ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF COUNTRY
he Wom*n’s Collective meets and undertakes work on the sovereign land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. This land was never ceded, bought, or sold, and without a treaty the creation of this journal, the meetings of the Wom*n’s Collective, and our learning as students, all take place on stolen land. This on-going colonisation privileges nonIndigenous people. We acknowledge Aboriginal sovereignty across this continent, and stand in solidarity with dispossessed First Nations peoples. We commit to fighting for justice on the terms set by Aboriginal people and nothing else. The invasion of Aboriginal lands, and the subsequent colonisation of Australia had a disastrous effect on Aboriginal women. Colonisation brought with it invasion, dispossession, destruction of culture, abduction, rape, exploitation of labour and murder. It also involved the implementation of patriarchal systems. Larissa Behrendt, a Eualeyai/Kamillaroi writer and academic, wrote in 1993 that “Aboriginal women had a position of power within their traditional society that white women have never enjoyed. Sexist oppression by men started when the white invaders arrived. The misogyny of some Black men is an unwelcome addition to post-invasion Aboriginal communities.” As feminists today, we must acknowledge our position within the ongoing process of colonisation. Many Aboriginal feminists have been rightly critical
of mainstream feminism due to its failure to include the oppression of Aboriginal women within the movement. For example, while white cis women were concerned with the right to choose whether or not to be a mother by agitating for safe abortion access, Aboriginal women were losing their right to be mothers through the forced removal of their children by the State. Colonisation continues to devastate Aboriginal women and communities today. Aboriginal women are the fastest growing incarcerated group in the country and currently make up around one third of the women prison population. One of these women, Julieka Dhu, died in custody in 2014 in excruciating pain after being repeatedly refused medical treatment. Today, nearly 15 000 Aboriginal children are in out-of-home care and the rates of Aboriginal child removal has gone up by 400 percent since Kevin Rudd said “sorry.” Moreover, Aboriginal women are 80 times more likely to be physically or sexually assaulted than non-Indigenous Australians. This tells us that we need to work actively, not only to include but to prioritise and center Aboriginal women’s experiences. We pay respect to elders past, present, and emerging, and extend this respect to the remarkable Indigenous members of the Wom*n’s Collective and the broader University, who strive to resist the interlocked systems of patriarchy and colonialism. This always was, and always will be Aboriginal land.
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DIS | CONTENT(S) 2 | Grandmothers are Bringing the Children Home 4 | Service Gaps in Women’s Support Services 5 | Changes to 1800Respect Let Women Down 6 | Tristan Und Dysphoria 7 | I Don’t Want a Gun 8 | Not Half a Whore 9 | Next Time 10 | A City of My Own 11 | Women Resistance in Palestine 12 | Boundless Limited Plains to Share 14 | A Home for Miss Biswas 15 | Empowerment 16 | For Political Organisers: Gendered Labour in Far-Left Spaces 19 | Like, Whom Can Language Oppress? 20 | Meeting Your Heroines 21 | Paying for Feminism 22 | Feminist History of Capitalism 24 | The Russian Revolution and Women’s Oppression 26 | Women Revolutionaries in Syria 28 | Notes on Self-Care and Community Work 29 | How to Respond to a Disclosure
Cover: Harriet Jane. Writers: Aparna Balakumar, Marley Benz, Holly Brooke, Alisha Brown, Lily Campbell, Evelyn Corr, Sydney Dawn, Nina Dillon Britton, Margot Eames, Anna Hush, Samantha Jonscher, Georgia Mantle, Lily Matchett, Caitlin McMenamin, Chloe Rafferty, Assala Sayara, Elena Sheard, Jessica Syed, Katie Thorburn, Lena Wang. Artists: Deepa Al, Harriet Jane, Eloise Myatt, Brigitte Samaha, Katie Thorburn, Jemima Wilson. Editorial Team: Izabella Antoniou, Katerina Bampos, Imogen Grant, Anna Hush, Samantha Jonscher, Sam Langford, Georgia Mantle, Caitlin McMenamin, Lamya Rahman, Elena Sheard, Jessica Syed, Katie Thorburn, Maddy Ward, Victoria Zerbst.
GRANDMOTHERS ARE BRINGING THE CHILDREN HOME JESSICA SYED AND KATIE THORBURN TAKE A LOOK AT THE GRANDMOTHERS WHO ARE FIGHTING THE SYSTEM
oday, more Aboriginal children are taken from their families than in the “Stolen Generations”. We spoke with Aunt Deb Swan who started Grandmothers Against Removals (GMAR) with four other Gomeroi grandmothers - Aunt Jen, Aunt Suellyn, Aunty Hazel, and Aunty Patty - to fight the systematic removal of their children. “We always knew it was about racism.” “My sister, Jen had her grandkids removed. She made complaints, and was already looking after them.” Another woman, Suellyn Tighe, applied to be the legal carer of her grandchildren. “Suellyn was assessed, supposedly by independent people, but her grandchildren were placed with their white grandparents who weren’t even assessed!” Aunt Deb attests that the kids should have been placed with Suellyn: “they had more contact with her, a stronger bond… the assessment actually came back in her favour that she should have the kids, but DOCS turned against it.” “We worked out this was happening to other grandparents and parents in Gunnedah, so we joined forces.” GMAR are committed to overcoming and changing the opaque policies of the State Government regarding the removal of Aboriginal children. They voice the concerns of the many Aboriginal people silenced by a consistently discriminatory system. It’s been nearly a decade since Kevin Rudd apologised for the forced removal of children from Aboriginal families. Yet since Rudd’s apology, child removal rates have increased by 400 per cent. “The apology was a meaningless thing,” says Aunt Deb. The ‘apology’ infers that these removals have stopped. That these incidents have moved into the realm of the past. However strongly this idea is embedded
into national consciousness, it’s false. Ten times more Aboriginal children are in out-of-home care than nonAboriginal kids. Tonight, there will be more than 14 000 Aboriginal children sleeping in a bed that is not in their family home. It’s often heard at the protests supporting GMAR that “sorry means you don’t do it again.” So why, almost a decade after the infamous “sorry,” are Aboriginal kids still being taken at an increasing and epidemic rate? “If you don’t do it the white way, you aren’t doing it the right way.” Relocation is coordinated by the NSW Department of Family and Community Services (FACS). Aunt Deb emphasises that what often motivates FACS’ removal of Aboriginal children, and their placement with nonAboriginal family members, is an “unconscious bias.” When asked whether it is individuals having these racial biases, or the organisation itself, Aunt Deb says it’s both. “It’s a continuation of the APB (Aborigines Protection Board)... management want to prove their power and control. The caseworkers and managers prioritise [that] power and control over what’s best for the kids.” “What they should be doing,” says Aunt Deb, “is following the Bringing Them Home Report.” The Bringing Them Home Report (BTHR) was commissioned by then Attorney-General Michael Lavarch, after years of pressure from Aboriginal organisations and communities. Its purpose was to understand the extent of trauma inflicted upon Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from forced removals. It emphasised recommendations to address the continued practice of removals. Kevin Rudd based his prime ministerial platform of “an apology” on the report. Though the report was released almost 20 years ago,
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Aunt Deb says that “things are worse now.” “...the only recommendation implemented was the ‘Aboriginal Placement Principle’, and yet they don’t do it.” “When FACS are assessing Aboriginal families, they never look for strengths”, asserts Aunt Deb. “FACS give excuses” for their ineptitude, like being “overworked”. Aunt Deb points out, “they would have less work if they didn’t take our kids!” A significant issue is that FACS’ policies allow for “interpretation of the best interests of the child.” Rather than clearly stating what these interests are, it allows for individual caseworkers to “tick the box” without adherence to strict rules. Yet, Aunt Deb reminds us, “the Bringing Them Home Report states the best interests for the child are to be with their family.”
This is echoed in the Australian Human Rights Commission’s FAQs on the BTHR: “This assertion [that children were removed for their own good] … assumes that non-Indigenous people and institutions know more about looking after Indigenous children than their own families do.” “They will give us bread crumbs, but only in an attempt to quieten us [GMAR],” Aunt Deb states. But Aunt Deb says GMAR will not accept “reduced by 2020...We want the kids back with their families immediately, not setting dates.” “How long do you have to wait for change? How long do these kids have to wait to get back with their families? These kids are still being traumatised every day they’re away from their families.”
Aunt Deb recounts how some children have been taken away due to “reports about stupid things like playing in the front yard without shoes.” Various things like these “all add up” to justify removals.
Aunt Deb calls for the whole system to be reviewed and changed. “What we’re arguing with DOCS now is the rigmarole - why they make it a horrendous wtask to get the kids back, a long and traumatic task to get the kids back with their family.” She also wants FACS to be accountable.
