crazyjane: (shit_list)
Read it, or not. Either way, I've had it.

Oh, it's so fucking easy to just 'blame the Left' for Trump, or the Tories, or Australia's Liberal government, isn't it? As if there's some monolithic group called 'the Left' who sit in their elite cafes with their chai lattes and refuse to 'understand the plight of the working class'. As if people who can't even claim the right - the fucking right - to get married are at fault because others bitch that it's somehow evil. As if people who just want to live through their own faith - and this is the important part - and not try to force others to do the same, somehow threaten the country.

Wake. The fuck. UP. Maybe there is a fundamental disconnect at work here - but blaming 'the Left' and insisting that they need to change achieves nothing but further repression and licence for bigotry. We're supposed to look to our leaders for guidance on how to behave. When those leaders either tacitly give the nod, or actively encourage the kind of behaviour we've seen in the last year, it is not incumbent on us to roll over and show our bellies, and apologise for being in the way of someone's fist or someone's screamed Nazi slogan.

By now, everyone's aware of the immediate effects of Trump's victory in the US Presidential election. Look at the Lefties out in the streets! What are they protesting against, if they didn't want Trump as President, they should have voted for Hillary, don't they know that? Typical professional protesters, never satisfied. That's what we're hearing now from most media, who are falling all over themselves to preserve their ad buys and their access to a new administration.

What they're not saying is that in just a few days, hate crimes have skyrocketed. Go and check out Shaun King's Day 1 in Trump's America for just a sample of how some people have become emboldened to the point of flagrantly assaulting others in broad daylight - and all for the 'crime' of being a person of colour, or a woman (especially a Muslim woman with her oh-so-offensive hijab). Read LGBTI news for the stories of people afraid to show any form of affection for their same-sex partners, for trans people wondering whether it would be 'safer' for them to pretend to be the gender they've never felt they were. Read about the people frightened to the point of being suicidal - and those who already have killed themselves.

This is not confined to the US, though. Go back and read about how British people turned on each other after the Brexit vote. The ones who thought it was somehow perfectly acceptable to scream that those who 'looked like Pakis' (excuse the term) were going to be forcibly booted out of the country. The ones who though it was a good idea to heave bricks through the windows of grocery shops, or follow Muslim women down the street threatening to rape them.

Oh, and just in case it wasn't clear to any of my fellow Australians ... we are no better. Remember the anti-Muslim protests that led to white supremacists assaulting those who stood in solidarity with community members who had legally bought land and received permission to build mosques? (And oh, how jocular that was, when the same people who condemned Muslim women for wearing the hijab covered their own faces with beanies, sunglasses and Australian flag bandannas.) And that's not all. There's the continual anger and despair with which our own LGBTI people have to live because our Prime Minister keeps caving in to those in his government who think there's nothing wrong with denying them equal human rights. The inbuilt prejudice against indigenous people, infantilised by having their benefits sequestered without their consent. The automatic assumption that people with mental health problems are either dangerous, or malingerers who don't 'deserve' our help. The fear with which trans people live every day, because somehow, if they can even muster the courage to report those who assault them to the police, they are to 'blame' for what happened to them.

These are the people that are supposedly 'the Left'. These are the people who live in cities, who get out of small rural communities are soon as they can - because it's the only way they can survive as themselves. Because there's a chance, even just a small one, that in the cities, they can find communities who support them.

These are the people who wept when Trump won the Electoral College (though not the popular vote), and then took to the streets. Who cried out in fear and anger when Britain barely voted to leave the European Union. Who punch walls in frustration and wonder whether marching yet again is ever going to move an Australian government that cares more about lobbyists who seem to have a permanent hold on its policy.

Don't tell me that the Left are to blame. When I see hundreds of queer people hiding their faces and beating the hell out of a bunch of white supremacists, then maybe ... maybe I'll concede that there's equal blame for this shitty fucking situation. I'll own my intolerance for those who refuse to let me, and my friends, live our lives and love as we wish.

The difference - the crucial, essential difference - is that I don't try to make others live as I live.

You want to hate me? Fine. Just don't think that voting in some candidate gives you licence to act on that hate.
crazyjane: (eclipse)
I woke up this morning to hear about the bombs that ripped through spectators at the Boston Marathon's finish line. Three dead (one, an eight year old boy), 141 injured as things stand right now. According to medical personnel, there are still many people on the critical list. The surgeons have performed multiple amputations and taken bucketloads of shrapnel - ball bearings, nails, and the like - from people's bodies.

The footage is all over both the mainstream and social media, dominating YouTube. It's an understatement to say it's hard to watch.

The thing that got to me most was learning that the last mile before the finish was dedicated to the memory of the children and teachers killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. Some of the families were at ground zero. That was widely publicised - so it's hard not to think that these people were deliberately targeted. Especially when the second bomb went off a few moments later, as people - unknowingly - were running towards it.

Add to that it's Patriots Day, this is a televised event, and there's also been a fire (possibly started by an explosion) at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, and a really sour taste creeps into the mouth.

