One punch is OK? Unforgiveable, PM

We already know our Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, is susceptible to brain farts and mis-speaks.

From the Paid Parental Leave scheme that might have been a good idea at the time but is now a millstone round the PM’s neck, to the awkward and callous “shit happens” when discussing the death of an Australian soldier in Afghanistan, Abbott has consistently shown a troubling deficit in political acuity.

And now he has likened his role in defending the budget to throwing a punch in order to be best and fairest.

Yes, you read that right – our PM said that sometimes one must be the physical aggressor in order to be considered the epitome of fair sportsmanship.

Abbott was reportedly commenting at a media event on the ‘hits’ he was taking over the federal budget. He related an anecdote about a rugby match in his university days, a punch thrown to quell the dirty tactics of an opposing player, and how he was subsequently awarded a point for that punch in a newspaper’s best and fairest competition.

Abbott concluded his morality tale with the extraordinary exhortation:  “The point of the story is that sometimes you’ve got to throw a punch to be the best and fairest.”

The words “appalling” and “offensive” don’t even begin to describe this conclusion, both in isolation as well as the context within which it was made.

Last month, Tom Meagher, wrote a searing piece about the pernicious culture of everyday male violence against women, which had mostly escaped his notice until the rape and murder of his wife Jill Meagher.

Having since reached the conclusion that all instances of violence against women have the same cause, that is “violent men, and the silence of non-violent men”, Meagher presented us with the confronting truth that “most rapists are normal guys, guys we might work beside or socialise with, our neighbours or even members of our family” and that “violent men are socialised by the ingrained sexism and entrenched masculinity that permeates everything from our daily interactions all the way up to our highest institutions.”

What does this have to do with a superficial media grab from the Prime Minister?

Everything.

Abbott’s clumsy suggestion, even as a joke, that decking an opponent on the football field is somehow fair play, is a perfect example of the normalising of violence that Bailey is warning us about.

Considering the persistent allegation that he punched a wall beside the head of a female political adversary to intimidate her during in his university days, and contemporary accusations of him being a sexist or misogynist, Abbott should have simply known better than to introduce a violent metaphor to the debate over the budget.

It’s one thing to be resilient in the face of turbulent political times, but quite another to condone – let alone celebrate – thuggish behaviour.

How will the men and boys of Australia learn that it’s not okay to give their wife, partner or child a smack in the mouth for giving lip, when the leader of the country implies that it’s not only okay to throw a punch at a troublesome adversary but jolly well sporting of one to do so?

How will the apparent targets of Abbott’s comment – the pensioners, disabled people, students and unemployed – feel about their PM suggesting he should give them a bit of biff in return for the hard time they’re giving him?

And how will the women of Australia – of which anywhere from one-quarter to one-third will experience physical or sexual violence by a man sometime in their lives – be anything other than horrified by the example set by the Prime Minister?

Abbott’s comments may seem inconsequential, but they are in fact the height of irresponsibility and disrespect towards the women who’ve lived with or been subjected to violence by men. For us, the condoning of violence is never an amusing or trivial thing.

Meagher is now promoting the White Ribbon campaign to stop violence against women. He quotes in his essay a call to action by feminist and anti-violence educator Lee Lakeman:

“Violent men, and men in authority over violent men, and the broader public that authorises those men, are not yet shamed by the harm of coercive control over women … Maybe we can rest some hope on the growing activity of men of goodwill calling on each other to change. When that group hits a critical mass, the majority of men will be more likely to want to change.”

There is no point resting that hope in Tony Abbott. Clearly the Prime Minister remains one of those who are not yet shamed. Pinning a white ribbon to his lapel and mouthing platitudes about preventing violence against women will do nothing to reverse the destructive impact of him normalising violence to further his own political agenda.

Originally published at The Hoopla.

No ifs or buts – it’s not okay to flirt at work

Here’s my latest piece for The King’s Tribune…

Every now and then, some well-meaning pop-psychologist or otherwise knob-end decides it would be jolly good to assure women that it’s okay to flirt at work. Each time they do, I want to slam my head against the nearest ergonomically-enhanced workspace.