Current child removals are expensive. According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, $3.6 billion was spent on “child protection and out-of-home care services” in 2014-15. With 35.6% of children placed in out-of-home care being Aboriginal, the cost to taxpayers for removing Aboriginal children is $1.3billion.
Rudd’s apology was smoke and mirrors. Most mainstream people think that it’s stopped: a horror of antiquity that has been apologised for and couldn’t possibly be happening now.
Despite the BTHR explicitly highlighting that an issue with government intervention into Aboriginal families has been that “Aboriginal kinship networks were ignored,” Aunt Deb says FACS still “don’t understand how Aboriginal families work.” It’s not simply an issue of cultural awareness. Aunt Deb points to FACS workers not “mixing with and seeing Aboriginal people in their own personal life,” resulting in a bias and disbelief in Aboriginal families. “The only things they see on TV are negative things; it seems like Aboriginal people only do the bad things.” In light of this, Aunt Deb emphasises the need for FACS to listen to Aboriginal families and communities in order to do what’s best for the kids, “do [it] the way we tell them” in order to “change their thinking.”
The continual disbelief in the reality for Aboriginal peoples allows policies and institutions to get away with what they’re doing. Becoming aware, listening to Aboriginal people and believing them, is the first step in having this issue addressed. Child removals are not a thing of the past. They’re at the highest rate they’ve ever been. Aunt Deb and GMAR’s demands are synonymous with the Bringing Them Home Report’s principal finding, “that self-determination for Indigenous peoples provides the key to… eliminating unjustified removals of Indigenous children”. “Turn up to rallies and support us that way, that’d be really good” - Aunt Deb.
ART BY KATIE THORBURN PAGE 3
SERVICE GAPS IN WOMEN’S SUPPORT SERVICES MARLEY BENZ EXPLORES HOW FUNDING IMPACTS THE PROVISION OF LIFE-SAVING SUPPORT SERVICES
am a social worker and I work in a women and children’s centre in Sydney’s inner city. The needs we address are varied and some cannot be met. These unmet needs are not because of our inability to address them, but because of a lack of funding for programs. Sometimes we can’t work with women because they don’t live in within the catchment area for specific programs. While there is a need to have geographic boundaries in place to distribute demand to other organisations, this can be difficult when women feel a specific connection to our service. Funding cuts to women’s services in recent years have had a huge impact on the way that services can help women experiencing disadvantage.
Unmet needs are not because of our inability to address them, but because of a lack of funding for programs. This becomes especially stressful when we are busy with casework. However, it is critical that the women who visit the centre are made to feel welcome and we make every effort to do so. For all we know, these women may be experiencing more hardship, such as extreme financial difficulties or domestic violence. This may be an important opportunity to establish a rapport with them before they feel comfortable disclosing their situation. Asking for help can be very difficult for people, especially those with children, as doing so can carry a risk of child removal. Furthermore, around 80 percent of our clients are Aboriginal and Australia’s short colonial history has done a good job at depicting social workers as anything but allies. There are two primary programs that we provide casework for at the centre. The first is the Early Intervention and Placement Prevention (EIPP) program, which supports mothers who have children under the age of 13 who need help finding stable
housing, employment, counselling or child care for their children. The ultimate aim of EIPP caseworkers is to help mothers find their feet and lessen the impact that oppressive systems can have on their ability to parent. Unfortunately, these caseworkers are not able to work with mothers who have children above the age of 12, or those who have already had their children removed and need support coping with the trauma of that experience. Too often women have been denied casework at our centre because they no longer have their children in their care after they’ve made the brave decision to request support. The second major program is Staying Home Leaving Violence. SHLV caseworkers can only work with women who are leaving domestic violence situations. While our caseworkers provide a fantastic and supportive service to those women who fit the narrow criteria, what about the women who are living with domestic violence and are in fear of leaving their partner because of the very real possibility that they will lose their life? Imagine having to tell a woman experiencing domestic violence that you can’t offer her support because she hasn’t yet decided to leave the perpetrator, even though it is widely understood that women are most likely to be murdered by their perpetrators after they leave them. This seems like an elaborate form of victim blaming and it is far too common, likely contributing to the spike in gendered violence in recent years. There are frontline workers dedicating their lives to helping people who are in need, but we sometimes find themselves stunted by the limited, and often punitive, policies put in place by wealthy white men in suits. It doesn’t matter how many years you studied economics or political science at a prestigious university, if you are a rich white man you are never going to be the right person to decide what is going to alleviate the disadvantage experienced by the women we work with. Time to step aside and let women who know what they’re doing get the job done better.
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CHANGES TO 1800RESPECT LET WOMEN DOWN SAMANTHA JONSCHER EXAMINES THE CHANGES TO 1800RESPECT WHICH RISK THE WOMEN WHO ARE AT THE FRONTLINE OF A NATIONAL CRISIS
ince 2010, the toll free helpline 1800Respect (A.K.A. National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service) has been a vital part of the government’s strategy to address Australia’s gendered violence crisis.1 It’s a number you will probably recognize; the Australian Press Council guidelines say that it is the number to provide at the bottom of any article about sexual or domestic violence. When a survivor of sexual assault or domestic violence, a friend of a survivor, or front line professional called the helpline, they would immediately be put in touch with an experienced trauma counsellor from Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia (R&DVSA). As of August of 2016, this is no longer the case. Counsellors no longer answer the phone when it rings; instead, callers are subjected to questions to determine how important it is they speak to a counsellor. Since the hotlines’ inception, the service has been contracted out to Medibank Health Solutions (MHS), part of Medibank Private (in other words, not run by the government, but by a private for profit company). This was originally fine. MHS was required to subcontract the running of the phone line to R&DVSA, who employed councillors to answer the phone. But, there was a problem: the service was too popular and wait times to speak to a counsellor were becoming dangerously long (up to an hour), and calls were going unanswered. Faced with a serious funding problem, the government paid consultants KPMG to help them find a solution.
KPMG provided them with three: increase funding; a social worker/first responder triage system; and a trauma-specialist triage system. Guess which they chose? The only one the report said would possibly harm the
callers seeking the service. Instead of funding the service properly, MHS was permitted to replace sub-contracted R&DVSA counsellors with their own first responders, own counsellors, and a triage system. These first responders are trained - they have tertiary degrees in related fields (such as social work, psychology, counselling and welfare studies) and at least two years of counselling experience but they are not as specifically prepared as the counsellors who previously answered the phone. Tellingly, in the first three months after the new model was introduced, the service fielded 60 new complaints. It had received only 79 in the previous two years.
Counsellors no longer answer the phone when it rings and instead, callers are subjected to questions from triage workers And here’s the real kicker: the new triage system costs an additional five million dollars. 1800Respect only asked for 2.1 million dollars. This nearly 3 million dollars extra has been put towards a system that jeopardizes a caller’s mental health and, according to the KPMG report, the security of their information. This is fucked, and raises a number of questions that are worth dwelling on. Why contract to MHS in the first place? Surely the government should be solely responsible for supporting its people in times of need. Why hire a bunch of consultants to tell the government what 1800Respect itself was already telling them? Why does the Government spend time on lip service and not on action? Why is money (and not just money, but money-ed interests) repeatedly prioritized over material help for survivors?
You can call NSW Rape Crisis Centre on 1800 424 017 to directly access trauma informed specialist counsellors from the R&DVSA
Domestic violence is the most significant burden of disease for women aged 15 to 44; at least one woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner in Australia; One in three Australian women has experienced physical violence, Indigenous women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised due to family violence related assaults than non-Indigenous people. This problem is getting worse; figures are universally on the rise.
TRISTAN UND DYSPHORIA BY MARGOT L. EAMES
he first thing we hear when the Prelude begins is a progression of eight notes, and then silence. They are, in this writer’s humble opinion, the best eight notes ever put down on a musical staff. They are intoxicatingly beautiful, but also utterly maddening in that they fail to provide a satisfying resolution to the phrase. Wagner asks us a question, he proposes a problem, and gives no answers. A young boy at a writer’s festival. He is listening to a 40-year-old woman speak about her latest novel. She sits with legs folded and knees up on her chair. She is the coolest person he has ever seen. He decides he wants to be her when he grows up. He tells his friends that she is his celebrity crush, because that is easier for them all to understand. He starts folding his legs when he sits on chairs. At home. He sits up with his mother. She is not crying. She has been telling him about her day, and he has been listening as best as he can. It is 2am in the morning. His father left a year ago. In maths class. He loves this subject. His Polish maths teacher has invented a new, multi-syllabic name for him. It is long, ostentatious, and difficult to pronounce. He hates his given name. This one, he decides, is much better.
Almost five hours and three acts later we are exhausted. Now, at the finale, we wait. We know the closure we have been seeking is nearly here. It is heralded in exasperating arpeggios, in the quickening of the orchestra, in the peaks of forte that peter away just as the tension threatens to resolve. It is the musical equivalent of the long, excruciating moments before orgasm. A young man at a women’s march. A sea of faces that don’t look like his. Every second placard depicts several crudely drawn vaginas. He goes home, and doesn’t sleep.