They're calling it an 'act of terror' - but not saying that it was perpetrated by 'terrorists'. Apparently, terrorist is now an official, card-carrying thing. You have to be a member of some designated organisation. I wonder if Anders Breivik would find that amusing. Personally, I think you're a terrorist the moment you commit an act like that.

And inevitably, as soon as media go to wall-to-wall coverage, there are the cries of 'Oh, but this happens in Iraq or Afghanistan every day, and hundreds of people die. Western bias, the Americans think they're the only ones, how shameful, etc'. To an extent, that's true. Oddly enough, American media tends to spend a lot of air time on incidents that happen on its own soil. (/sarcasm)

I even read an op-ed that declared the Boston bombing was 'just desserts', because of how prisoners at Guantanamo Bay were treated, so we shouldn't get all upset about it. Right. Because the Sandy Hook families shaped government policy, and somehow deserve it. Seriously. Sometimes I despair of humanity.

I did get to thinking, though. Apart from my initial horror when I first found out about what happened at the marathon, and my admiration for the bravery of those runners who gave up their recovery cots to victims or kept running all the way to the nearest hospital to donate blood - I was scared. Why? I don't live in Boston. I'm fairly sure this will turn out to be an act of 'domestic' terrorism, perpetrated by someone with an extreme right-wing outlook and an axe to grind about 'protecting his right to bear arms', or something similar. There's no reason to suggest this is the beginning of anything larger, or that there's any danger to me or mine.

Yet I'm still scared.

I finally put my finger on it. It's not the incident itself - it's what might happen next. Already, media have started to draw the comparison between this and 9/11, a terrorist event aimed at private citizens (and particularly, at citizens who are already suffering from another act of senseless mass killing). In a way, it's the equivalent of bombing or shooting at an IRA funeral. It's despicable - and America tends to lash out violently and think later if it thinks it's under attack.

There's something about a bombing. It's not the same, in people's eyes, as a disturbed kid with an assault rifle, or even a guy hiding in a van sniping complete strangers and holding an entire city hostage can be grasped. It's personal. A bombing, though, immediately suggests a political motive. And when it comes to America, a political motive immediately suggests al Qaeda or the Taliban.

Take the Oklahoma Federal Building bombing, for example. Two wannabe-militia guys who wanted to 'get revenge' on the FBI for the fiasco at Waco with the Branch Davidians - but when the bomb went off, reports abounded of 'four guys with turbans', and the backlash against Muslims (who don't even wear turbans) was vicious. This was before 9/11.

The FBI announced just a few moments ago that they had issued a BOLO (Be On The Lookout) for a 'darker-skinned, possibly black' man, who they described as a person of interest. Of course, the immediate assumption is that he's Muslim. FOX News is still reporting that the FBI are interrogating a '20 year old Saudi national' - a report that's already been debunked. The Saudi man is being questioned, yes - like all the others in the hospitals. The FBI is trying to find out what happened. But that doesn't matter, does it? It's a terrorist act - it 'must' be Muslims. And therefore terrorist organisations Striking At Our Way Of Life.

'America's enemies' must be punished.

And that's what terrifies me. The idea that America will go to war. Oh, not 'officially'. Maybe a few drone strikes on a terrorist camp or two, but not some massive mobilisation. I'm talking about the America that carries guns and shoots a kid in the back because he's black in a white neighbourhood, beats up or sexually assaults a woman in a hijab, spews hate speech until some idiot thinks they've got a mandate to attack anyone who 'looks Muslim'. (And let's not forget 'Patriot Act'-type laws, straight out of Orwell.)

And as America goes, so goes Australia. We already have hatemongers like Senator Corey Bernadi telling us that we are being 'Islamised' by stealth, 'forced' to eat halal meat and threatened by 'creeping sharia law'. We have Tony Abbott and his disgusting lackey, Scott Morrison, telling us that our borders are under attack from desperate people seeking asylum, who just happen to be Muslims (even when they aren't). We have a cowardly government that panders to xenophobia instead of giving people a well-deserved smack around the ears, because they'd rather see people persecuted than risk losing office. Every time there's an incident that might involve someone who might be Muslim, the rhetoric ratchets up and the violence and the hatred escalates with it. We may not have the guns, but we have the fists and the knives and the hate.

President Obama said, 'We shouldn't jump to conclusions about who might be responsible for this - but ...' - and that 'but' was a warning to 'groups'. And most of the media aren't taking any notice of the President. They've got no problem speculating wildly, and damn the consequences.

So yeah, this bombing scares me. Not because I think this is a prelude to invasion of some foreign land, or because I'm blinded to the suffering of people in other countries who deal with this sort of horror every day - because it's all too likely that this will become the excuse for further violence and suppression.

And in all of it, the most important thing gets lost. People suffered terribly - are still suffering - and that suffering becomes nothing more than a political tool.

I hope I'm wrong. I really do. It would be wonderful to see this handled with a level of sanity, of clarity.

