Do You Consider Yourself “Woke”?

Photo of happy, elderly woman.
Photo found on Unsplash.com

I imagine there are many “boomers” and middle-aged parents out there who have been forced to ask their kids the meaning of the term “woke”. Which is why I wasn’t ashamed to admit my ignorance when a young family member introduced me to the word “sonder”.

Have you heard of “sonder”?

Her use of the word was in response to the meme below that I had posted on Instagram – a self-deprecating way of summing up my feelings about our return to a social life (or not) after COVID restrictions were downgraded in Sydney.

Clearly, the meme was the perspective of an introverted, socially anxious person who gets through most social events by drinking heavily. But evidently, she didn’t get the memos about my social anxiety, and because it’s always a tad embarrassing for a writer to admit it when they don’t understand a word, I had to check out its meaning in order to make an informed response.

According to Wiktionary, the definition of “sonder” is:

“The profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers passed in the street, has a life as complex as one’s own.”

Wiktionary

In other words, it is the knowledge that everyone has a story, and (in theory) it should prevent us from “judging books by their cover” and our compassion. On a personal level, it also links to a piece I wrote a few months back about the masks people wear – particularly those with mental illness – in their struggle to fit in with the expectations of society.

We need to have a “sonder” moment, where we realize that we aren’t the only ones with feelings, dreams, regrets and hopes.

Annie Cohen

In short, there is an obvious link between being “woke” and “sonder”, although that’s not to say that we should have to be or experience either to feel compassion for those less fortunate than us.

Our “stories” come in many forms, nevertheless, it is always surprising to learn about how life has f*cked over someone who doesn’t obviously fit into our stereotype of “damaged”, like the wonderful Grace Tame, winner of this year’s Australian of the Year award.

Some of you won’t know Grace – an engaging, Australian woman in her twenties whose courage and determination to fight the Tasmanian legal system is currently inspiring abused women across our nation. For, in spite of the fact that Grace does not look like the stereotype of victims of rape, she is living proof that 1) everyone has a story, 2) no one is exempt from trauma, and 3) most victims are nothing like the visual we carry in our heads of trauma – in much the same way that rapists don’t necessarily look like rapists.

Grace is the perfect example of someone with a story, that is not necessarily pretty, but needs to be heard.

Sharing our experiences of trauma helps the healing process, and was one of the reasons I started this blog eight years ago. The original premise for My Midlife Mayhem was to journal the unravelling of my life as I entered peri-menopause, whilst juggling our son’s struggles with mental illness, and in that time I’ve lost count of the number of times that readers have reached out with their own, similar experiences of “mad” uncles and “different” siblings.

And to encourage women to reach out and share their experiences of sexual assault is one of Grace’s main objectives. However, as she pointed out on QandA last week, it’s not always an easy process for victims to revisit those places of trauma and talk about them publicly, hence it requires a level of patience, lack of judgment, and compassion from those with whom they engage.

And whilst we have seen a marked increase in awareness about previously taboo topics like mental illness, we continue to skirt around other confronting topics such as child abuse – especially when it comes to discussing them with children.

And that worries me. Because I have learnt from experience that in shielding our children, we risk stunting their emotional development – something I was guilty of when my kids were younger and I allowed my anxiety get in the way of common sense, potentially setting them up to fail.

By shielding our children, we risk disempowering them, making them less resilient, less empathetic, and more entitled.

I noticed that type of “helicopter” parenting when I worked in education, in particular each time we ran through our lockdown procedure and several parents voiced their concerns about the use of the word “lockdown” – a word they believed was too frightening for their children.

But, Karen, (I wanted to say), what happens if your child finds themselves in that terrible situation and doesn’t recognise the danger for what it is?

I like to think I am “woke” and aware of issues of social and racial justice, and I also believe that certain personal tragedies have shaped me to become a more compassionate person. A large part of my job as a writer is to analyse people and their circumstances closely, to peel back the layers and discover what challenges they have overcome to achieve their goals – like Joe Biden, for example.

I would add, however, that I have also learned the importance of recognising that some people who experience trauma never overcome it, no matter how hard they try, and it doesn’t make them necessarily stronger, either. And we shouldn’t punish them for that.

Suffering does not automatically make us stronger. For some, trauma stops them from reaching their full potential and from functioning on a daily basis. Which is where the importance of “sonder” comes in. It’s also why, when I started to share my parenting struggles with others, one of my objectives was to offer an indirect source of comfort to them, to make them feel less alone. A virtual hug, you might say. From a selfish perspective, I wanted to meet other parents who were dealing with the same shit as me.

I still believe that by sharing our secrets and traumas, we help remove the shame and stigma of those experiences, in the same way we have with sexual harassment, menstruation, and transgenderism.

And like Grace is doing in her work.

Sharing our struggles helps lift the weight of shame, makes us feel less isolated, and strengthens our commitment to keep going. And I have the utmost respect for those who reciprocate, who find the courage to rip off their mask for me, to expose their vulnerabilities for my benefit – because I know that’s no easy feat.

Clearly, being “woke” and “sonder” are vital for the growth of society – especially in our current, conservative climate, where inequalities are so easily brushed under the carpet. And yet, I am continually amazed at how defiantly resistant some people are to basic kindness. Which leaves the job of effecting change to those already who have suffered already.