In a restaurant bathroom. He writes a speech for his mother’s 40th birthday. He thinks back to 2am many years ago. He considers briefly that he cannot stand any of the men among his blood relations. He continues writing. At home. His girlfriend is out. He finds one of her lipsticks and puts it on. He looks at his reflection and is horrified. Many drinks later, he discovers that all kitchen blades are blunt. He stubs a cigarette out on his arm instead.
Perhaps the most beautiful feature of Wagner’s finale is the way in which it continues to revel in the same dissonances it once used as mechanisms for torture. We have long learned to distrust the notes which must precede closure. We tense up. We anticipate the disquiet, the all too familiar anticlimax. The very same notes and finally. Completion. We get the consonant chord that our ears had been anticipating since the show’s inception. Completeness exists only in conversation with the broken disquietudes that came before. A woman lies, naked, spooned by her partner, who is asleep. Her penis is still warm. She thinks back to her days of shorts, and short back and sides, and the year she played rugby union so that she would have something to talk to her dad about. She thinks back to vulvaic posters thrust in her face, insisting this was woman. She has already been harassed by a police officer, late at night at a train station. Next week, a gay couple will complement her on her convincing drag costume. Later, she will go to hospital complaining of excruciating chest and joint pain, and an ER registrar will needle her on her transition. She shuffles her body and nestles into her lover’s hair, eyes closed. For now, she smiles quietly, and goes to sleep.
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I DONT WANT A GUN EVELYN CORR IS A BUNDJALUNG WOMAN, POET, RESEARCHER, ACTIVIST, AND DEFENDER OF MAKEUP
After Gig Ryan It is not a question of desire if I still felt I would feel fear – this is how we remember spines why we become depilate It’s a question of scale moral economy maybe dissociation or déjà vu but mostly who is most convincing in fermented evening Thought I gave back gender to the wild west but I have stained the shirts of every man I’ve held with ‘you know you don’t need to wear that’ Which is to say, not this art not your body We dress in shoes and frocks we never otherwise believe and no matter what you or the night is taking with the dawn we slip back into justifications exchange our vices like contour might kill me like I ask for anxiety like you didn’t promise I don’t want a gun but I don’t want to hold you like this.
ART BY PEARSON SCOTT FORESMAN
NOT HALF A WHORE SYDNEY DAWN WON’T HAVE THEIR WORK BE DIMINISHED
’m sitting on the knee of a 55 year-old man with nice eyes, good intentions and no clue. On his other knee is a fellow sex worker. We drive the conversation. He’s an agreeable, kind man and nods along to most things. He’s asked Gemma how she came to work “in this old place” and she laughs that I was the bad influence. We’re still laughing, but genuine in affirming our like of our work. “Bit of sex work never hurt anyone,” I say. He frowns and is quick to a misguided form of kindness, “don’t call it that! It’s not sex.” We explain, gently and keeping the mood light, that we embrace the term sex worker and even “whore” as a reclamation of societal stigma, and that we’re proud to work where we are. He appreciates our confidence, as always. He really is a good client. And the conversation moves on. One of the higher ups in the place once told me “it’s the best way for a girl to make a bit of money without being naughty.” I told a godmother I no longer speak to that I’m an erotic masseuse; I give hand jobs. Her first response (well, second after bursting into laughter and saying “it’s so you”) was to firmly advise “Don’t go further though. Like penetration.” It seems everyone is eager to inform me just how un-sex work my sex work job is. Odd, because I still felt it necessary to hide my work from my parents for over a year, I still have to protect my privacy from clients, I still am extremely susceptible to ever-changing sex work legislation. I am still have to be aware of sexually transmitted infections, cope with the threat of rape, play therapist to sobbing drunk men, come out to potential partners and brace myself for their reaction. I get naked
with another person and make them orgasm for pay. How exactly is this not sex work? Or rather, why are the people around me from bosses to clients to friends and even fellow workers so keen to draw a dividing line between our work and “real sex work”? Ah, because real sex work is dirty. Penetration does psychological damage - penises are that powerful apparently - and people who know me, like me. If they don’t like prostitution, because they’ve eaten up societal stigma towards whores, they need to reconcile their like for me and their disrespect of what I do. So what I do isn’t really what I do, it’s something else - “just a bit of fun.” Or part of my experimental phase. This attitude is a manifestation of the Whorearchy - an oppressive hierarchy of whores. While all sex workers face discrimination some of us are only subjected to a watered down version. Sugar babies, phone sex workers, strippers, erotic masseuses and white, cisgender, middle to upper class, first world non-immigrant sex workers enjoy a level of respect and tolerance not afforded to full service and street sex workers who experience multiple intersecting oppressions. While incredibly privileged, I am reminded of this deadly and pointless division between different areas of sex work every time I mention I’m considering moving into full service. “Are you sure?” “Why?” *Gasp!* Few of my non-whore friends have reacted with anything but concern and shock. They’re not aware I already did the deed a while ago, with a nice client I met at work. And so far it hasn’t shattered my sense of self or left me traumatised. ART BY HARRIET JANE
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NEXT TIME BY ALISHA BROWN
If I fall in love again, I’ll tear my heart from my wrist where it watched and waited for him when it could have heard its own clock ticking.
I’ll make plans for me because I am more than a brick to be slotted between his walls of wasted time in halls that taste like excuses.
I’ll replace my knee-high socks with patched up jeans and grandma tops for I am a woman, not a schoolgirl, and his expectations should run higher than my skirt length.
I’ll say no if I mean no because tiredness does not equal prudishness and he should take pleasure in my consent, not force me to consent to his.
I’ll refuse to make peace for peace’s sake because the white flag is carried by both camps and the higher pitch of my voice does not make it any less valid than his.
If I fall in love again, I will not fall; I will stand up straight and tall and equal to his heart – I’m not beneath a man.
ART BY BRIGITTE SAMAHA
A CITY OF MY OWN BY GEORGIA MANTLE
My mind is a city of my own creation I named a street after you. I danced down that street during the day and happily strolled back in the night. I feel safe on your street.
My mind is a city of my own creation you invaded my mind you took the streets of happy memories and named them after yourself. The places I once loved to inhabit you took from me I wanted to leave how do you leave a place that is your own? I don’t dance in the day, I don’t stroll in the night, I run and hide.
The happy streets named after other men you took for yourself as if you deserved them, the same way you said you deserved my body.
ART BY ELOISE MYATT
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WOMEN RESISTANCE IN PALESTINE ASSALA SAYARA REFLECTS UPON PALESTINIAN WOMEN’S INTEGRAL ROLE IN RESISTANCE
he efforts of Palestinian women are just as significant as the efforts of the Palestinian men when it comes to the Palestinian resistance. They play a vital role in the Palestinian movement. In Palestine, “Women are considered the neck that holds up the head of men” or so the old saying goes, because no matter what the head decides only the neck can move it in any given direction. The resistance of women has positive repercussions to the entire Palestinian population. They are involved in many methods of maintaining Palestinian resistance which further strengthen them and in turn the community. Growing strong within the contexts of the lives of Palestinian women means ensuring that there is sense of resilience to live, to make a livelihood and raise future generations. One of the main methods by which a woman is involved in the Palestinian resistance is by raising future generations that are deeply connected to the land and feel the duty of resistance. When a woman allows her child or children to take part in the resistance, the resistors grow stronger. Palestinian women continue crafting the traditional Palestinian hand embroidered clothing and accessories that are sold in many of the souks. In my recent visit to Palestine I visited Hebron and saw first hand the significance of the maintenance of Palestinian cultural clothing. “Women in Hebron” is an association for cooperative embroidery and handmade works. This association provides a vital image of female resistance through a unique method. There are over 120 women of various ages from 8 different villages and communities in the Hebron area. They create homemade unique and authentic objects, such as bags, thobs and jewellery. This is a vital way that Palestinian women are involved in resistance, as maintaining Palestinian culture is one of the fundamental seeds of ensuring the resistance continues.
artwork, raise awareness, and facilitate a process of national consciousness. By expressing the trauma and pain in their hearts it allows them to heal, grasp hope and remain resilient. Lina Abojaradeh, a self-taught Palestinian artist who specialises in watercolours and graphite drawings, has stated that “My art allows me to move forward because I’m putting something out there. Sometimes art can be the fuel to a flame. Sometimes it’s a seed that will grow overtime into a new awareness. Maybe my art is part of a movement that will create a generation that is awake and aware and that will demand change.’’ Abojaradeh represents one of many Palestinian women finding comfort and non-violent resistance in their artworks. Ultimately, strong faith and connection to one’s religion is also significant in resistance. When a mother, sister, cousin or aunt loses a family member, their attachment to their lord gives them the strength they need to move forward and continue to live. Palestinian women have been and always will be on the front line in Palestinian resistance. As they resist they move forward living their lives with the faith that one day Palestine will be free.