I hope I'm wrong. I fear I'm not.
crazyjane: (moondark)
So it's September 11 once again ... and as usual, news programs and documentaries about the events of 2001, now known as '9/11', abound. Some of the shows are the same - 'Phone Calls from the Towers', 'Flight 93', '9/11: State of Emergency', etc - but this is the ten-year anniversary, so we have a whole new selection. Interviews with former President George W. Bush and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani; the 'kids of 9/11'; the terrible respiratory illnesses and cancers ravaging the first responders; you name it, there's a doco about it.

Inevitably, it's all over social media as well. The most common question being asked is: 'Where were you when you first heard about it?' This usually leads to a discussion about how people felt when they found out what had happened, or first saw the footage of United Airlines flight 175 ploughing into the South Tower.

In recent years, though, there's been something of a backlash. For some people, the sentiment is 'move the fuck on already'. For others, it comes in the form of a refusal to watch any media coverage of the event, especially memorials. And then there are people who angrily try to shut down the discussion. The reason they give for this is that, by focusing on where 'we' were at the time, we are trying to somehow make 9/11 about us - claim something to which we have no right at all.

I've been thinking about this for a few hours now.

I don't agree.

There are events that lodge in our memories, and never leave. Most of them are deeply personal - the death of a loved one, a car accident in which we were injured, divorce, birth, winning the lottery - but there are those to which we are only peripherally connected, yet which affect us for years afterwards. My grandmother used to tell me that she never forgot where she was when she heard World War II was finally over. My father remembered hearing about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, my mother remembers every detail about where she was and what she was doing when Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon. My brother remembers hearing about the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

And me? I remember where I was when I watched footage of the Berlin Wall coming down; when I first read about the Rwanda genocide; hearing about the Boxing Day 2004 earthquake and tsunami; watching with horror as another tsunami consumed the Japanese landscape - and I remember where I was when I first learned about 9/11.

None of those things was about me; but in another sense, every one of them was.

Because each changed the way I looked at the world, at my own situation, and at people in general. The shape of the world I'd known was 'changed, changed utterly'. Oh, I don't necessarily think I realised the full extent of that change at the time - that came later, in the cascade of consequences. But what I saw, what I learned on those days was undeniable. It was impossible that the world should be the same afterwards - that I should be the same.

I was lucky. My home was never destroyed. I never had to run for my life or hide from men bent on slaughtering me. I lost no family when the Towers came down. And I would never, for even a moment, try to claim that those events affected me more deeply and more profoundly than those who lived through them - or died as a result of them.

But that's not what this is about. It's not about whether 2000 people or 250,000 died; whether half a country was devastated or two building collapsed; or whether I was more affected than you. It's about incredible events, devastating, desperately hopeful, impossible events - and the fact that we're all human. We might say, 'there, but for the grace of Murphy', but when we see someone throw themselves out of a 95th storey window because it's that or die in a raging fire choking on thick, black smoke? We cry. We scream. We are shocked to our cores.

There's only one image from 9/11 I still can't watch without my eyes filling with tears - two people who, hand in hand, jumped from the North Tower. I don't know who they were. They may have been a couple, or maybe friends. They may have been co-workers. They may simply have been strangers who hung onto each other in the face of horror. All I know is that they were two people, and their deaths changed me.

There are things I understand now that I never did before the Wall fell. There are things I feel now because I saw the footage of a burned-out church piled with the blackened bodies of women and children in Rwanda. That doesn't mean these things were 'about' me - it means I can't pretend that what happens in the world can't touch me.

So I'll continue to remember that on September 11, 2001, I woke up in my bed in Croydon when the 7.00am alarm went off, and burrowed under the doona while listening to the Triple J news on the radio. I'll keep remembering that my first thought was that this had to be some kind of really tasteless hoax until the curiously flat, shell-shocked tone of the news announcer's voice made it through the last vestiges of sleep. I'll remember throwing back the doona and racing out to the loungeroom to turn on Sky News, just in time to see the South Tower falling. And I'll remember standing there in a nightshirt, holding onto the remote control, being unable to answer [profile] fire_wuff when he called out from the bedroom, and thinking that my kids were going to grow up in the middle of a war.

Because the moment I forget that? I think I'll be less than human.
crazyjane: (Default)
Okay, so a bunch of events going on in various areas of my life are all coalescing around a couple of nexuses (nexi?).

Politics-wise, there's the perennial education debate of whether giving more money to public schools than private is unfair and removes 'choice' from parents.

Pagan-wise, there's some raging discussions going on in various online forums, all revolving around the idea of excluding people from some ritual spaces, defining what it means to be 'woman', and whether it's unfair to expect a public event to show inclusive rather than exclusive practices.

At uni, there's the ongoing problem of certain religious groups doing their level best to silence other viewpoints - whether by vandalising notices for queer groups, or pressuring the university to abandon the long-maintained tradition of providing condoms in O Week on the grounds it's 'religiously offensive'.

Personally, there's my experience of being a queer Ally at La Trobe, becoming clear about my own identity as genderqueer, and a heightened sensitivity to related issues that have previously only barely registered.