Which is exactly what activists like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Malala Yousafzai did. In spite of the loud voices of their critics – who accused them of being hysterical, emotional, attention-seekers, and lefties – they had to stick their necks out for their beliefs.

“Sonder” is the knowledge that everyone has a story. And whilst I am aware that keeping an open mind and listening are overrated qualities in our society, is it really that hard to pause and think about the bigger picture before we judge?

Do you think that getting older has stopped you being so quick to judge?

‘What Do Men Have To Do To Stop Women Accusing Them Of Rape?’

Woman shielding herself.

The headline of this post was prompted by a question my son asked me during one of our many conversations about feminism. And as we’re currently watching The Morning Show (known as Morning Wars here in Australia) – the main storyline of which is the Me Too movement – it prompted me to write about the topic.

The obvious answer to his question is stop raping women.

However, the majority of us are aware that the problem is not as clearcut as that and many men are still confused by what they see as new, complicated rules around dating and their interactions with women.

For those of you who haven’t watched the television series, it is about a successful American breakfast show hosted by two anchors, a man and woman. When the popular male anchor is called out for sexual harassment and abuse and promptly sacked, the station is left in shock and potentially a commercial mess.

The other anchor, a woman in her fifties, (who has sensed the precariousness of her position for some time), reacts impulsively in her attempt to take control of her future (for the first time) by filling the position with an inexperienced female presenter who values the truth above ratings, and who inevitably goes on to shake up the show’s comfortability.

However, it is the general fallout in the aftermath of the firing, triggered by the ongoing seedy behaviour and lack of repentance of the abuser, as well as the remorse of other members of the team – some of whom turned a blind eye to the abuse – that creates the real tension in the show.

Sadly, one thing this pandemic has highlighted is that the sexual abuse and murder of women hasn’t gone away

You might find it entertaining to know that my son is potentially a young Donald Trump in the making – although, I like to think that his rumination about the ways of the world – an in particular, the differences between the sexes – is a healthy part of growing up, that I try not to hold against him.

Much.

And, understandably, these types of conversation are never comfortable. There was an inevitability, I suppose, that with such an opinionated mother and his cohabitation with two staunch feminists during his formative teenage years and the Me Too movement, he would have questions as he starts dating in a society where the rules for men are changing.

Which is why I commend him for asking them, because when I was twenty-three, the only thing I was interested in was the bottom of a beer glass.

Nevertheless…

As anyone who celebrates Christmas with family, a close emotional connection can blur the lines around the rules of battle, and discussions have a tendency to get more personal.

Kanye West and Ben Shapiro have a lot to answer for when it comes to my son’s confusion about feminism, and in particular, the Me Too movement – which he sees as a witch hunt, For no matter how many times I point out that that only certain radical feminists hate men, his response is to cite weak examples of the behaviour of a small percentage of women murderers and abusers as his defence.

He will not accept my argument that every movement needs its share of radicals – albeit, that I’m not one – because, often, it takes their self-sacrifice and idealism to get the job done. I will accept that some take their idealism too far – and belong to a different category we call nutters – although I defy anyone who equates a group of women (and some men) pushing forward equality to groups such as ISIS or white supremacists.

Let me reiterate: I am a feminist, but I do not hate men, nor do I believe that all men are rapists or, indeed, would ever hurt a woman

However…

What I do believe is that more men violate the rights of women than many realise or choose to believe, and many men choose not to be educated about what that violation means exactly. Wherein the real problem lies. That, and the self-indulgent, victimised response that certain men demonstrate in the line of fire.

Suffice it to say, I am also fully aware of how difficult some situations are to resolve when there are no witnesses and cases end up as a “his word against hers” scenario in court – see Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. That said, I will not capitulate on my beliefs simply to keep the peace at home.

Parenting never stops, and I have a responsibility for the way my son thinks about and treats women

Like I said, I wish we didn’t have to have these conversations. Of course, I wish my son could try and see things from my perspective and, in particular, from the perspective of the women who have opened the discussion. One day, I hope that these women (like the Suffragettes before them) are honoured for their bravery in coming forward. The Suffragettes were a group of radical women who got us the vote, so let’s hope that these modern women who are waging war against more than just the office creep, i.e. against racial discrimination, child molestation, domestic violence, marital rape, gang rape, and murder, effect the same changes.

Thirty women have already been murdered in Australia this year (Destroy The Joint)

That’s why I’m glad my son is asking questions. It is one step for him, but potentially a giant step for womankind, and if every man of his generation did the same, maybe those statistics will change. One day, I hope he believes me when I tell him that I don’t believe that all men are rapists. However, as long as society allows our system of patriarchy to prevail, his male sense of entitlement will be difficult to extinguish.

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WTF is wrong with some men? And why are we letting them get away with it?

I’ve reached a point where I hardly dare open the news apps on my phone each morning. Not because it is necessarily bad, but because of the increasing number of stories about men murdering, belittling and shaming women (or others that oppose their views).

Found on Pinterest from movemequotes.com

I dread to think how this news is impacting our kids. Cross that: I know exactly how it is affecting our kids.