In addition, women move forward and cope with the occupation by expressing personal stories through various art forms. Many use media platforms to display their ART BY DEEPA AL
PA G E 11
BOUNDLESS LIMITED PLAINS TO SHARE AUSTRALIA’S TORTURE OF REFUGEES SPEAKS VOLUMES ABOUT HOW FREE A NATION WE REALLY ARE, WRITES CAITLIN MCMENAMIN
magine you’ve left everything behind.
The ferocity of war has destroyed your home and decimated your community. Every night the sheer terror revisits you in your sleep. Your spirit, once fiery with hope, is barely a spark. You’re thinking about giving up. And then you hear of a land ‘with boundless plains to share’, and a flicker of hope fills your heart once more. On an average day, I wake up in my secure apartment in my cozy bed. I get dressed and eat a filling and nutritious breakfast before catching the train to university for the day. To most readers, this description will sound familiar. Autonomy in our lives is large scale - it’s the right to make decisions about our body, our money, or our living situation. On Nauru, a refugee woman wakes in a humid and insecure tent after a restless night, has a bland breakfast on a dirty plate covered by flies - if she has breakfast at all - and prepares herself for another day under the threatening eyes of abusive security guards. Autonomy to this woman could be as simple as being able to choose when to shower, what to eat, and where to go. In detention, this would be more or less a fantasy. Refugee women flee their homes seeking safety after many years of danger. Often these women have already experienced sexual abuse, as they’ve been married to older men or suffered from one of the worst weapons of war - rape. What a terrible irony it is that these women were at one stage excited for their destination, unknowing that similar threats awaited them; as dozens of women have been sexually assaulted or harassed in offshore processing facilities to date. Children have also suffered - in 2015 there were 30 formal child abuse allegations against staff alone.
Somali women are statistically more likely to have faced sexual violence before coming to Nauru. Abyan fled Somalia at the age of 15. A year after arriving at Nauru she was granted refugee status and given accommodation on the island. Abyan was raped and became pregnant. Not wishing to give birth to the child of her rapist, she sought an abortion. As abortion is illegal on Nauru, Abyan was carted back and forth between Nauru and Australia by the government, until eventually her pregnancy was so advanced that her choices were diminished. Abyan became suicidal after failing to receive adequate support, saying, “I was raped on Nauru… I never saw a doctor.” “Double victimisation” is a term used to describe the way that the trauma of rape is compounded by the refusal of the police to take effective action, and worsened by inadequate support. One refugee woman, Najma, said: “No one is doing anything about it… I was brought here to be safe, but I have no safety.”
When you live in an insecure situation, you will be killed once and finished. But when you are hopeless, it eats you from inside and it destroys you slowly and painfully. – Anonymous, Nauru A young African woman, referred to as ‘S99’, was raped while she was having an epileptic seizure. S99 fled her home at the age of 16 after witnessing her sister’s murder and experiencing extensive abuse from her polygamous husband. S99 was granted refugee status and released to the island. After she was raped, like Abyan, she sought an abortion. After much time
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Sending a refugee back into their war-torn homes to die does not remove the onus from Australia’s shoulders – ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is heartless, and we ought to do more.
ART BY SUMMER ZHENG
without any support on Nauru, S99 was brought to Australia. Her attacker was never charged. The experiences of women like Abyan and S99 remind us of the callous nature of Australia’s refugee policies. Lack of compassion and the tendency to treat innocent people as numbers has resulted in immense pain - both physical and mental - for many. The miserable position of these women has led them to take a stand in the limited ways they can. Indeed, those who sit in the parliamentary benches are quickest to judge the desperate actions taken by those who have no voice. One refugee woman, Hadon, even self-immolated in an attempt to draw attention to her desperate situation last year. While some politicians like Peter Dutton write off their pleas for help as pathetic, they fail to acknowledge that they have no other means of making their voices heard. The Australian Border Force Act (2015) prohibits whistle-blowers from reporting on the conditions at Nauru and Manus. Indeed, only one journalist has visited the detention centres to date. A report by the ASRC has found that almost 90% of detainees suffer from depression, while 50% have been diagnosed with PTSD. A quarter have had suicidal thoughts.
The government is spending approximately $1.2 billion per annum (ASRC) on these facilities on Nauru and Manus Island. It’s time for the major parties to adopt a more compassionate and humane refugee policy that puts this money to better use. As a first step, the four international conventions Australia has sullied should be upheld. Processing facilities on Nauru must be closed, and the occupants – of which women and children are the most vulnerable groups - should be settled in Australia and given the resources needed to adapt to a new society. Our refugee intake should be increased and upheld. Boat turnbacks must end; it is legal to seek asylum. Sending a refugee back into their war-torn homes to die does not remove the onus from Australia’s shoulders - ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is heartless, and we ought to do more. If you are interested in joining the fight to end offshore processing and boat turn-backs, please join the USYD Campus Refugee Action Collective (CRAC). CRAC regularly holds meetings and events at uni and attends protests to engage students with the fight for refugee rights. Join our Facebook group USYD CRAC or contact SRC Refugee Rights Officers for more information.
A HOUSE FOR MISS BISWAS BY JESSICA SYED
I look through the classifieds I need to find a place ooh this looks promising $200 p/w I put a bright red X marks the spot, near the birch tree where she asks me if my father is a terrorist I am six years old and she is my teacher for christ’s sake the living room is too dark. we keep looking. This place? It’s cute It’s small But look at all of this s p a c e But there is mold growing in the corner But look at that blue gas cooker It’s nice, but I– “I’ve heard that Bengali women can put a kitchen like this to good use, if you know what I mean.” he is the realtor and he winks at me you say nothing and I go ahead and just what the hell I just sit with my legs split wide open right on top of that blue gas cooker and turn it on. hmm, it doesn’t feel right. we keep looking. ...aaand this one is absolutely stunning. The white marble finish the slim and compact LCD television the leather the carpet the the this is the one. “Is that the smoke detector?” I climb out through the fire-exit up a staircase on the roof I hear two birds and I see them on the birch tree oh god run inside get the elevator to the basement the exit no not there that’s the wrong door wrong room wrong smokin’ hot blue gas cooker. i have lived here my whole life and all of the floors have collapsed on me ART BY KATIE THORBURN
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EMPOWERMENT NINA DILLON BRITON LOOKS AT HOW ‘EMPOWERMENT’ IS WARPING WOMEN’S VIEWS OF REAL POWER
t was this crop top. $9.95. Grey, tight, short sleeved. Almost definitely Supre. The sort of thing you can only wear when you’re 14 and haven’t learnt to be afraid of your own body yet. I can’t remember the face of the man who grabbed my wrist the first time I wore it. I do remember the top though – because I began wearing it much more after that. If you ask most women what was the first time they knew someone wanted them I doubt they could tell you. The attention of men emerges as slowly and insidiously as puberty itself. Perhaps there are a few standout moments, your first pube, the first time someone gropes you on the train. But for the most part you wake up at 15 and people look at you in a way they didn’t at 12. At first it’s horrifying. What sort of signals do you send out through your training bra or your new body odour that draws men’s eyes? At the same time though, it feels empowering. And whilst it’s easy to place blame for the way young women are preoccupied on their looks on Miley or Britney, there’s no doubt it’s also innate to those who want to be seen and to hold power. Being the Hot Girl though, is something innate to your character in a way in which being the Hot Guy never is. To be beautiful is something taught at a young age, and it traps you there – even if it’s “empowering.” Being taught the power of beauty teaches an infantile narcissism that crushes out the complexity of yourself and leaves you as a list of arms, breasts, legs, hair and skin. All of them just there to be fucked. The problem with reclaiming beauty as a form of Empowerment is that it was never ours to begin with. It is always in reference to men – not as a power to be or do but to attract. It is a power that negates itself. In any case, this brand of Empowerment is only particularly useful to the women who have always been its poster-girls. The rich, the educated, the cis, the white, the thin, the straight. The Beautiful. Building empowerment around femininity conveniently forgets the fact that femininity isn’t innate to women but something
painfully historically constructed to dictate who deserved power and who did not. It is compulsory, imposed on women and we are punished when we cannot or will not perform it. It necessarily punishes women of colour because it’s embedded with Eurocentric beauty, working class women because they cannot buy the makeup that femininity requires, or trans women who are punished for their bodies as though they are imposters when they claim the womanhood they own.
