have begun the process of challenging patriarchy, there has been a backlash against feminism and feminist thought.

    “Interestingly, conservative political groups always consider the threat of feminism a central issue and made the repression of women’s organisations in an inevitable and essential feature of their political program.” (Lerner, P 279, ‘The Creation of Feminist Consciousness’)

    And it is very apparent in Australia – currently and for at least the last 20 years – that women are experiencing a backlash against feminism. The threatened cuts and closure of women-only services occurring at state and federal levels are only one such example of this. And the extreme sexist and misogynistic vitriol that is aimed at women both on the internet and against women in leadership positions (see discussion about Julia Gillard) is extremely concerning to say the least.
    But Gerda Lerner sums it up thus:

    “As history teaches us, any movement that cannot be sustained for fifty or one hundred years is not likely to accomplish its goal. For the future of feminism, we need grassroots organization. We need a long-range perspective. We need people with staying power.” (Lerner, Living with History, Making Social Change, p. 187)

    When Lerner was asked about the future of women’s studies:

    “For 4,000 years, men have defined culture by looking at the activities of other men,” (Lerner) said, putting on her professorial voice. “The minute we started questioning it, the first question was, ‘Well, when are you going to stop separating yourself out and mainstream? Give us another 4,000 years and we’ll talk about mainstreaming.”