crazyjane: (shit_list)
It's almost time for uni students to start choosing subjects, buying textbooks and generally preparing for their first semester classes. Figuring out the areas on which you specifically want to concentrate can be either fraught or fun - in some cases, both. It can make the difference to where you go once your undergraduate degree is done, and what career path is open to you. In any event, it's not a trivial decision.

There are all sorts of disciplines for the Arts student, from the traditional (Sociology, languages) to the exotic (European Union Studies, Gender Studies). This year, if you're studying at the University of South Australia, you also have the opportunity to take up a new course - in 'Male Studies'. Sounds intriguing? Even, perhaps, logical? After all, we used to have Women's Studies, and we have Gender Studies, so why not?

But hold up a moment. Take a look at who's doing the teaching, and the rationale given for establishing the course in the first place. We're not talking about simply focusing on an area that has a history of being inadequately covered in university studies. This is a course with an agenda. A self-declared 'anti-feminist' agenda.

Gary Misan, the course's founder, claims that men simply can't get a word in edgeways these days. You can't criticise feminism, because the women will rise up and crush you. As far as he's concerned, this course is necessary; otherwise, how will there ever be a 'balanced view'? Another lecturer, Greg Andresen, laments the '20 or 30 or 40' years of feminism, during which, apparently, men have been silenced in the halls of academe. Then there's Roy Den Hollander, who opines that men 'struggle' to have any influence whatsoever.

Now, those are some ridiculous, overblown statements. Even granting the presence of Women's Studies as a specific discipline in universities, the idea that men, men's history or men's perspectives have been silenced is laughable. I won't go into the statistics on women's representation (or lack thereof) in the top echelons of society - you can find those easily enough - but it doesn't take a lot of searching to find evidence to completely refute these three lecturers.

As absurd as their statements are, however, the lecturers haven't stopped with outrageous claims about the evils of feminism. Andresen asserts that talking about violence against women renders men invisible, and that women who make false accusations of rape commit 'psychological rape' on men. He also takes issue with every possible statistic that even suggests that men enjoy a social, economic or political advantage over women - whether those numbers come from Amnesty International, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, university studies or social work organisations.

Another, Miles Groth, believes that date rape awareness seminars may deter men from enrolling at university. He suggests that young men despair because they are condemned as sexually violent without cause, and that this in turn affects not only their representation in university and senior secondary school cohorts but their final marks.

But the really nasty ones come from self-proclaimed 'anti-feminist' Den Hollander, whose website is password-protected. He refers to Women's Studies as 'witch's studies'. He likens men's position in society to that of black people forced to sit in the back of the bus. He's attempted to sue many venues for holding 'ladies' nights', on the grounds that they are discriminatory. And then there's this chilling comment:

'There is one remaining source of power in which men still have a near monopoly - firearms'.

Yes, you read that right. Den Hollander explicitly supports the use of guns by men to combat the alleged feminist agenda. Never mind the horrific statistics showing the level of gun violence against women, particularly when perpetrated by an intimate partner (the overwhelming majority of whom are male). Here's just an example, from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: in 2005, 40% of female homicide victims were killed by their partners. 55% of those were killed by a gun. According to Den Hollander, that's just men 'taking back their power'.

Den Hollander's an attorney with a penchant for nuisance lawsuits, a tendency to bombast and a long-held grudge against an ex-wife (and he's never shy to remind people of this last). It's a struggle to see where his qualifications to teach lie - but this is someone who's going to be lecturing Australian students on what UniSA describes as a course primarily concerned with men's health issues. A person who advises men - and, by extension, warns women - that firearm violence is a valid response to a perceived loss of 'power'.

To say the appointment of a lecturer with such declared views is inappropriate is an understatement.

Whether or not you believe UniSA's stated position about the Male Studies course - that it addresses a perceived lack of education in a particular public health area - surely there are far better qualified lecturers available, ones who do not push hateful, violent, misleading agendas? Den Hollander and Groth are affiliated with anti-feminist website A Voice for Men, which frequently refers to women as 'bitches' and 'whores'. Andresen, associated with Men's Health Australia, is also an 'Australian liaison' for the National Coalition for Men, a lobby group that blames women for everything from 'sexually conditioning' men to deny their own pleasure to rigging the legal system to deny men their rights as regards their children.