I believe wholeheartedly in freedom of speech – obviously – but like so many of life’s more obscure areas, I also believe that its parameters can’t be set in stone – particularly when it comes to a democracy in which each of us (supposedly) has a voice.

For example, there is a level and a tone of speech that is acceptable to me when it comes to the personal opinions of others. Let’s call it a tolerance level – where Israel Folau and white supremacists don’t register, and Alan Jones is maybe a 1 – purely so we can analyse and ridicule his verbal twattery.

I write a lot of op-eds, so it would be wrong for me to judge people for having and voicing their opinions, but even I draw a line in the sand when it comes to my moral code when writing. I would like to believe that others will show a similar respect. I’ll give you an analogy: In the same way that no one is forcing devout Christians and Catholics to have abortions once the law in NSW is updated, I do not condemn them for their outdated opinions.

Sadly, that gene or part of the brain is missing in many men in the public eye, who like the sound of their own voices and appear to have forgotten the weight of responsibility they carry. Even worse is the number of media channels that condone their vile hate speech by using the freedom of speech argument – when we all know that what it is really about is clickbait and money.

Like children who misbehave for attention, the vitriolic words of these men who get off on bulling a sixteen-year-old for her views on climate change, who insinuate that a sex worker is somehow deserving of her murder, or who suggest putting a towel down the throat of a woman to shut her up – and a respected, female world leader at that – are not ones that we should be endorsing in these progressive times, in much the same way that we don’t sensationalise the murderers of women by disclosing their names.

I am watching the SBS series, “The Hunting” at the moment – a chilling awakening about the power of social media in the wrong hands, particularly in relation to the shaming of women. Frankly, the ramifications of such abuse are quite terrifying and this series highlights again the need for this growing sense of entitlement among SOME of our young men to be addressed, or the number of murders of women, such as Michaela Dunn’s, will continue to increase.

As the mother of young adults, I know a thing or two about the shaming and hounding of girls in school and afterwards, and at the root of the problem is often privilege – and primarily, the privilege of being a man, (and more often than not) being white and middle-class.

As this series points out, it is not the girls that we should be teaching how to behave, it is the boys and their mentors who need to be taught how to respect them. By endorsing men like Alan Jones, there is very little chance of that ever happening.

Are Old Dudes Getting Hotter Or Am I Simply Getting Older?

I suspect that the main reasons behind my increasing attraction to old dudes are my age and my deteriorating eyesight. You see, these days, any woeful stirring in my loins is caused far more often by images of distinguished old dudes on Instagram, than the hairless, chiseled chests of men half their age.

I like to think that this change of direction in sexual attraction is a rare kindness bestowed on me by a creator who was obviously male – a necessary evolutionary shift, perhaps, to stop old women such as myself from running off with younger men, thereby driving procreation to a devastating halt?

Doubtful, though…

Attractive older man with grey hair and beard.
Photo by Donald Teel on Unsplash

Nevertheless, it is a strange phenomenon. You see, not that long ago, I would have gagged at the idea of pashing a silver fox – rather like my twenty-four-year-old daughter. My head has always been turned by the younger cubs, for whom (in my prime) I would gladly sacrifice quality for quantity for the promise of a firm chest and as little post-coital conversation as possible.

I was also one of the doubting Thomas’ that shuddered at the idea of Catherine Zeta-Jones’ and Michael Douglas, and Di and Prince Charles. Albeit that the Welsh actress has had the last laugh. Evidently, she had the foresight to appreciate that a twenty-eight-year gap between her and her husband guaranteed that he was never really likely to look better than her.

Although, admittedly, it’s a close call. Michael isn’t looking that bad for his age if his appearance on “The Kominsky Method” is anything to go by. And neither did Robert Redford in “The Old Man And The Gun” and Clint Eastwood in the trailer for “The Mule”. In fact, I struggled to follow the plot in Redford’s movie, so mesmerized was I by the wrinkled tesselations on his face.

Or maybe I’m simply getting old…?

No. There’s definitely something very attractive about a man with a grey beard, who obviously went to Specsavers. Indeed, the only shame of my newfound appreciation is that mature women aren’t branded in the same positive light as our “distinguished” older men such as George Clooney and Richard Gere.

“Vixen” has yet to match the connotations of “fox”.

And while I despise the trope of middle-aged women as sour-faced and sexless, I’m glad that the ageism tide in Hollywood has turned for men at least. No one is immune to the passage of time, and there is much for our younger generations to learn from the wisdom of the old – especially now that family communities are so divided. And the lines of time and experience add a realistic dimension to characters – a fact that, sadly, Hollywood has chosen to ignore up until now.

Nevertheless, the treatment of women in cinema still has a way to go. While I hold fast to the notion that some men MUST find women their age attractive – a tricky presumption, admittedly, based on our visibility in the media – it is impossible not to notice how many of the female partners (of the actors above) were still in nappies when their leading men were in high school. The gap might be narrowing, but Sissy Spacek is 69 and Robert Redford is 82; Michael Douglas is 74 and Nancy Travis is 57.

I suppose I should be grateful that at least the aging process is somewhat of a leveler – one that provides us with a better understanding of “visibility” once the covers of our books begin to deteriorate. No more pretense; no more rushed, awkward conversations as the eyes of the man you’re talking to wander to your gorgeous best friend.