Running through all of that is an ugly, knotted thread. Those who are most dismissive of others' pain, who claim they are personally disadvantaged by inclusion, who scream loudest that they are 'silenced' and 'oppressed' - are usually the ones with the most privilege.

But you can't say that, of course. Tell the aforementioned religious group that their status as a well-known religion, the support they receive from the uni and their ability to walk almost anywhere openly displaying symbols of their belief without harassment is privilege - and the outrage is immense. Why? Because they are told they must share these advantages with others. That there is a space for all religions. That they can't impose their beliefs on everyone out of some idea that they are 'right' and can therefore dictate to others. To such a group, that's oppression.

Ditto the cis-woman (or 'woman-born-woman', the ugly, clumsy term that has been used more widely) who blithely states that a transwoman is not 'really' a woman, and therefore has no place in women's circles. When challenged, she complains that her experience as a woman is being somehow degraded, dismissed or oppressed - at worst, she accuses the transwoman of operating from a place of 'male oppression'. (Just about the most offensive thing I've heard coming out of paganism in a long time, btw.)

I thought for a long time that this sort of thing originated from a place of fear - or maybe simple misunderstanding. Now, though, I believe the misunderstanding is not about the other person's experience, but about our own. We don't believe we have privilege - and we don't want to believe it.

It's as though, by admitting we are privileged, we think we are admitting to being bad people, or being forced to apologise for who we are. It's not. Recognising our own privilege is just that - recognising that we have certain social advantages that have nothing to do with how we feel or what we think is right, and recognising that we are often so unconscious of these advantages that we speak and act blindly, hurting and dismissing others, rendering their experiences invisible or unimportant.

So, FWIW ... this is my recognition. It might not be entirely coherent, because I'm still thinking it through.

I have privilege.

I have privilege because I am white with northern European ancestry in a white-dominated society that still preserves a sense of superiority about skin colour and race.

I have privilege because I was born into a relatively affluent family, and never went hungry growing up.

I have privilege because I received (and am still undertaking) a good education where no area of study was barred to me.

I have privilege because through that education, I am clever with words and arguments - and can use that to silence others if I am not careful.

I have privilege because I am bisexual, and can therefore 'pass' for heterosexual in a society that still largely regards same-sex attraction as 'abnormal'.

I have privilege because I am married in a society where a male-female coupling is considered 'normal'.

I have privilege because, though genderqueer, I can 'pass' for female/feminine in a society where only two genders are acknowledged to even exist.

I have privilege because I have never lived in fear that simply being who I am might make me a target for institutionalised discrimination, hatred and violence.

I have privilege, and I recognise that with this privilege comes responsibility. I am responsible for ensuring that I do not use this privilege to silence, exclude or harm others. I am responsible for ensuring that I support and champion others without presuming to speak for them.

I have privilege, and this does not mean I cannot speak up for my own rights and opinions, nor have my own challenges or hurts acknowledged. It means that I must not ever assume that there is some kind of hierarchy of 'real' problems - that mine are not somehow are more or less important, but that I must not use mine to browbeat others or try to shut down others' rights by claiming my privilege has been infringed by wrongs done to them.

And at heart, I guess, is the responsibility to never lose sight of the fact that it's not all about me, and that I lose nothing by acknowledging any of this.
crazyjane: (moondark)
My brother Scott and most of his family live in Townsville. Right now, they're bunkered down waiting for Cyclone Yasi, a Category 5 storm, to cross the coast. Although currently aimed about 100km north of them, the storm has been moving steadily south and may still hit them head on. Even if it stays on its current course, the system is so big (500 km across) that Townsville will experience the equivalent of a Category 3 cyclone.

Where it will hit is anybody's guess, really. We just know that it will, around 10pm tonight.

Part of the uncertainty is that we don't have much in the way of accurate observations. When the storm hit Willis Island earlier today, it knocked out the weather station.

The media, of course, has gone into nonstop coverage, much as they did in the recent Queensland floods. Headlines scream, 'MONSTER!' That's pretty much par for the course. What's a lot scarier is the warning from the Bureau of Meteorology:


Now the Bureau isn't exactly your typical tabloid mag. For it to use this kind of language, things must be bad.

Scott and his family aren't far from the Ross River, but weren't considered in the storm surge zone because their home is reasonably high up. It would take a storm surge of 7m to inundate them - so they made the choice not to evacuate.

Scott's done all the right things - moved their belongings upstairs, prepared a safe room in the laundry, got bottled water and gas, tinned food, batteries, a radio, etc. The windows are taped and everything in the backyard secured or packed away. In short, they've done all they can. Now it's a waiting game.

But the cyclone keeps intensifying, and keeps swinging further south. It's going to hit around high tide tonight - and that could push the storm surge even higher.

I've been in touch with Scott on and off during the day. His last SMS said, 'It's getting almost biblical out there. We're in for a wild n woolly night'. I know he's doing his best to keep everyone calm, especially his youngest, but he's getting worried.

I didn't sleep much last night - too worried. Mind you, that's nothing to how they would have felt.