The problem with reclaiming beauty as a form of Empowerment is that it was never ours to begin with. And even when Empowerment tries to expand the women it affords its protection to it does so half-heartedly – embracing plus-size women only when they’re white with symmetrical faces – or superficially – telling trans women they’re beautiful, so long as they pass as cis women. Who could blame the women who accepted Empowerment’s embrace when they had for so long been locked out, unprotected? But even in its expansion it always required someone who could be used as the pitied yardstick against which you could measure your Empowerment. If some women were beautiful, necessarily, some must not be. At best, Empowerment makes it easier for you to just be a body, but never really explains why you should be content at that. At worst it’s another elaborate distraction, using Empowered, always beautiful, women to sell you clothes stitched by girls like you in factories thousands of miles away. The Empowerment of being the fuckable girl distracts you from the fact you got the title through the deliberations of teenage boys on the perkiness of your tits. The irony of writing this is that I’m sitting covered in the cheap coconut smell of fake tan as it develops on my skin. No woman alive invented beauty. You still have to survive. But your individual Empowerment is inconsequential for other women. We may find solace in being wanted, but we do a disservice to the women unwanted if we only see empowerment in that.
FOR POLITICAL ORGANISERS: GENDERED LABOUR WITHIN FAR-LEFT SPACES HOLLY BROOKE REFLECTS ON HOW THE LEFT IS (STILL) SEXIST
or the purposes of this article, “patriarchy” will refer to the social system that, among many other things: • Defines the types of labour coded as “masculine” and as “feminine;” • Privileges masculinity over femininity; • Grants those who are male (and cisgender) greater political power, social privilege, assumed intelligence, assumed moral authority, and more; and • Presents inequality between genders as natural or individualistically chosen rather than socially constituted.
creating agendas, taking minutes, consulting around meeting times and places, contacting individuals to remind them of outstanding tasks and of meeting times, days and places, maintaining files and databases, and the plethora of other “non-political busywork” that political organising generates.
The patriarchy will not and cannot be defeated under capitalism. Yet, despite what many cis men who engage in far-Left political organising would have you believe, dismantling capitalism will not automatically lead to an egalitarian utopia in which gender equality has been realised.
This means that the work either does not happen, or those who recognise the work - disproportionately non cis-men - take it on themselves. If these people try to delegate, due to gendered stereotypes, they may open themselves up to being labelled as controlling, authoritarian, bossy, or needlessly perfectionist.
Dismantling patriarchy takes work; consistent, hard work, as well as a realisation that this work must be done alongside - not after - the work of dismantling capitalism. Far too many patriarchal societal patterns are played out within far-Left organising spaces “progressive” spaces supposedly committed to the cause of dismantling patriarchy.
Those who have never been
Inequality in Administrative Labour In broader society, people who are not cis men are more likely to be given and to take on administrative work. Far-Left political organising spaces are not immune to this trend, often to the detriment of the capacity for non cis-men in those spaces to be fully able to contribute politically. By “administrative work,” I mean
Those who have never been expected to carry out this type of work - generally cis men - may not understand the immense labour that is administrative work, often done by non cis-men, and therefore rarely take the initiative to begin this work.
expected to carry out this type of work may not understand the immense labour that is sunk into purely administrative work There is a common trend that within most political groupings with formalised roles, secretary roles - with “apolitical” administrative work - are generally filled by people who are not cis men, while positions like convenor - with greater political significance and influence - are more likely to be held by cis men. This trend is mirrored in the informal labour patterns that arise in political spaces in which there are not formalised
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roles, although this trend may be dangerously obscured by the lack of formalised division of labour. Cis men in far-Left organising spaces need to be far more aware of the administrative labour that goes into maintenance of these spaces, and as such should be more willing to take initiative on this work. This does not mean asking those who more often take on this work to “give me a discrete task”, or waiting until it is clear that there is already an administrative gap that needs filling. This means thinking ahead and taking on “boring” organisational tasks without being asked, even if this is to the detriment of one’s time and capacity to carry out exciting political work. This organisational work will need to be done eventually, by someone, and chances are that someone will be a non cis-male. Inequality in Domestic and Emotional Labour Much has been written about the gendered split of domestic and emotional labour. Again, this inequality manifests time and time again in far-Left political organising spaces. Non cis-men are predominantly those who take on the “softer” and often invisible work of making far-Left political spaces accessible, safe and comfortable. Examples of this work include, but are by no means limited to: • Crafting messages to new or shy members that are longer, more inviting and more open-ended than is strictly politically and functionally necessary, to allow for greater depth of communication, longer conversations and more questions. • Checking in regularly on the emotional well-being of comrades, especially during times of stress. • Bringing food to meetings, events and actions. These tasks are generally not viewed as labour that is integral or even important to political organising, but all of these and more undoubtedly function to the long-term benefit of far-Left political projects. Meetings, events and actions at which there are snacks and which happen in cleaner, tidier and more comfortable environments are more productive and go for longer; more political work is done as a result. The emotional labour of spending longer engaging with new, inactive or shy members can create more
comfortable, confident future political organisers; more political work is done as a result. The emotional labour of checking in on the emotional and/or physical health of comrades can help to stave off burnout; more political work gets done as a result. The type of labour outlined here is overwhelmingly not carried out by cis men, and is all too often not viewed as labour, and instead as superfluous to political organising. This work is often viewed as work that individuals - overwhelmingly non cis-men - carry out because they simply want to, rather than out of any necessity.
What cis men must realise is that emotional and domestic labour can be hugely energy intensive labour This is a simplistic analysis: we want to do this work because we are overwhelmingly socialised to care more about the emotional well-being of comrades and recognize investing labour into this as an integral and necessary part of political organising. What cis men must realise is that emotional and domestic labour can be hugely energy intensive labour, and can take away from the capacity of those doing this intensive labour to do other more explicitly “political” work. Inequality in Political Confidence and Power The patriarchy socialises people of all genders to believe that those we code as masculine have greater intelligence, knowledge, and moral authority. This leads to trends in which cis men are more likely to present their own opinions as fact, speak with condescension, and use needlessly over-academic and inaccessible language for the purpose of self-aggrandisement. Meanwhile, people who are not cis men are more likely to second-guess their own knowledge, intelligence and political opinions. Both of these factors are mutually reinforcing and can lead cis men to take the lead on political direction and decisions.
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Being “Not Sexist” as a Political Identity for Left-Wing Men In an ideal world, the topics covered in this article would be easy to bring up in productive conversations within far-Left organising. We should be able to talk openly and critically about the ways in which the patriarchy negatively impacts patterns of labour in our organising spaces, and cis men should respond positively and work to combat patriarchal patterns. However, Left-wing cis men consistently and notoriously fail to see their own complicity in upholding the patriarchy. Left-wing cis men are aware on a theoretical level that sexism is bad and is to be avoided for Leftists. This means, though, that when Left-wing cis men have their own complicity in sexist patterns pointed out to them, this can serve to violate their self identity as “good leftists.” Rather than taking on-board constructive criticism around gendered labour patterns and other symptoms of the patriarchy and working to change behaviours accordingly, these people can become combative; it is not just a sole behaviour being pointed out
as “bad”, it is their entire self-identify as “good feminist” and by proxy “good leftist” that is being called into question. A combative response is not one that always arises, however the legitimate worry of a combative response is often enough to deter those who would otherwise initiate a necessary conversation about particular sexist behavioural patterns.
When Left-wing cis men have their own complicity in sexist patterns pointed out to them, this can serve to violate their self identity as ‘good leftists.’ In order for far-Left political organising spaces to function optimally in the struggle to dismantle capitalism, cis men need to recognise their complicity in patriarchal patterns, take seriously the concerns of non cis-men around unequal gendered division of labour in these spaces, and engage productively in conversations around combating the patriarchy wherever it emerges.