There will always be evergreen, “visible” beauties such as Kylie Minogue and Helen Mirren – some with young hotties firmly attached to their arm. And good luck to them! I’m comfortable now with the springy grey hairs in my parting and a beauty that is defined by my brain, my spirit, and my convictions.

Dig a little deeper, men, for you may strike gold. And above all, don’t believe the hype. Once our biological clocks stop ticking, we women can afford to be choosy, and what we want at this next stage of our lives is “substance”. We won’t settle for anything less. And “substance” is about the man who values us – not as a trophy, but as an equal partner, in intellect, passion, and curiosity.

Are Women Just As Guilty Of Disempowering Men As They Are Of Avoiding The “Emotional Labor” Of Christmas?

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

‘But you enjoy it,’ the old man retorts defensively when I moan about him not chipping in with the organization of social events, the ongoing responsibilities of our adult children, and – dare I mention it – Christmas.

You might have read in the news this week about the disparity between the practical and “emotional labor” experienced by women versus men at Christmas – as in, (for the most part, it seems), men do fuck all. Even Caitlin Moran had a moan in The Times about being the only member of her family to turn on the table lamps in her house – a gripe I can sympathize with as the only member of ours who gives a fuck about creating a relaxing ambiance.

And yet, I have a confession to make. I am one of those women who is guilty of enabling that disparity. I take ownership of pretty much every Christmas chore, from present-shopping and wrapping to the organization of the food, (most of which, admittedly, we probably don’t need Turkish Delight, anyone?), and dressing the tree.

Similarly, Laura Bates highlighted the “third shift” of responsibility that women take on in her article in The Guardian last weekend:

“There is a third shift, which is less often acknowledged. This is the mental load of planning social engagements, remembering thank-you notes and praising kind teachers, keeping track of nativity plays and Christmas pantomimes and organising the logistics of travel and sleeping arrangements.”

And before any of you men turn on me with some petty argument that women do these things because they don’t work or are working part-time – I say, BULLSHIT! – I know plenty of women that organize Christmas, do the bulk of raising the kids, and work full-time.

However, in our case, the disparity between myself and the old man has arisen as a result of our disproportionate levels of interest when it comes to the season. I love Christmas and I have certain unhealthy expectations about how we celebrate it. I would go so far as to admit that I have an inexplicable need to celebrate the tradition in a crass ‘go big or go home kind of way’ that I hold my mother responsible for – in spite of my lack of faith.

But the old man hates it. To describe him as a “humbug” or Grinch would be doing a disservice to both, but having been raised by a mother who abhorred the celebration for personal reasons, and with an inherent dislike of spending money “unnecessarily,” Christmas is an annual decadence he could easily live without.

So, while it’s all well and good during the build-up of my December rage to feel like he’s taking me for granted, I am aware that my real reason for disempowering him has more to do with my fear that Christmas lunch will turn out to be nothing more special than our normal Sunday roast.

And I won’t do that to myself the kids.

I suppose he has a point when he ridicules my insistence that we continue to buy pressies for relatives we hardly ever see and nephews and nieces who earn more than us – but in my defense, the dog loves her Christmas stocking! 

It’s not like I truly believe that we have to buy our kids’ love (much). And yet, Christmas is one of the few occasions during the year that pulls us together as a family – particularly now that the kids have left home – and if I did pull the plug on our KMart Christmas, I’m not certain we would ever see them again!

The occasion is also an excuse to reconnect with extended family since we moved to Australia, especially now that the years seem to be slipping by so quickly.

But far be it for me to belittle the emotional labor involved and the pressure such holidays cause in the (often) vain attempt to cater to different personalities, food tolerances, and diaries. And although we have yet to reach the stage where our children are forced to choose between which family to spend the day with, when that day comes, I know that I will be devastated.

As it is, this year Kurt is working on Christmas Day, and it has taken every ounce of my willpower not to march up to his boss and tell him how personally responsible he is for wrecking our family Christmas – even though the shift is an invaluable step in Kurt’s journey to independence and I couldn’t be prouder of him for doing it.

So, as I open my pressie from the old man this year –  and disguise my bitterness that it was (no doubt) me who chose it and wrapped it in the dregs of the Christmas paper – I know that I will only have myself to blame. The truth is that the old man would share the load if I asked him. Begrudgingly, perhaps, and with the kind of unforgivable rookie mistakes that it would take the remainder of our marriage for me to forgive him for the request of a detailed manual and specification of exactly what to do and where to go.

But the simple fact of the matter is, that Christmas just wouldn’t be the same.

Is This Year’s “Bachelor” Helping Us Think Beyond The Stereotypes?

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I’ve been sucked into The Bachelor again. No excuse really, other than it’s the perfect wind-down tv that gives me an added connection to NC and something to comment about on Twitter.

While this season has some disconcerting constancies about it – that include Osher’s perfect hair, the gaudiness of the mansion and it’s general “whiteness” – it is much more interesting than the preceding few because the producers have given us a “Bachie” with personality this time.