There's a lot of talk about how ridiculously unfair this is - first the floods, now the biggest and most intense cyclone in Australian history. I understand that feeling - but part of me is just thinking, hey, I just got my brother back after all those years, we're really building a good relationship here, don't you dare take him away from me now.
crazyjane: (Default)
At 10.46pm here (8.46am New York time) tonight, someone tweeted that this was the moment when American Airlines 11 hit World Trade Centre 1. That sparked a flurry of posts from people saying where they were when they heard about the tragedy, how they felt, etc. It was an eerie thing to see unfolding.

Then, inevitably, the dissenting voices started. How was it, they asked, that people could spend so much time thinking about that attack, when thousands of Iraqi and Afghani civilians had been killed? Why did America get precedent? Why was it so much 'worse'? Weren't we just being conditioned by the media?

That got me thinking.

For me, at least, it's not about privileging America's tragedy (insofar as it was American, given how many people from other countries died that day). It's not about being blind to the atrocities committed elsewhere, before and since September 11, 2001.

It's about how I woke up on that morning, listening to the radio news, and thinking that it had to be some kind of hoax - and the shock I felt when I turned on the television and saw it was all too real. It was the realisation that this was a single, co-ordinated attack that killed thousands - and I was watching it happen - to the most powerful nation on earth. The disbelief was immense; like realising that the Titanic was, in fact, sinkable.

It's about feeling the tears start when I saw the footage of the falling man, imagining the desperation and terror of those who flung themselves out of the windows, hoping for - what? A quick death rather than choking or burning? The one in a million chance of survival? Or just fleeing, without thinking beyond mustgetaway.

It's about watching those towers fall, and realising that the police, the fireman and the Port Authority I had seen streaming in to rescue the workers there had all just been killed. And realising that they probably knew that's what would happen, and went in anyway.

And it's about how I saw the Pentagon burning, and thought very clearly to myself, 'American will go to war over this. And they'll drag us in with them.' Knowing there was nothing I could do about that. Every Cold War fear I had at that moment came flooding back. I looked at my 10 month old twin girls in their rockers, waiting for their morning bottles, and felt as though I'd let them down somehow. As though, by bringing them into the world where this was happening, I had done something terrible.

It's never been a case of 'white Western tragedy' for me. I felt the same horror and grief when I first saw footage of Jonestown, and of Rwanda. I felt the same powerless rage when I found out about the Kurds who were gassed by Saddam Hussein's troops, and the Afghani civilians massacred by Coalition troops.

Remembering 9/11 doesn't mean forgetting the tragedies of the rest of the world. It means taking that time to recall something terrible ... to remember acts of heroism ... to give space to grief ... and to acknowledge that on that day, something was set in motion that would go on to affect millions of lives. As America's allies, Australia marched into Afghanistan, and into Iraq. We're still there, and people are still dying, and it doesn't matter what country they call home.

So I take that time to pause, and remember - and I will never apologise for it, just as I will never apologise for remembering Rwanda, or the Boxing Day tsunami, or Pakistan's floods, or any one of a hundred tragedies and atrocities.

These things need to be remembered.
crazyjane: (knowledge)
Watching a doco on ancient Israel tonight reminded me of something I noticed a while ago. It's not provable, by any means, but as a thought experiment, I rather like it.

The name of the Israelite God - and by extension, now ascribed to the Jewish God, and sometimes the Christian one - is written in Hebrew as (transliterated) YHWH. Usually, it's pronounced 'Yahweh', which is a best guess, but since the name was not meant to be spoken, who knows? But anyway ...

For no apparent reason one day, I read it backwards. HWHY. Something about it looked familiar. Then it clicked - the name of the first woman in Genesis. To most of us, that name is 'Eve'. Like a bunch of Hebrew names, however, it's an Anglicisation by way of Germany (which also gave us 'Jehovah'). Transliterated from the Hebrew it's 'HWH', usually pronounced 'Hawwah'. It's glossed as meaning 'Mother of All Living'. Add the 'Y', which is the Hebrew suffix for 'my', and you have 'My Mother of All Living'.

So ... read backwards, the Father God of ancient Israel is also the Mother of All Living - which is as good a Goddess name as I've ever heard.

Think about that for a minute. It kinda does something one's understanding of that particularly deity.

I really rather like that.

Of course, I may just be a sad nerd with a thing for funky language coincidences, but whatever ...
crazyjane: (moondark)
I'm watching The 7.30 Report - tonight, it's all about bullying. That's been true of most of the media today - provoked, of course, by the terrible events in Brisbane yesterday, when a child was stabbed and killed by a schoolmate. It's inevitable, when things like this happen, that there will be reactive media, and to a certain extent it's good that the focus has shifted to bullying. There's a note in all of this, however, which is - frankly - boggling my mind.

It's the notion that somehow bullying is new, or at best, that it is orders of magnitude worse than it used to be. Experts - ranging from teachers, to social workers, to child welfare volunteers - are breathlessly declaring that we are experiencing an 'epidemic' of bullying in our schools. Something, they assert, must be done. It's already out of control, and we need to act now.