ART BY SUZY X
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LIKE, WHOM CAN LANGUAGE OPPRESS? ELENA SHEARD EXPLORES WHY IT IS WE BELIEVE WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT LANGUAGE
t’s hard to deny that certain varieties of English are viewed as superior to others. I’d guess that many Australians my age have at some point had an adult object with almost vehement rage to our frequent use of ‘like’ in everyday speech. Linguistically speaking ‘like’ can function as a means of quotation (and she was like, I hate this) or as a hedging device (it’s like, too much), both of which are legitimate communicative functions. While some people reliably pepper their speech with the word, in such cases ‘like’ is more of an equivalent to ‘um’, and chances are that person’s speech habits would annoy you regardless of their use of ‘like’ specifically. If you ask a linguist how they feel about the word ‘youse’, they’ll most likely tell you it makes complete sense. Modern English doesn’t have a plural ‘you’ form, something that most Romance languages do in fact have, and ‘youse’ simply completes the list of English pronouns. Although ‘youse’ is supposedly improper, according to Standard English grammar speakers should always use ‘whom’ in the object position (who gave what to whom). I don’t know anybody who does that consistently, probably because many Australians have an innate aversion to sounding like British royalty. If words such as like and their contemporary usage were objectively wrong or improper then they couldn’t be used in communication because speakers wouldn’t be understood. The fact that it violates someone’s (read: older white speaker of what they perceive to be a superior form of English) sense of aesthetics doesn’t actually make it improper. In reality, defining what constitutes proper English is an ideological debate rather than a linguistic one and, despite what purists will tell you, most varieties of English are linguistically valid. While there is no doubt a place in society for a standard language (it allows us to communicate on local, national and international levels) its prominence within education and the media often gives rise to (often subconscious) assumptions of linguistic superiority and propriety. This can and does lead to highly
prescriptive approaches to language, through which people are told how they should speak rather than having how they do speak acknowledged. Standard English is not linguistically superior to other varieties of English, and deviation from that standard is not indicative of an inferior or improper form of English. Difference is not synonymous with inferiority. Historically speaking, a language variety comes to be viewed as ‘standard’ or more proper because it is the language of the powerful and privileged. Our internalised notions of what constitutes proper and improper English deserve to be scrutinised on an individual and collective level as they play a crucial role in maintaining oppressive structures such as the patriarchy (women and teenage girls are often at the forefront of linguistic innovations viewed as inherently inferior), white supremacy (via the dismissal of legitimate varieties of English such as Aboriginal English in Australia and African American Vernacular English in America) and the gender binary (via the wide refusal to acknowledge they as a legitimate gender-neutral first person pronoun despite it making perfect sense). This is especially true for white native speakers of English, even more so if it is your only native language. Dismantling oppressive structures will inevitably involve dismantling our preconceived notions of English and language. If you find yourself criticising how someone speaks, consider the implications of what you are saying and ask yourself what gives you the right to assume your way of speaking is superior to someone else. If it’s because you went to a good school, or because it’s your native language, or because you’re white, that’s not good enough. There is almost definitely someone in England or America who would happily condemn your Aussie accent and lingo for no other reason than it doesn’t align with their perception of how English is spoken. Ultimately the best thing about any language, is that it isn’t static; diversity and variation should be embraced rather than condemned. ART BY JEMIMA WILSON
MEETING YOUR HEROINES APARNA BALAJUMAR CELEBRATES THE SISTERS THAT HELPED HER ALONG THE WAY
am standing in the foyer of the Public Theatre in New York. It is peak wintery December and my icy fingers clutch onto one of the last available tickets to the offBroadway play, ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’. The production’s leading lady is Nia Vardalos, the writer and star of ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’, which may explain why the theatre is so abuzz. Being over-excited has its downsides though; I am an hour early and fast becoming bored of watching the same 30-somethings walk by, sipping champagne and adjusting their outfits. Just as I am considering moving to a more secluded area, my eyes catch sight of Vardalos only a few steps away. I want to tell her how refreshing it was to see an honest on screen portrayal of a migrant family adjusting to an intercultural marriage. How affirming it was when the film become the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time, despite Hollywood executives insistenting it needed a more ‘relatable’ family at its core. How important it was to this Indian-Australian woman with a heart full of experiences to share, but unsure if anyone wanted to listen. You always imagine meeting your heroes. In dreams you imagine the air of confidence; rehearse the perfect words to say. But in the moment, do you dare make your move? The universe taunts me with a second chance when the performance draws to a close. ‘Sex and the City’s’ star, Sarah Jessica Parker, stands before me, awkwardly fiddling with her phone as the hums of the crowd engulf her. She embodied Carrie Bradshaw; a character good at
showing up for her friends. She openly discussed abortion, embraced her sexuality, and navigated career, dating, and aging crises on primetime TV. Imperfect but important; a lesson to my teenage self that women could have opinions, take charge of their own destinies, and use the power of the female experience to get there. I have nothing to lose, I think, as I march up with a sudden determination: “I just wanted to say…” A fire is ignited within me. I tweet a stranger, Piyali Bhattacharya, the editor of a manifesto in which South Asian Americans get real about carrying the burden of cultural expectations into unfamiliar white terrains. I want her to know the book she fought for a decade to get published made this woman of colour feel slightly less alone for the first time in a long time. I message my best friend just to say thank you for being on my team. I call my mum, recognising it is the safety of our forever-home in Australia that has afforded me the privilege of travelling the world now. Her sacrifices are my strength. I can no longer let the words go unspoken, no matter how ‘strange’ the untimely reach-out may be. The surprised, but thankful, responses lighting up my phone as I ride the empty subway home are a stark reminder to celebrate the sisters who have been imprinted onto me without expecting anything in return. Here’s to the celebrities in our everyday: the women who raised, birthed, challenged, cried, fought with, and taught us. And here’s to letting them know. ART BY ELOISE MYATT
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PAYING FOR FEMINISM LENA WANG EXPLORES THE COMMODIFCATION OF FEMINISM
he TEDxLA Women conference was, to me, the culmination of years of enraptured appreciation. I went hoping to be inspired by new, critical perspectives on intersectional feminism. But that is not what I found. The speakers, all with incredible resumes, talked exclusively about their struggles with self-love nothing else. I became uneasy. The speeches were a little facile, sure, but they were harmless, and women do struggle with self-image, after all. I myself had personally experienced the very same feeling: imposter syndrome. In two hours of limping speeches, the speakers never presented their struggles as being the product of an oppressive, judgmental patriarchy whose expectations sexualised, objectified, and de-emphasised women. Instead it felt like the realisation of inherent feminine weakness. The evening ended with a panel discussing not feminism, but self-love. “How do we love ourselves more?” The moderator asked, “What tangible steps can we take?” One panelist - whose name was Sage, of course - delivered the coup de grace of the evening: “Go take a walk in the forest,” she said. “Preferably with your dog. And meditate under a tree.” By then my eyebrows had migrated towards my hairline in shock - as if we could dismantle the intersections of racism and sexism if only we, as a human species, breathed in more dew at sunrise. Another speaker argued the issue of self-love arose from a world in disharmony, and a veritable method of achieving world peace was to stop eating genetically modified foods. Seeing my disbelief, she urged me to go visit an organic farm in Santa Monica and plunge my rapidly oxidising hands into some soil. The six-hour conference was an exercise in frustration. I had elevated TEDx onto a pedestal, and, without researching the speakers, believed in its quack-inspiration. More disquieting than my idealisation was the realisation that I had bought into a new, capitalist brand of feminism. I believed that, so long as I could purchase a ticket and passively absorb this knowledge, I would become a more active agent in the fight against sexism.
As feminism’s acceptance grows and it rightfully asserts a greater presence in public consciousness, there is no doubt that some will attempt to capitalise on it. Feminism presently runs the risk of becoming nothing more than a commodity: a brand that can be bought along with a $4.99 bottle of Dove bodywash, a slogan helping the sales of new lululemon running shorts. Empowerment now vacillates between making space for yourself in a society that is institutionally rigged against you and a hashtag to send your social media post to the top of the newsfeed. I don’t profess to own ‘authentic’ feminism – instead, the commodification of feminism is worrying because it waters down its intent. In attempting to make feminism more ‘accessible’ by aligning it with the capitalist aims of modern society, it is ironically rendered inaccessible for those who cannot afford it. Consumer palatability cannot be the main goal of feminism. When feminism fights against a system of oppression, those systems - capitalism, neoliberalism, and society even - will not benignly destroy themselves to pave way for egalitarianism. When such systems reduce feminism into a product, we trade intersectionality for purchasing power. This conference was the epitome of that commercialisation. It had ceased to be accessible to the minorities it represents. It was pre-packaged into some incoherent, unrecognisable mush, made easy to swallow by a mainstream, capitalist society. This is not to bemoan accessibility. But the proliferation of feminist ideals must remain loyal to intellectually and socially responsible outreach. The popularised version of feminism should not be white and privileged. Everyone should engage – without having to pay for it.