I’ll admit that it’s refreshing to meet a man who doesn’t rely on his Ken doll looks and sculpted body to attract women; a man who is actually prepared to make an effort to talk to the women and even crack the odd self-deprecating joke; a man whose vocabulary extends beyond ‘I like to go to the gym’ – even when it is quite evident that he does like the gym…praise be.

For those of you that have no intention of watching it, this year’s “Bachelor” is thirty-year-old Nick Cummins, an ex-Wallaby star – which I understand is an Australian rugby union player – also known as The Honey Badger, and for his career modeling boxer shorts. Don’t worry, I fact-checked this on your behalf.

Seemingly, from a salt-of-the-earth and genuine Aussie family that doesn’t mince its words and just wants their boy to be happy, Nick is the boy next door – although you do require a dictionary to translate his ockerisms.

To be honest, it’s hard not to like him. He appears to be comfortable in his own skin and exudes a level of confidence in the company of women that never comes close to arrogance. And I want to believe that in spite of his rumored playboy antics on the Northern Beaches, he is ready to settle down. I’m not as sure how well he’d fare as a Trivia Pursuit partner – although, who am I to judge? – but for a rugger bugger, he seems quite tuned into his female side and genuinely interested in finding his soul mate.

Of course, the success of this show relies on the recording of fly-on-the-wall bitching sessions in the house, during which the women are witch-hunted to hoist up the ratings.  And this year’s bunch of beauties don’t disappoint. As each week passes, their resemblance to an undersexed pack of rabid dogs as each of them fights for a piece of Nick’s flesh (or one of his off-the-cuff one-liners – that none of them really get), is becoming more and more uncanny.

I don’t like to knock my own gender, but there are a handful of “Princesses” in the house that are about as suited to Nick as Dutton is to immigration, and who have been carefully selected to keep the entertainment factor of the show pumping. Their role is to rouse the pack to a state of near blood-curdling cannibalism, because the camera loves nothing more than a group of fighting, bitchy women, to the point that sometimes I honestly fear for Nick’s life.

Funny really, because in The Bachelorette series, the men are always portrayed as mild-mannered besties, who would give up their lives for their best bro over the supposed object of their affection; whose main ambition in the competition (it appears) is a prolonged male bonding session at the expense of Ten.

And perhaps there’s an element of truth in that and how differently competition plays out between the genders. Women are (generally) better communicators than men and if you’re brave enough to expose yourself on the dating “Hunger Games”, you’re unlikely to be phased by a few minor confrontations about how much time you spend with your prey.

Men, on the other hand, are often blind to what’s in front of them until it slaps them in the face.  Evolution, toxic masculinity and saving the world have kept them far too busy to develop that much emotional dexterity, and for many of them, a comment such as ‘We need to talk’ can be a peril worse than canal root surgery –  obviously, I’m stereotyping here and that may just be MY husband.

So while it’s refreshing to have a bloke who doesn’t take himself too seriously, let’s not knock these girls – whatever their real reasons for going on the show. Give them their five minutes of fame. Who knows how hard they’ve had to work to look that good in a cocktail dress. After all, men are consistently patted on the back for their ambition, while we’re always accused of not being forthright enough – a no-win situation, in my view. Let’s not shame our gender’s proclivity to dissect, analyze and strategize, but rather embrace their humor and commend them for getting up there to have a go.

Are Women Really Asking For Too Much?

0f9a970385cdceba0454874aec9f4b91According to the middle-aged male grapevine at lunch over the weekend, men are sick of opening news websites with headlines that they interpret as a personal attack since the start of the #metoo campaign. Because as they mansplained reminded me, again and again, faces red and voices raised, it’s #notallmen that abuse, rape, disfigure and murder women.

Want to know what I’m sick and tired of? Being terrified to walk home alone at night; crass comments by the likes of Barry Hall that remind me why I’m terrified to walk home alone at night, and having to constantly justify my accusations to men about the behavior of other men.

In the words of Kerri Sackville, may I request that you Please Don’t Make This About You.

Or, SUCK IT UP! big boy, because I will not pander to your inflated male pride and the privilege that you believe should automatically remove you from suspicion. And when you shout back at me with your ridiculous counter-arguments about the number of women that kill men or their own children, or your whinges about how many poor men have been witch-hunted and victimized, I want to laugh.

How many poor women have been murdered because of their sex? How many women have been accused of “asking for it” in their own rape trials?

No, I will not refrain from calling myself a feminist, as you so often advise me to do so that you feel less threatened. I want you to understand how frightening it is to be preyed upon by the opposite sex. I want you to be fully aware that this is our time. We are brave, we are strong, and we have waited a long time for this forum. We deserve it, and we’re not going to let you take it away from us in the way you take away the rights to our bodies.

It has taken a long time for us to put our personal fears of retribution to one side, but now we are a united voice that needs you to listen and believe us, understand and empathize with us, rather than standing in judgment.

And so, we will embrace and use this platform until, perhaps, you do choke on your cornflakes each morning as another #metoo headline smacks you between the eyes. We will soldier on determinedly until every man and every boy understands every nuance of sexism and consent. We will continue the fight begun by those women before us who risked their lives for the vote, for the legalization of abortion and for equality in the workplace. We will even fight to be allowed into your swanky golf clubs or to commentate on the football, without criticism. We will carry on for the sake of women all over the world that continue to be murdered, tortured, and physically scarred because they are female.