Why not someone like Michael Flood, or Ben Wadham, who actually bother to analyse the statistics, study men's rights organisations, examine claims and take history into account? Why not lecturers who have worked, or do work, in the public health system? Qualified and experienced social and community workers?

If this is the best UniSA can do for a course that is aimed at health degree graduates or those who have experience in psychology, social work, and the like, then perhaps the university needs to rethink its hiring and background check procedures. It's not good enough for Misan to defend UniSA's choice of staff by saying that what their lecturers write on websites, or say in seminars and presentations to specific organisations, doesn't mean that they're necessarily affiliated with those groups.

I beg to differ. If someone is described as an 'Australian liaison', he's not just hitting the comments section of a blog. If someone's Facebook page is littered with groups espousing an agenda best described as advocating misandry, some of which he administers, he's not just clicking the 'Like' button.

Perhaps any publicity is good publicity for this course. After all, A Voice for Men gave it coverage that fairly gushed with glee. 'What Dr. Groth has accomplished is something entirely different, new and worthwhile. And it marks THE moment in history when the complete academic hegemony of gender feminists on discussions of sex, gender, and importantly power, comes to an end,' enthused editor Paul Elam.

But is that really the kind of support UniSA wants? Does this university, with its solid academic reputation, really want to be known as an institution that endorses - even by association - firearm violence against women and the suppression of date rape awareness, not to mention the wilful dismissal of any academic reporting that differs from a predetermined worldview?

Men's health is a serious issue; to all it to be reduced to a platform for misogynistic political lobbying does all of us a real disservice. UniSA has a choice; to be known as the plaything of extreme groups, or to be a world leader in an important area of public health.
crazyjane: (eclipse)
Hundreds of thousands of people just to our north crawl through the splintered remains of their lives, trying to ignore the smell of stagnant water, raw sewage and rotting bodies. They're looking for something, anything, that they can salvage. Each day they queue up in front of the trucks for their ration of water and rice, perhaps the odd ready-to-eat meal. It's not enough to feed a family - in fact, barely enough calories for one person - but it's better than starving, or risking disease. They can't rebuild without help, but they're not getting it.

A country claiming to be the chosen homeland of at least three religions sits under the control of one. It exercises power ruthlessly, building walls and allowing infrastructure in selected areas to degrade to shocking levels. When it learns that one of its traditional enemies has agreed to a deal that will prevent it from developing nuclear weapons, it responds with anger. Why? It doesn't think the deal is tough enough. It wants to be the only power in the region with nuclear capability. It threatens to 'take matters into its own hands' - in other words, to provoke another war in the Middle East, which would draw in nations from all over the world.

Back home, our government systematically breaks every one of its election promises. It cuts education funding, punishes low-income workers for the 'crime' of being underpaid, unravels even the most pitifully small action to mitigate climate change. It rewards the highest paid with handouts and tax cuts. It threatens to keep those unable to work on a pittance that, as time goes on, is less and less able to meet daily needs, let alone medical expenses. Our hideously-misnamed 'Immigration Minister' spearheads the effort to refuse those most in need of refuge, doing everything he can to demonise them while at the same time giving out as little information as possible.

Meanwhile the press prattle about Kardashians, satire TV programs provide better information and comment than the news, and we wring our hands or march in the streets and confess our outraged impotence, over and over.

And I'm no better. I ask myself daily, what is the fucking point anymore?

Nothing changes.
crazyjane: (eclipse)
There are days when I think the worst thing about being bipolar is the medication regime, with all the side-effects that disrupt my life almost as much as the mood swings. The sudden sedation, the fucked-up dreams, the inability to get my eyes open in the morning. That sense of being kept on the level, something I do not understand because I do not, cannot feel that way on my own.