ART BY JEMIMA WILSON
A FEMINIST HISTORY OF CAPITALISM LIL WEB MATCHETT UNEARTHS THE WAR ON WOMEN
t has come to my attention that anticapitalists, who very well might be interested in how life historically changed for cis-women during the birth of capitalism, don’t know this history. And it’s through no fault of their own. In fact, white male historians and the State have done a marvellous job of almost entirely erasing the true history of women during the advent of capitalism, in Europe during the 16th -17th century. During this time, hundreds of thousands of women all over Europe were publically hunted, tortured,
raped, burned at the stake and drowned under State execution - for doing just about anything that wasn’t profitable. Over these two centuries, not only did society transition into a capitalist socioeconomic system, but lesser well-known is that the State and capitalist class launched a project of purposeful degradation, dehumanization, domestication, and genocide of women known as ‘the witch hunts’. The witch hunts are superbly covered by Silvia Federici in her book “Caliban and the Witch”. They marked the first time in European history that crimes became gendered - where women were the specific targets of murderous legislation. This violent project would change women’s lives forever, first in Europe and then globally. The war on women, erased from our history books, allowed for the accumulation of labour-power (waged, working humans) through State control of women’s bodies. Women’s wombs were needed by the capitalist class in England, Ireland, Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany to produce large numbers of offspring that would grow into workers (for the labour market) that could then work for capitalists and also buy goods and services from them. At this time, many people had died from the plague or starved after the enclosures, a period in which peasants were thrown off their agricultural lands and private property was instituted. Capitalists did not just want to control women in order to control their wombs. The dehumanization of women by the capitalist State cemented working class women as inferior to working class men, thereby enabling all men to possess a semblance of control; albeit over certain women. This gendered hierarchy fractured the united power of the whole working class and diminished their overall revolutionary
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power to overthrow capitalism. So who were the witches and what were their crimes? Interestingly, our understanding of witches today as mystical, fictitious old hags, holders of dangerous esoteric powers, makers of sickly potions, flyers of broomsticks, killers and consumers of children etc. are a product of the very real portrait the State painted of anti-capitalist women in 16th Century Europe. In reality, many of the accused were women who used or taught other women contraceptive practices, poor women who abstained from reproduction (often out of fear for not being able to feed their offspring), old women in menopause, widowed women, midwives, sex workers and women with children out of wedlock. Women who maintained their reproductive and sexual autonomy threatened the success of early capitalist accumulation, which was heavily dependent on women giving birth to an abundance of readily exploitable workers. Thus, inhumane State legislation was introduced to terrorise women into surrendering control over their own bodies. Other women accused of witchcraft were those who attended the Sabbath, a midnight meeting in which anti-capitalist revolts were planned, such as the tearing down of fences around previously communal agricultural land or organizing peasant battles against the military.
them carrying out: unpaid reproduction of the labour force; unpaid servicing of men, children, and the home; paid work for a fraction of the price of male workers. Some believe the witch hunts are a relic of the past, however, this method has been mirrored all over the globe, over many centuries. Witch hunts have been reported as recently as the 1990s in Nigeria, Kenya, and Cameroon during their recent advents of capitalism. In almost every part of the world, as capitalism rears its monstrous head, inhumanities against women intensify; women are subjugated in their communities as well as alienated from their own bodies. Why don’t we know this story? Because women’s stories are routinely and deliberately erased from mainstream history. But if we want to ask big questions like “why is there an ever increasing culture of violence against women today?” I think there’s value in sifting through the past with a fine-toothed comb, and following the money.
However, increasingly, any woman’s activity that wasn’t profitable was progressively criminalized, and so women were hunted evermore. Once hunted down, these women were then put through long and intense torture regimes tactically conducted as public displays, in which every member of the community was forced to watch and ‘contemplate what these women had done’. Daughters of these women were especially targeted. Forced to sit at the front and watch the various forms of torture be carried out on their mother’s bodies prior to them being burnt alive before their eyes. These two centuries of terrorizing women led to their domestication for capitalist purposes which included ART BY DEEPA AL
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THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION AND WOMEN’S OPPRESSION LILY CAMPBELL REFLECTS UPON HOW THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION TRANSFORMED THE LIVES OF WOMEN
he Russian Revolution transformed the lives of women and struck a blow against sexism in a way no event has ever done before or after. The Revolution involved hundreds of thousands of women standing shoulder to shoulder with their male comrades in their fight for land for the peasantry, bread for all and an end to the First World War. In doing so, the revolution broke down the structures of women’s oppression, as Russian workers united against their common enemy, the Tsarist regime and the capitalist system. On International Working Women’s day on 23rd February of 1917, it was women workers in textile factories - one of the most downtrodden sections of the working class - who provided the spark for revolution. After speeches in the factories, crowds of women poured into the streets in protest against bread shortages, carrying red flags which declared, “Down with the autocracy!”. The women went on strike, and demanded men join them in their march through the streets of Petrograd. By February 27th, a mass strike wave had swept Russia. Even military garrisons were revolting and joining the side of the workers. By 2nd March, the Tsar was forced to abdicate. Then, a provisional government was established to enforce liberal democracy in Russia. It became increasingly obvious to the workers, peasants and soldiers in Russia between that the provisional government would not grant them the things they wanted: land, peace, and bread. In October, the soviets - democratic workers’ councils born from the February Revolution - were able to smash the last remnants of capitalist rule and to create a democratic workers state in its place. Women made up a significant portion of the workforce by 1917, up to 50 percent in Petrograd due to the war. Thus, their participation and leadership was essential to the revolution’s success. In this revolutionary struggle, attitudes and practices relating to women were transformed in Russian society. The notion that women belong in the home came to be seen as both contrary to the interests of workers, and as blatantly false in the
ART BY HARRIET JANE
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face of revolution. Women were emboldened to fight and win against their oppressors. It was the women that convinced the soldiers to join the workers, as Trotsky recounts in ‘The History of the Russian Revolution’; “A great role is played by women workers in relationship between workers and soldiers. They go up to the cordons more boldly than men, take hold of the rifles, beseech, almost command: “Put down your bayonets – join us.” The story of the Russian Revolution exposes the most important divisions in society: those of class. Capitalism and class society requires the oppression of women in order to function, excusing the vast amounts of unpaid labor in the home, justifying underpaid labor in the workplace, and enforcing the rigid, sexist structure of the family in order to expand profit margins. Lenin’s description of revolutions as “festivals of the oppressed and the exploited” seems apt in hindsight. Oppression serves the capitalist class by dividing people. The strong unification of the working class, as seen in 1917, can shake the pillars of the society the capitalist class benefit from. However, many feminist women today believe that men, not our bosses or the Liberal Government, are the enemy. Great advances for women were made following the October insurrection, including free abortion on demand, civil marriage, no-fault divorce, guaranteed state support for women with children, the scrapping of illegitimacy laws, equal pay, maternity leave for all women, full decriminalisation of homosexuality, abolition of the age of consent and the pioneering of socially organised and funded kitchen, laundry, and childcare facilities. This enormous progress has not before or since been realised anywhere else in the world. The liberation of women was, and remains, inextricably linked to the liberation of all the oppressed. Eventually the Revolution in Russia fell, due to international isolation. A parasitic bureaucracy emerged, led by Joseph Stalin, assuming the power of the largely destroyed working class. Under the banner of ‘‘building socialism in one country”, Stalin brutally enforced state capitalism in Russia, reversing all of the gains the revolution had established. However, in no way does this negate the achievements of women in the Revolution. This history remains an important insight into how to fight oppression and social injustice. The events of 1917 demonstrate how the oppressed can come to the forefront and help shape society in revolutionary struggle. This history demonstrates how sexist prejudices can be challenged on a masss cale and why those who seek the full liberation of women must fight for the liberation of all. We can only wrestle with the roots of oppression when we fight against the system that produced it, and that fight needs all the oppressed on the same side. The history of the Russian Revolution thus remains essential to the understanding of all those wishing to challenge sexism.
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WOMEN REVOLUTIONARIES IN SYRIA CHLOE RAFFERTY ILLUSTRATES HOW SOME WOMEN FIGHT ON ALL FRONTS IN SYRIA
ur destroyed buildings are a testament to our resistance and, your crimes - Final anonymous message from Free Aleppo. At the close of 2016, the combined forces of Bashar alAssad’s regime, Russian air power and Iranian-backed sectarian death squads reconquered East Aleppo, and with it, the last of the major cities liberated by the Syrian Revolution since 2011. Yet even amidst the destruction, on the 30th of December, protesters in the countryside of Aleppo demonstrated under the slogan “The revolution brings us together.” At every possible moment, when ceasefires provide a temporary reprieve from the aerial onslaught of the regime and its imperialist allies, protests have returned to the streets. They march to demonstrate that the revolution which first raised the slogan “the people want the overthrow of the regime”, with flowers and joyous revolutionary dabke dancing, still continues. When the Arab Spring first broke out in Tunisia and then in Egypt in 2011, Syria’s own revolution was sparked by a few dozen teenagers arrested and tortured for writing antiregime graffiti on their high school wall.