Wanna know why? Because we’re tired of your shit. And wanna know something else, some of us women are quite a perceptive bunch really who do know that most of you treat women fairly. But “thou doth protest a little too much,” if I may say so. If you are as personally affronted and horrified by the accusations that led to #metoo (as you appear to be), stand up, join us, fight with us – not against us.

When did this fight become a “women versus men” fight? This war is a fight against the men that believe it is their right to abuse the women and the girls in your lives – your wives, your daughters, possibly even your grand-daughters. Surely, they deserve to feel as safe as you do when you walk alone down the street at night, mix with strangers or go to the pub for a drink.

Are we really asking for too much?

 

Housework: Does Your Husband Do His Share?

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At a party a few weeks ago, I witnessed a blood-boiling example of inequality. Through the entire three courses of dinner – for which the women had put together salads and baked desserts, organized decorations and gifts for the birthday boy – the majority of the men remained glued to their seats as the women milled amongst them, collecting plates, serving food and effectively waited on them, hand and foot.

 

According to Oliver Burkeman’s article in The Guardian, Dirty Secret: Why is there still a housework gender gap? I am fortunate to be in a minority of women who has a husband more anal than I am about germs. Not that either of us cares that much, but we all know that there’s a fine line between pretending not to care and hoarding empty “Pods” bags under the bed.

 

According to recent statistics in the UK, Burkeman says, ‘the “housework gap” largely stopped narrowing in the 1980s. Men, it seems, conceded that they should be doing more than before – but then, having half-heartedly vacuumed the living room and passed a dampened cloth over the dining table, concluded that it was time for a nice sit-down.’

 

I can believe it.

 

For it appears that some men, (and middle-aged men seem to be among the biggest culprits), believe that they are the character of Don Draper in Mad Men, still living in the fifties, at a time when housework was the responsibility of their wives because they didn’t work in a professional capacity – even though, (seventy years on), women now work full-time, as well as doing sixty percent more housework than they do. Yes, I did say sixty percent. And that gender imbalance is behind Tanya Plibersek’s commitment to a new survey into the value of unpaid and domestic work, to gauge the true value of gender inequity in this sensitive area.

 

As Tanya has stated, ‘Women, for the most part, do not begrudge unpaid work because of the “joy in caring for those you love” but it leads to lower pay at work, more time off and a tendency to work part-time, all of which add to the gender pay gap.’

 

Please understand that I employ the verb ‘waiting’ with tongue firmly in cheek because what in fact my band of friends and I were really doing was coming to the aid of a sister – even if that’s how it felt. While most men managed to prise their privileged asses off their chairs to refill their glasses and collect their food, and one, (upon receiving the look from his wife), scuttled to the kitchen to carve the meat, (hunted and gathered by my friend from the butcher that afternoon), the male contribution overall was disconcertingly negligible.

 

Why?

 

Well… my husband’s argument is that it takes time for a culture to change – although he has been known to employ that excuse a little too often for my liking. I noticed his look of discomfort when I ribbed the group of men (stuck to their chairs around the table) about the blatant lack of equality as I piled their plates together, noisily, in the face of such blatant injustice. ‘You just sit there,’ I said sarcastically. A couple of them had the sense to look away, while the rest happily passed me their plates.

 

This is not unusual, nor as Burkeman points out, is it entirely the fault of the men. While many men are happy to get into the kitchen to cook, the concept of clearing up afterwards needs some further education. His suggestion, that perhaps we women need to step back, (even if men make a pig’s ear out of a simple task), makes sense.  If we don’t, we are guilty of empowering their housework privilege; enabling their ineffectiveness to do simple domestic chores.

 

When I rewash those Bolognese-encrusted fry pans, am I feeding my husband’s genuine belief (I fear) that if he does a job badly enough, he won’t be asked to do it again? Surely, in a modern society where the majority of women work outside of the home as well, these chores should be divided?

 

‘But you do it so much better than me,’ he argues if I ask him to do something out of his comfort zone, such as clean the bathroom. And we all know how much easier it is to cave in when three sets of eye rolls are lobbed in your direction at the suggestion of help to clear the dinner table.

 

I’m fortunate, I suppose, that my husband does such a better job than me at putting the bins out on the street of a Tuesday night.

 

But what are men role-modeling to our sons with their half-assed approach to housework? In a modern world, and one in which we continue to fight for equality, what does it say to our boys when their fathers don’t clear the plates or load the dishwasher? What is the message from mothers to daughters when they assume control in the kitchen?

 

It’s time for a change. No-one’s arguing that it isn’t easier for us to do these chores ourselves. Have you ever watched a man put on a doona cover? Managing household chores avoids arguments, shoddy workmanship and the likelihood of a deadly bacteria cultivating on our bench tops, and yet, that’s not the point. It’s simply not the right thing to do.

 

 

How Do We Educate Our Kids About Sexual Harassment?

I posted this meme on my Facebook page a couple of days ago, and the response to it gave me a thought-provoking insight into the problem of how we educate our kids about sexual harassment and inequality.