There are days when I think it's the mania, because I feel so damned good for a while, and it's only when I start to go out of control that I realise I need to stop, right now, and I can't. The part of me that says, skip the meds and stay up all night, ride the lightning, just once.

And there are days when I think it's the way the bottom can fall out of my mood without warning, like a sugar crash, only a thousand times worse. When gravity seems to increase, and the volume turns right up, and there's something faintly frightening about everything and everyone around me. When the last thing I want is to be behind the wheel of a car or handling a knife or pouring boiling water - not because I want to hurt myself, but because of the fear that I'm not safe.
crazyjane: (Default)
I went to see my orthopaedic surgeon today, nominally about my tennis elbow (ridiculous bloody name). It was inevitable that my arthritis would come up in conversation, though. It went something like this:

Him: So how are the knees?

Me: They suck. A lot.

Him: I thought so. Ready for that knee replacement yet?

Me: Soon.

Him: Okay. Let me know when. Now, about your elbow ... go away and take some over-the-counter anti-inflammatories. Anything else is stupid.

Me: Cortisone injections?

Him: Hurt like hell, and probably won't help. Same with surgery. Don't worry, it will go away. But it'll probably come back. Mine does whenever I do a hip replacement - it's all that work with a hammer.

Me: You're not inspiring me.

Him: Not my job.

Me: I'd say thanks, but ...

Him: See you next time.

We have a ... blunt relationship. Much like the instruments used to, oh, replace knees and hips.

I like him.
crazyjane: (eclipse)
CNN's Anderson Cooper interviewed the mother of Rebecca Sedgewick. The girl had committed suicide after she was subjected to a truly horrific campaign of bullying (both online and off) by her schoolmates. It was a fairly standard piece designed to humanise the victim, while highlighting a significant social issue. Asked to describe her daughter, the mother replied, 'She was beautiful ... she was smart ...she was funny'.

Heard that before? Sure you have. In fact, if you watched any coverage at all of, say, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, the Boston Marathon bombings, the Trayvon Martin shooting - and the list goes on - you heard those phrases. Those exact phrases. Oh, sometimes the gender changes, or there's a synonym slipped in here and there - but what it all boils down to is 'beautiful, smart, and funny'. A description so generic that it could apply to anyone.

This isn't coming from the interviewers. These aren't the words of a reporter standing in front of a 'scene of tragedy' (another handy little phrase). These are parents, loved ones, friends, all describing the dead in terms that effectively render them faceless, colourless, and utterly without personality.

What does it mean that someone was 'beautiful', anyway? Did they have shining hair? Immaculate makeup? Up-to-the-minute taste in fashion? Soulful blue eyes, smooth chocolate skin, a dancer's physique?

How about 'smart'? Did they ace their exam results? Did they have a natural aptitude for tinkering with all things mechanical? Were they just good at problem-solving?

And let's not forget 'funny'. What does that mean? Quick-witted? Clumsy, in a kind of 'cute' way? Maybe they had a famous party trick involving spoons? Or did they just have a great repertoire of jokes for every situation?

When we think of those who are taken from us, whether by malice, accident, illness, or their own hands - we don't think 'beautiful, smart, funny'. We think about how her eyes sparkled when she was excited, or how he was about to graduate from high school as a top student. We think about the self-deprecating anecdotes he'd tell at parties that had everyone laughing along in sympathy. In other words, we think about the person.

It's the same at funerals or memorial services. We tell those who come up to commiserate with us, even those we barely know, little stories about our loved ones. It may mean absolutely nothing to the hearers, but what matters is that we tell them - because in a way, the dead person still lives as long as we share our memories of them.

And yet.

Shove a microphone in front of our faces, hear that question, and suddenly all that disappears. Instead of telling the world about our loved one, we fall back on stock phrases. We seem to be incapable of going beyond that, and the interviewers certainly don't push for details. Even in 'long form' interviews, we talk and talk about the circumstances of our loved one's death, taking great care to include every aspect - but we don't talk about the fact that she took the teddy bear she was given as a baby off to college with her. That sort of story doesn't come out unless we agree to do a 'special' program. Then - and only then - we are allowed to tell the world anything that will wring a few more tears from the TV audience.