The women of Syria have played vital roles in their revolution: from demonstrations, citizen journalism and first aid, to radically reorganising Syrian society The women of Syria have played vital roles in their revolution: from demonstrations, citizen journalism and first aid, to radically reorganising Syrian society through the Local Coordination Committees (LCCs). The most significant radical development in the revolution, the LCCs, were founded by Razan Zeitouneh and saw
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women play a leading role. The LCCs were born out of struggle, springing up in towns and villages across Syria, planning and coordinating protests on a regional basis. Leila Al Shami, the Syrian co-author of Burning Country, describes the LCCs as “a remarkable example of horizontal, youth-led organizing [which] represented the very best of the revolution’s ideals: they were inclusive, democratic and non-sectarian.” The women of the Syrian revolution have shown remarkable resilience and growing confidence in their political participation. In July 2013, imprisoned women revolutionaries who had been indefinitely detained launched a hunger strike to demand family visits, medical care and a fair trial. An underground activist from government-held Damascus, Rafia (pseudonym), describes the changes women experienced through their participation in struggle, “Activists that engaged with the revolution have experienced big differences in gender relations, especially among the most conservative women. It’s become normal for them to have male colleagues, to live on their own. Many have become feminist activists and leaders of projects,” she said. In a documentary produced by Rafia’s friends, “When I Heard My Voice For the First Time,” women recount the liberating experience of participating in the revolution. “I never expected to participate in a protest and cry ‘freedom!’ The first protest was like a magnet it forced me out and to participate in all protests.” Maimona, an organiser from the rebellious Ghouta suburb of Damascus describes the role her women’s organisation played in self-organising the community during the siege in early 2016, “I do think the Syrian revolution is also a revolution for women, and there is no going back,” The importance of sharing the voices of Syria’s women revolutionaries is amplified due to the regime’s racist propaganda. Drawing on decades of Islamophobia stoked by Western and Russian imperialism, Assad’s hereditary dictatorship has painted itself as a secular, westernised
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“enlightened” state - claiming it is the last protector of women and religious minorities against the backwards and pious masses. In reality, Assad’s central strategy in his total war against the civilian population has been to unleash sectarianism, while painting his regime as the secular bastion fighting the rise of Islamic extremism. In reality, the overwhelming violence and sectarianism has come from Assad and his backers. While Assad was releasing hundreds of Sunni Jihadist cadres from his prisons he was filling them with teenage revolutionaries. Assad’s forces, as well as Iran’s sectarian militias, have committed sectarian atrocities against the majority Sunni population with the hope of provoking backlash, all the while continuing to negotiate oil deals with Islamic State. Anti-sectarianism has been a key part of the slogans and chants of the revolution. Many Syrians from religious and ethnic
minorities, particularly the poorest, joined the demonstrations against the regime or defected from the army. Ali Meeki, an Alawite woman who defected from Assad’s army to join the Free Syrian Army described her motivation. “The revolution gave dignity to the Syrian people and gave minorities a sense of belonging to one country. All of the sects in Syria have suffered so much under this regime,” she says. “When the regime shells towns, the shells do not discriminate between a sect and the other.” In rebel-held Aleppo, 25 year-old Zein decided to stay in the city rather than flee with her family. She worked as the head of a team of relief workers delivering aid to families on the frontlines. Today Zein’s neighbourhood has been forcibly displaced. In the last moments as they fled Aleppo, revolutionaries left messages of defiance against Assad’s encroaching forces. As Ghada al-Sayed Issa, a schoolteacher now in exile from her hometown in Idlib, says the counterrevolutions military successes have not crushed the convictions of the people. “When I finally managed to make my way back to my home, it was no longer there. The regime’s forces had burned it to the ground, along with all the mementos of my life. But they will never extinguish the flames of the revolution.”
ART BY DEEPA AL
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NOTES ON SELF-CARE AND COMMUNITY WORK ANNA HUSH REFLECTS ON THE INDIVIDUALISTIC DISCOURSE OF SELF-CARE
ast year, I spent a lot of my time working on the issue of sexual assault on campus. I read articles about sexual assault, I wrote about it, I spoke about it with friends and colleagues, I supported survivors of sexual assault through their processes of healing. My work started to consume my life. It took me time to realise it, but the work I was doing was dangerous work. I was experiencing vicarious trauma - the “emotional residue” that gets left over from first-hand contact with traumatised individuals and their stories. I was burning out, and fast. Burnout is common in communities of activists, and likely in most workers under capitalism. The rising ‘wellness movement’ claims to have the answer. Wellness articles urge us to practice self-care in response to burnout. Run a bath, buy yourself an expensive bottle of wine, treat yourself to a day at the spa, and you’ll feel better, the authors promise us. I followed their instructions, and perhaps felt better for a while - but at the end of it all, there was still work to be done; difficult, painful, necessary work. Turning to products to heal emotional pain felt like putting a bandaid on a broken leg. Another common injunction is to create boundaries between your work life and your personal time. It’s true that we all need and deserve leisure time outside of our labour - but some kinds of work are particularly hard to leave at the office, and especially so if you don’t have an office. So much unpaid political work and organising is done around studying or waged work, making it difficult, if not impossible, to uphold these boundaries. Reading through articles on self-care, they began to feel strangely similar to glossy women’s magazines; turning emotional well-being to just another product that can be bought and consumed. It’s not surprising that what began as a radical discourse has been subsumed by commercialisation - capitalism does tend to co-opt and destroy everything that might work against it. Writing on self-care is also often relentlessly individualistic and atomised, urging the reader to “look after yourself”.
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The coded message is that your wellbeing is your responsibility and yours alone, a message in which I found little solace at times of distress and powerlessness. Of course, time and space alone is incredibly important for many of us, and sometimes rituals like taking a bath or eating good food can be nourishing and healing. In these ways, they can serve the purpose that Audre Lorde famously identified - self-care as self-preservation, perhaps even an “act of political warfare”, sustaining ourselves to be able to continue our work. But what do we do when talk about emotional pain is stripped of its political roots, becoming just another directive to consume products? A tentative answer: we need to talk about and practice care not as individuals, but as communities. This starts with the acknowledgement that the emotional burdens of work are not evenly distributed, as a result of systemic and structural disadvantage. Working with vulnerable and marginalised communities, especially in a care or support role, takes a particular emotional, psychic and physical toll on workers, and particularly women, who do the lion’s share of this work. We need to share this labour between more people. This means putting structures in place to train more people, ensure this work is adequately compensated, and affirm the importance of the work that we are doing. We also need to do more to understand each others’ capacities for this work, and to integrate care - not only for ourselves, but for each other - into our organising practices as activists. This could look like ensuring that we check in with each other, that we debrief after doing difficult tasks, and respect each others’ limits for hard emotional labour. So, until the revolution comes, absolutely care for yourself - find out what works for you in preventing burnout and replenishing your energy. Do what you need to in order to be able to keep fighting. But let’s also talk about where this burnout and trauma originates, and how we can work to prevent it, not just treat it - together, as communities.
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HOW TO RESPOND TO A DISCLOSURE OF SEXUAL ASSAULT* When someone says they have been sexually assaulted, the first response can define their healing process and greatly impact them following their assault. Your role as a supporter is critical. A response which is supportive, non-blaming and compassionate will help the person feel like they have chosen the right person to speak with. To be the person someone choses to tell the most awful story of their life is a very honourable place to be. It is als a place of great responsibility. Below are some examples of important things to do and say to someone who tells you they have been sexually assaulted.
THREE KEY THINGS TO SAY... SAY...
• I’m sorry for what happened. • What happened was a crime. • I will do what I can to help.
THIS IS HEARD AS...
• I beleive you. • This is not your fault. • You are not alone.
INITIAL RESPONSE DO: • • • • • • •
Listen to the story. Let them express how they feel. Let them cry. Encourage them. Not worry if parts of the story don’t add up. Tell them you are sorry for what happened. Explain what you can do.
• Tell them what to do or try to take over. • Ask them the ‘why’ questions; why they were there, why they trusted them. >>Why questions are blame questions. • Get angry on their behalf. >>They have enough to deal with without worrying about you. • Assume you know how they feel. >>Everyone experiences sexual assault differently.
IF THE SEXUAL ASSAULT WAS RECENT • Consider options for preserving forensic evidence. • Help the person to access counselling and medical services. • Assist them to consider reporting to Police.
REMEMBER! The decision about what to do is always with the person who has experienced sexual assault.
* All information provided is from Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia (R&DVSA). Call NSW Rape Crisis Centre at 1800 424 017 to have direct access to trauma specialist councillors from the R&DVSA.
IT’S TIME FOR THE UNIVERSIT Y TO TAKE ACTION ON SEXUAL ASSAULT. 67%
of women students in Australia surveyed in 2015 have had an unwanted sexual experience.*
of those students did not report it to their university.*
of students who reported their experience to the University of Sydney felt that the procedures “did not help at all.”**
ACTIONS RECOMMENDED: Survey into the beliefs & attitudes about consent and sexual assault Overhaul the reporting system to meet industry standards Mandatory online consent module for all students Train staff and students to respond with compassion Train staff and students about vicarious trauma Consultation and transparency in the College Taskforce Specialist sexual assault training for on-campus counselors
Keep screening ‘The Hunting Ground’ Key resources in all Unit of Study Outlines Statement of policy on supporting survivors and handling complaints
STUDENTS DESERVE BETTER. * National Union of Students “Talk About It” survey, 2015 ** University of Sydney “Creating a Safer Community for All” pilot survey, 2015