Don't get me wrong - I absolutely think that bullying is a major problem in our schools today, and one that should be tackled. What bothers me is that, when the thinking is that this is a new problem, people tend to look around at what is new, and blame that.

The internet is to blame! Look at cyber-bullying - now a kid can get harassed on MySpace, or Facebook, or Bebo. Kids can find upsetting messages in their email inboxes, or fall victim to drive-by IM nastiness. In some cases, kids have been hounded to the point of suicide. So, the internet must be responsible, right? Get rid of the internet! Censor it! Ban it! Keep your kids away from it!

Or wait, maybe it's not the internet. Maybe it's those violent video games. We all 'know' that kids get desensitised to violence by playing these games - our politicians tell us so, and we've even seen it on Law and Order, so it must be true. We need to keep those games away from our kids. Better yet, let's just make sure they never make it into Australia!

Now, there's no denying that cyber-bullying is a horrible, pernicious phenomenon. Whether it's IM, SMS, email or social networking, the idea that even when you go home you can't get away from the bullying would be enough to make you despair. Maybe playing violent video games does suggest possible violent ways of resolving schoolyard conflicts. It's all kind of missing the point, though.

The internet or video games are just the method. Maybe it's easier now to bully someone at a distance, but it was always possible. I remember finding notes in my schoolbag or locker threatening to bash me up, telling me I was ugly, a nerd, a teacher's pet, and recommending that I should just die. The notes were always anonymous, and I remember clearly how my heart rate would jump up whenever I had to go to my locker for something.

A friend told me of how the neighbourhood kids used to ride through the alley at the back of her house on their bikes every night about the same time, yelling abuse at her. Because she had the back bedroom, she was usually the only one who heard it. She used to watch the clock, dreading when it would come, trying to think of excuses to stop doing her homework and just not be there to hear it.

One enterprising bully conducted a letter-writing campaign of terror on a friend's brother. The bully regularly posted abusive letters to the boy. Although the parents started throwing the letters away as soon as they arrived, the boy always knew what they were - and imagining what might have been in them had almost as unnerving an effect as reading the letters themselves.

All these cases took place long before the internet was around - in my case, before mobile phones even existed. The lack of instant computer access didn't stop those bullies. They found ways to keep up the persecution long after the school day had ended.

What is important when considering bullying is not the method - it's the fact that it occurs at all. However bullying happens, what it comes down to is one child becoming a victim of harassment, cruelty, physical abuse and terror - one child learning what it is to be powerless, and - horrifically - largely invisible.

Because, for the most part, teachers and parents still do not act to protect them.

The girl who receives a threatening email. The boy who gets shoved into a coat locker. The boy who doesn't dare go to the bathroom without a friend because he's had his head shoved into the toilet bowl so many times. The girl who is mercilessly, methodically teased about her hair, or her freckles, or her braces. The boy who ends up in hospital with a broken arm because he was pushed down the stairs. The girl who becomes nervous, anorexic and depressed to the point she won't come out of her room.

The kid who finally can't take anymore, and commits suicide.

And then there's the kid who decides that the only way to answer violence is with violence. That kid who bullies those younger than herself. That kid who starts carrying a knife so that next time he's jumped on the way home from school, he can make them back off. That kid who gets hold of a gun, and shows everyone the only way he knows how that he's been pushed to the point where he's full of hate, and fear, and desperation.

None of this requires the internet or video games. It only requires a culture that does not recognise the hell that bullied kids go through every day. A culture that, even when it knows bullying goes on, still think that perhaps it will somehow build strength of character. A culture that tells the victim to speak up, and then lets that victim go out unprotected. Most of all, a culture that - when finally moved to act - lashes out at the bully with punishment and condemnation, which usually serves to entrench the behaviour that started all this.

If we are going to do something about bullying, it isn't going to start with Net Nannies, or refusing classification for video games. It won't be solved by simply suspending or expelling the bullies, or even by locking them up. It most certainly won't be solved by telling victims of bullying to be courageous and point the finger.

I'm a mother, with children in primary school. My girls come home and I hear about what happens in the schoolyard. None of it is new. I remember being on the receiving end of those nasty comments and the carefully orchestrated ostracism. I listen to them talk about how a girl in their class calls another on the phone to tell her she's going to burn down her house - because of an incident where the bully did not get picked to play a game at recess. I hear that Meglet's intranet webpage was accessed by someone else in the class, who wrote damning statements about the school and her classmates, leading to Meglet being subjected to their anger. I hear about the boy who, apparently out of frustration, will bash any kid near him when he doesn't shoot a goal in the basketball hoop.

I don't claim to have the answers. What I do see, again and again, is how little respect these kids have for each other, and for themselves. I see how they literally have no idea how to resolve their conflicts without resorting to violence. Lilygirl reads at an incredibly high level - she can read books aimed at Year 8 kids - but when she's frustrated, she becomes angry and nasty, and takes it out on those around her. She's not a 'bad' kid - but she is typical of her schoolmates.