There's a script. There are stock phrases, permitted synonyms and taboo topics. Think politics is full of standardised language? That's nothing to the media language of death, especially murder or teen suicide. Here are a few more. Every town is a 'tight-knit community'. Every mass shooting is an 'unspeakable tragedy'. (I find this one particularly ridiculous, since it's inevitably followed by a breathless, detailed description of exactly what happened.) Suicides 'slip through the cracks'. 'He was a quiet boy'. 'Everybody loved her'. 'The system failed her'. 'Cut down in his prime'.

Et cetera.

Don't believe me? Go hunt down some archival footage from any one of a dozen such incidents. And play bingo.

There's no doubt that the media encourages the script. No interviewer likes to be surprised, and no reporter likes to be caught without the 'right' words. Before we roundly chastise them for what amounts to an absolute de-humanisation of victims, however, we need to stop and acknowledge something about ourselves.

We read from that same script. We embrace that script. Confronted with the opportunity to tell the world about our loved one, we run back to the dubious safety of 'beautiful, smart, funny'. We are complicit in making them faceless.

It's easy to understand the media's motives, but why do we do it? Is it because we find it just too painful to talk freely? If that's the case, though, surely we would have a similar difficulty speaking openly at memorial services and to relative strangers.

What about context? Do we automatically shy away from sharing details about our loved ones with an audience we can neither see, nor hear? Is it simply safer to take refuge in vagueness?

Perhaps these contribute, but I believe there is a third - and most important - factor. We don't even think about it. Our mouths open, and the stock phrases are out before we realise it. It's a self-reinforcing paradigm. We've seen it at work so often that it's become 'the way things are done', or even 'the right words to use'. The microphone appears, the question is asked, and we respond as expected - and our loved ones become part of a generic mass of 'tragedy', indistinguishable from each other.

We owe them more than that.

I'm not advocating we give up our right to grieve privately. No one should be forced to walk in front of a camera. But if we make the decision to speak publicly, we must do so in a way that makes every one of our dead unforgettable. We do it with those who take the lives. How many of us know the names of the 35 people killed by Martin Bryant at Port Arthur in 1996, or the eleven elderly people murdered by Roger Dean's arson? Even if we can find their names, what do we know about them? We might be able to find out which ones were related to each other, but not much else. Unless we tracked down the relatives, we wouldn't know if one was a Dad with a penchant for cracking embarrassing jokes in front of his kids' friends. We'd know the exact causes of death for those who died in the Quakers Hill Nursing Home, but not whether one of those ladies had a secret love of watching Law and Order while drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows.

But Martin Bryant? Sure, we can find out all about him. There are papers, books, documentaries and any number of web pages devoted to the man who obliterated those 35 people. He has become part of our collective memory.

Surely those 35 people deserve at least as much from us.

In the end, it comes down to this - We who know the dead must speak for them. We must refuse 'beautiful, smart, funny'. We must grieve, we must be good to ourselves, and then we must say who our loved ones really are. We need to be more than a society that fetishises the killer and forgets the victim.

We must refuse the script, and speak from our hearts.


Aug. 16th, 2013 05:20 pm
crazyjane: (shit_list)
In the last few days I've listened to sports commentators talk about how going to Russia for the Winter Olympics will be okay, because the government has promised not to be nasty to any gay athletes. I've heard news pundits saying it's not as bad as 'gays' are making it out to be over there. And I've seen people on social media even defend Russia's homophobic laws, because if you believe their polls, 73% of their population don't want their kids to know that gays exist, and 3 out of 4 of them claim they don't even know any gay people, anyway.

It's sickening. Actually, it's beyond sickening. It's fucking unbelievable. Stephen Fry was slammed for writing to British PM David Cameron and actually begging him to boycott the Winter Olympics. He was accused of over-reacting. And a Russian Olympic pole vaulter sat down in front of the cameras to call another athlete 'disrespectful of our laws' ... for daring to wear rainbow nail polish.

A friend sent me these links. Fair warning: the descriptions and images are terrible. )

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