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As a feminist, a woman that wants equality across the board, (and not a bra-burning man-hater, of which I am often accused), I want my daughter to feel safe in the world and my son to be respectful of women, and not seen as a women-hating predator.

 

Since the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace finally reached global awareness via the recent outing of many renowned predators in the workplace, backed up by the almost unanimous stand of women at the Golden Globes the other night, (the less said about that the better), it has been interesting to hear the opposing views between those who consider there to be a genuine problem, and those that deny a problem exists at all.

 

Frankly, I want to barf each time I hear someone say, ‘But that was how men behaved back then. They didn’t know any better. They didn’t know that it was inappropriate.’ REALLY? Can we find a similar excuse, I wonder, for celebrities and Catholic priests who have abused children? So men in the past didn’t sense that it was wrong to abuse their physical and professional power to belittle, sexually harass or sexually abuse women for their own gain?

 

Or the other argument, ‘you can’t deny that the casting couch has worked for women as well?’

 

Urghhhhhh!

 

Do these people, that condone this attitude, have any comprehension of the limitations imposed by inequality and male privilege historically? Women have always had to give more to get close to equalling their male counterparts.

 

Surely, a more constructive response would be to point out that not all men are bad apples, and while we pull out the rotten ones, it is important not to tarnish all men with the same brush.

 

However…

 

Gentlemen, please be aware that although you might not see yourselves as a sexual predator, that doesn’t mean you’re not guilty. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that many of you don’t seem to view the less blatant acts of harassment for what they are. For example:

 

It’s not okay to pat or pinch a woman’s arse

It’s not okay to demean her verbally in any environment, but particularly in a professional environment, with condescending words such as ‘sweetheart’ or ‘love’

It’s not okay to yell out at her in the street with lewd comments

It’s not okay to interpret skimpy female clothing as an invite

It’s not okay to recount sexist jokes at a dinner party, in much the same way that you wouldn’t joke about disabled people, people of other races or sexual orientation.

 

And finally, ‘the world’s gone mad,’ has to be my favorite comment, usually followed by, ‘you can’t do anything anymore.’ No, you can’t abuse women… mainly, because it’s fucking wrong.  Without meaning to sound Oprah-esque, this is a wonderful time in our history – we are making progress and imposing necessary boundaries – and I’m sorry if this emergence from the wrongs of the past, when slavery, racism, and women unable to vote were all acceptable regimes – cramps your style, but there it is.

 

I have also been told over the past few months – by both men and women – that the cases highlighted in the media are in the minority and that many women who have come forward with their stories of sexual harassment are lying for financial gain. They go on to quote the couple of cases, (ignoring the thousands that have been proven to be true), where there has not been enough evidence to ensure a guilty verdict.

 

How the fuck does anyone know what really happens in any situation between two people behind closed doors, when women are afraid to speak out due to the stigma attached to sexual allegations? And many a rape victim will vouch for that. Think about how Amber Heard was treated in the press. I have done my own research, and even within my small peer group of privileged middle-aged women, eighty percent of us are the victims of sexual harassment or worse; in fifty percent of examples, we are talking about more than lewd, threatening comments or an innocent smack on the bum.

 

And finally, to that other wonderful argument – from women this time: ‘I quite like the attention. I don’t mind a compliment from a man. What’s wrong with it?’ What’s wrong with it is that you are educating men to believe that all women want to be treated in that way, and my belief is – feminist or not – most don’t. What’s wrong with it is that you are educating your children that is okay to be disrespectful to women, to treat them as second-class citizens – a permission that might start with a wolf whistle before it escalates to rape or murder. Rape and domestic violence statistics are increasing – and many cases are still not reported – so if you are into sado-masochism or like the idea of your in control, that’s fine, but as my son would say, ‘get a room.’

 

So where do we go from here? What we don’t do is advise our girls that all men are sexual predators, not to drink and not to wear provocative clothing when they are out; in the same way, that we don’t generalize and label all men and boys as sexual deviants. What we do tell our boys, is to treat women in the same manner that they would like to be treated.

 

Every Woman Has Had A Harvey Weinstein Experience

I had to take the old man’s car to the garage the other day to get a quote for some hailstorm damage. When we first moved to Australia and our friends warned us about hailstones as big as golf balls and that the priority in terms of buying a house was to have either a garage or a carport, we laughed, just like we did when they told us about spiders the size of dinner plates. Nevertheless, we followed their advice until last year and made sure that each of our first twenty-five houses had some form of off-street protection. 

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Inevitably, when the hailstorm from hell finally came, we only had off-street parking.

 

And it turns out that the size of Australian hailstones can be closer to the circumference of a tennis ball than a golf ball, as we found out a few months ago: penance, according to NC, for laughing in the face of the predictions of impending doom from our in-house climate scientist.

 

The long and short of it is, hail damage has re-sculpted the old man’s car, and the new, beautifully, un-tessellated design on its bonnet may affect its worth even more than Kurt’s attempts at re-sculpturing it, should we ever need to sell it.

 

As the old man had already left the house a few times this month, it was my turn to face the general public to organise the quote for repair, and inevitably, the only place that does this very special type of repair work was one of those seedy, dimly-lit garages down a dodgy side street with enough testosterone in the air to grow back the hairs on my legs after my recent Spring shave.