We are very concerned with literacy, and numeracy. We make sure our kids can do their healthy eating projects, and their presentations about climate. We sign them up for sports, or music, and encourage them to 'get involved'. All of this is wonderful, and necessary.

Why are we not teaching them basic self-respect? Couldn't we teach them the idea that they are all smart, beautiful, capable kids? Teach them that yes, they will make mistakes, they will find some things difficult, and some people will seem to be so much 'better' than they are - but it doesn't make them bad. They're not failures.

How about respect for others? Even as adults, it's very easy to see others as not quite 'real'. If people aren't real, then you're not hurting them. Basic empathy isn't something that some people just have - it's something you learn. For the most part, we learn it piecemeal. Couldn't we start actually helping kids develop empathy from the time they are really young? When they snatch another baby's toy, we tell them to 'share', but we don't tell them why. We growl at them for being 'selfish' - but really, what else do they know?

What about conflict resolution? We usually encourage our kids to appeal to authority - come and tell Mum, or Dad, or the teacher on duty in the yard. We don't give our kids tools to try to understand, or work it out. We don't teach children non-violent ways of resolving conflict. We don't help them develop the skills to know when to talk, and when to walk away. We say 'don't argue with your sister' or 'if you can't play without fighting, no one will play at all'.

As I said, I don't claim to have the answers. These are ideas. Maybe they're good, maybe they stink. I just don't think the answer is not to demonise the tools of everyday life for kids who bully, to diagnose them as ADHD or Aspberger's and medicate them, or to simply classify them as 'bad', 'difficult' kids who should be punished until they learn some unfathomable lesson. I also believe that keeping kids away from fictional, stylised violence will not teach them to deal with bullying in better ways.

There's something rotten here, and it's not new. It's been going on forever - and that's just far too long.
crazyjane: (Default)
The first 25 years of my life were lived under the shadow of imminent nuclear war. It wasn't a case of 'if' the button would be pushed, but when. I grew up with my friends knowing that it was only a matter of time, and that our fate was completely out of our hands. One day, we would die, and it would be because faceless people on the other side of the world had decided that 'mutually assured destruction' was no longer a deterrent.

There were no missile silos in Australia. We probably weren't considered a 'primary target' - not like Washington DC, or Moscow. What we did have was an ever-strengthening alliance with the US, which led to their warships in our harbours, their money invested in our defence, and our promise to follow them into whatever hell they saw fit to drag us. Most frighteningly, there were the secret bases up north - Pine Gap, Northwest Cape - and no one, not even our elected Prime Minister, could find out what was going on up there. All we knew is that it had something to do with satellites, and radar - and with the Cold War mindset that permeated our lives, we just knew that it was dangerous. This was only confirmed when we saw Gough Whitlam's government toppled, just when he was demanding answers from our allies.

Strangely, all this led to a kind of cheerful fatalism. If it was inevitable, then we were - to an extent - absolved from any compulsion to plan for a long-term future. Oh, we still talked about going to uni, getting married, having kids, maybe buying a house - the habits of our Baby Boomer parents were well-established in us. Somehow we never examined the absolute incompatibility of these two ideas. Instead, we drew pictures of our dream homes, chose names for our one-day children and talked seriously about where we might go to escape the fallout, and what skills we would need to survive.

We also had a morbid fascination with the post-apocalyptic books and movies that proliferated during that time. A Canticle for Leibowitz told us that we would shy away from technology and create pseudo-religion from the ashes. The Day After showed us the American heartland become refugee wasteland. Threads laid out the horrible consequences, even years afterwards, of a 'limited nuclear exchange'* with blood-chilling British understatement. Z for Zachariah, which I read in primary school, terrified me because what it showed me was a world in which I - a soon-to-be young woman - could be taken, held and violated, and no one would stop it. Even with the nightmares that book gave me, I still kept reading. Part of me had to know. Perhaps it was a way of preparing myself. If I knew what to expect, I could plan - and so I made sure I knew where the gun shops were, and how to recognise a .22 rifle (the only one I had ever used, thanks to my farmer grandfather).

This need to know - to not be surprised when it came - was part of a growing fascination with news and politics. I was lucky enough to have journalists for parents, and to have access to information that may not have made the 6 pm broadcast each night. I found out about the Dismissal, and the part the US played in it, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, New Zealand's refusal to allow US nuclear warships to dock in their harbours - and our strident re-affirmation of complete cooperation with the superpower, no matter what. Each time I tried to work out - is it now? Will this be the incident that spirals out of control?

Understand, this was almost an intellectual exercise for many of us. We were so inured to the idea that it had very little power to disrupt us on an emotional level. I remember one conversation, when the rhetoric was particularly high at the beginning of the '80s; we looked at our friends and family and tried to work out who might be a good person to have with us when we made our escape. No one was guaranteed a spot on our makeshift 'ark' - family ties seemed unimportant compared to survival. We knew we would suffer, but we also knew that we could not afford to look after our aging grandparents, or our baby siblings. Cold? Absolutely.

This is how we grew up.

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, I felt real fear. Our household watched the television reports of people climbing over that ugly concrete symbol of the insanity and paranoia that had shaped my world, and we all looked at each other with white faces and tears in our eyes. Even now, I still wonder why.

Was it that we thought this was the line that could not be crossed, that it was simply too provocative an act to be dismissed with political rhetoric? I thought of myself as relatively politically enlightened - I didn't think Communism was an epidemic waiting to sweep through the world and destroy my way of life - but nonetheless, the Soviet Union was, to me, a surreal mixture of suspiciously talented super-gymnasts and war-mongering men in secret rooms. Was Berlin simply too valuable, symbolically, to lose?

Or - and this is something that I've only thought about relatively recently - was it because the sight of that Wall tumbling down meant that our world was gone? Was it a dislocation that was far more profound than we ever realised? There's a truism that states that one can get used to anything, no matter how horrible. Were we actually comfortable with the idea of inevitable nuclear devastation? And what would we do now?

I don't know the answer. Perhaps I never will. Perhaps that isn't important. Perhaps it's enough that I remember the feeling.

People of my parent's generation asked: 'Where were you when you heard Harold Holt had disappeared?' or 'Where were you when you heard JFK had been shot?' My children's generation will probably ask themselves in later years, 'Where were you when you saw the video of the Towers coming down?'

My generation - or at least, a good number of it - ask: 'Where were you when you saw the Fall of the Wall?' For us, that was the moment that changed our lives, and when we had to learn who to be, and how to live in the world, all over again.

* Translation: we only destroy the world once, instead of many times over. Yes, we could explode enough bombs to rip our planet into pieces, but why have an orgy of annihilation when a few 'surgical' - and how hideous is that word applied to this idea? - strikes could do the job far more efficiently.
crazyjane: (Default)
Watching Newsfront tonight ... for them as don't know, it's a movie looking at a particularly turbulent period in Australian social politics through the eyes of a newsreel crew. In the 1950s, the Red Scare hit here with only slightly less hysteria than in the USA. We didn't have a committee, or outlaw communism (although we tried - the legislation was thrown out for being unconstitutional, then the constitutional referendum failed), but we had the Catholic Church exhorting us from the pulpit to ban the Stalinist menace.

The Australian Labor Party suffered pretty badly during this time. Catholics, dismayed by what they saw as creeping socialism in 'their' party, split to form the Democratic Labor Party - a socially conservative lot who dissolved after 1978, and re-invented themselves with a little more distance from the Church. In the early days, though, people were put under incredible pressure to support the DLP - their salvation was said to depend on it.

All of which led me to look up the man who is often said to have been the 'most socialist' of any Labor Prime Minister, Ben Chifley. Along the way, I found this quote from him. Given the current situation of the world's financial sector, it seems both ironic and prophetic :

'In my electorate, I witnessed the freedom that was enjoyed by 2,000 men outside a factory in an attempt to secure the one job that was offering . . . the freedom to starve and to live on the dole of 8s. 9d. a week—a single man on 5s. 6d. . . . [This is] the freedom of the economic individualists whose only God was Mammon and profit . . . I would prefer regimentation to economic individualism'.
crazyjane: (Default)
Thanks to the marvellous Loki, I now have huge numbers of cold war nuclear armageddon movies to watch online.

This ... pleases me.
crazyjane: (Default)
So Wuff and I were sitting watching Scrubs (it's a shameful thing, I know), and one of the characters - known as The Todd - made a comment about plastic surgery: 'Its amazing, just when you think you cant see another great pair of boobs, you see a great dong'. That kinda led to a discussion about openly bisexual characters in television series.

We had a bloody hard time thinking of any. Most characters who have had relationships with people of both genders have not identified as bisexual. The great majority, in fact, have simply declared themselves either gay or straight after pairing up with particular characters. Take Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example. When she begins her relationship with the witch Tara, she identifies as entirely lesbian. The same happens in Sex and the City and ER. In other cases, a character who identified as bisexual (for example, Callie on Gray's Anatomy) changed actors, after which the character suddenly became definitively lesbian.

Even when a character declares an attraction to both genders, such as Susan Ivanova in Babylon 5 or Angela Montenegro in Bones, the word 'bisexual' is never used.

Another major factor is that even nominally bisexual characters tend to be female, with the exception of The Todd and Tim Bayliss in Homicide Life on the Street. Where they are male, they are often automatically assumed to be gay (as in the infamous 'down-low' episode of Law and Order SVU), or prove very quickly to be twisted sexual predators.

The glaring exception to this is, of course, Torchwood, where sexuality is beyond fluid (James Marsters even eyes off a poodle in his first appearance). The 'Word of God' (that is, a pronouncement from the series' creators which is not technically canon, but is designed to address a controversy) is that all the main characters are bisexual.

It's not an exhaustive list - it's what we were able to come up with after a quick brainstorm - and it doesn't look at film or literature. (Interestingly, there seems to be a lot more admitted bisexuality in books than in video.) Still, it gave us pause. These days, it's a lot easier to find a gay character on TV than it is a bisexual one ...

August 2017

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