 

Without stereotyping, there was one tattooed, grimy gorilla under a bonnet and another under a chassis when I walked into the establishment and it is fair to say that in my younger days, I would have been quite terrified to approach them. Some men don’t seem to understand that lecherous looks and comments such as ‘smile, love’ are hardly conducive to the creation of a new business relationship. But as it was, that day my entrance barely caused them to pause, which I like to think was because they were modern, intelligent men of a feminist persuasion who have come to realize that the historically sexist and crass behavior of their mechanic forefathers – those who thought it acceptable to ogle at posters of naked women in the workplace – is inappropriate and downright threatening behaviour.

 

Or maybe it’s because young men have an innate fear of cantankerous women over the age of forty-five – most likely because we remind them of their mothers.

 

Anyway, the boys gave me a predictably unintelligible response to my query, but for the first time I was not made to feel afraid and I left the garage with a skip in my step. What the experience did do was compound my disgust for those women who see feminism only as a battle about equal pay or educational and professional opportunities, and who refute the claims of women who have been (and still are) threatened, compromised and sexually objectified by men in positions of power.

 

Every woman has had a Harvey Weinstein experience, but we have been so brainwashed by male privilege that many are unable to see it.

Is It Middle-Aged Women That Are Invisible, Or Just Women In General?

There have been a couple of incidences lately that have got my tits in a twist about how invisible women become after the age of fifty – unless we go around waving a banner that says ‘Look at me, I’m here.’ 

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Is It Middle-Aged Women That Are Invisible, Or Just Women In General?

Sadly, it is becoming commonly accepted that as women age and become less physically attractive (by society’s standards) and recognizable for their function as reproductive vessels for the population, they become invisible in a society where beauty is rated higher than intelligence for them. And while the optimist in me would like to believe that with progress and education, society cannot surely continue to judge half of its population on their physical merits alone – I’m not so sure, anymore.

 

I’m also certain that the majority of us middle-aged women don’t miss the wolf whistles from tradies and the comments to ‘smile, love’ that thankfully disappear around the time we became less ‘fuckable’ by society’s standards and more comfortable within ourselves. But ‘invisibility’ is not only an attack on our physical prowess, it is also a scathing judgment about our worth and contribution.  

 

At a talk about feminism on Saturday,  Tracey Spicer discussed her treatment as a female journalist and news anchor before the age of forty – when she was told countless times to ‘stick her tits out’ or the equivalent and reminded frequently that she wasn’t paid to think; when she had a baby, she lost her job. So obviously, there is still some way to go.

 

It appears that society expects women to work to retirement, to equal men in their contribution, as long as it is on its terms ie. in the jobs that suit its narrow-minded gauge of what women can do. And for older women, that gets trickier for roles in the media, the arts, or indeed any job where they are in the public eye. Even those mature women who survive the harrowed journey to success that culminates in high-powered positions in politics or the corporate world, continue to be judged on their shoe style, their parenting choices, and their work/life balance, rather than their input to the role.  And interestingly, this at a time when governments are doing their best to encourage mature women back into the workforce.

 

My personal beef about not being recognized as an equal member of society (because I no longer fulfill the ‘fuckable’ brief), has nothing to do with how people interpret my sexual availability, it has more to do with the acknowledgement that although I might not have the brains, beauty and youth of someone like Miranda Kerr, I still contribute to society and to the joint finances of my household, and that should mean I have a right to be treated in the same way as my husband.

 

A week or so ago the old man and I went to our local bank. Throughout the fifteen-minute process required to set up our two new accounts, I was completely ignored by the teller, (a woman, I should add), except for when asked for my ID to confirm my secondary citizenship and saggy tit status. I did check that I hadn’t left on my invisibility cloak – which I have been known to don when the bins need to be put out or the dog pukes on the carpet – but no, I had left it at home – so I can only assume that I was being judged for my gender. Now I know that banks can be a bit old-fashioned, but is that really an excuse? I can give countless examples of similar treatment in restaurants when the bill has automatically been passed to the old man, even after I have ordered our meals.

 

Perhaps I’m being over-sensitive, but when is this disparity in the way women and men are treated going to change? If I was the sole breadwinner of our family, I would be mightily pissed about it. I understand that it can be tricky in hospitality to know who is taking responsibility for the bill, but is it really that hard to ask ‘Who’s paying the bill?’, in which case I will quickly point to my husband. The assumption that the old man is paying is highly belittling to my contribution. I have always worked hard – apart from two short periods where my vagina was knitting itself back together after our two additions to the population – I have paid my taxes and I have striven to give back where I can to a society that no matter what I do, treats me as substandard.

 

We need to educate people, ladies. In the same way that we need to call out sexist comments when we hear them, next time you feel overlooked or made to feel invisible because of your gender, say something. Let them know that you have a voice, in spite of the lines on your face and high-pitched voice that perhaps like mine goes awkwardly a few decibels higher in the face of confrontation. Remind them that we contribute as much to society as men do, if not more when you take into account the taxes on sanitary wear, wine and chocolate.

 

Do you ever feel invisible? Is it an age or gender issue?