Just last month, a female writer in one of the local broadsheets exhorted women to “simultaneously be a feminist and a flirt” to succeed in business. She tittered that the economic benefits far outweigh the disapproval of the sisterhood because a recent study by the London School of Economics found the use of feminine wiles improves one’s prospects of brokering success by up to a third.

FFS. This psychobabble is like encouraging a woman to promote her wood-chopping skills by lopping the tree branch she happens to be standing upon. Nothing has more potential to undermine the endeavours of women to achieve workplace equality than to turn the office into a local hangout for RSVP.com.

Click here to keep reading….

My lost love: books

Tonight I’ve been talking books with @rosepowell and @margotdate on Twitter.

I love, love, love books: once I could easily get lost in a book to the exclusion of all else.

I remember when, at times, I would sequester books like a squirrel in a pile beside my bed, waiting for the end of semester or the Christmas holidays.  Then I would spend hours at the kitchen table, on the couch, beside the pool, under the tree, or in bed, immersed in some other world.

Sometimes I would put down a book once I had reached the beginning of the last chapter in the knowledge that I would soon be leaving this world, to grieve a little before I had to say my final goodbyes.

More often than not I would shed a tear or two at the end, regardless of the happy or sad ending.

But today, books are my lost love. Since being diagnosed with depression and now taking the appropriate medication, I just don’t have the attention span needed to read a book.

I’ve tried, many times, in both dead-tree and digital form, to align my heart’s passion for books with the diminished capacity of my chemically-constrained brain. Sadly, my mind wanders within 30 minutes and I must move on to something else.

That’s not to say I regret having to sacrifice books for sanity. Without medication I’m not sure I would be here at all. I also have a loving, respectful and supportive relationship with my daughter that I may have otherwise destroyed in my depressive state.  And I manage to find meaningful, if sometimes frustrating, employment, which helps to pay the bills.

So I relegate books to the drawer that holds the other lost loves of my life – to be treasured and occasionally unearthed with smiles and fond reminiscences.

For the record, here are my favourite books:

Be fearless, be yourself, and protect your well being

Be fearless, be yourself

I don’t remember exactly when I first realised I was fearless.

Perhaps it was that time ten years ago when I became aware that two dishevelled teenage girls were waiting to roll me for cash outside a public toilet. Instead of cowering in the cubicle, I thought “well, this should be interesting” and boldly stepped out of the stall. Perhaps luckily for me, the girls had already fled because a young mother with a pram had entered the room.

The event was not a turning point, but an indication that something in me had changed.

I certainly haven’t always been this way. The list of fears I’ve grappled with over the years is quite lengthy. Many were imagined inadequacies: not measuring up when it came to being smart, pretty, thin, sexy, experienced, cool, quirky, assertive, articulate, patient or affectionate.

Other fears were more substantial and nurtured by the emotional blackmailers and bullies in my life. It was through them that I learned to fear inadequacy, powerlessness and invisibility. And my fear of being selfish kept me involved with those people much longer than I should have been.

It was not the act of leaving those relationships which made me fearless, though. I left only after accepting that it did not make me a bad person to put my own well being first; particularly my mental health, which was unknowingly under pressure at the time.

I believe my refusal to feel guilty for these acts of self-preservation engendered the fearlessness that I feel today.

What does it mean to be fearless? Well, it is more than striding confidently into battle. Being fearless can also mean being ruthless and dispassionate.

For me it means always putting my mental health first, and simply avoiding those stressful situations and people that cause my depression to surface.

It means not feeling guilty to decline invitations, instead of feeling obliged to accept and then stressing and lying about why I cancelled or didn’t show. It means happily refusing the assistance of well-meaning match-makers or dates with men where there is no chemistry, even though the alternative is to be alone.

It also means reducing my social circle to those with whom I really care to spend time, and limiting my exposure to my extended family and its dramas.

Being fearless has brought innumerable positives to my life. Foremost, it has nurtured within me a confident self-acceptance: I’m comfortable with my own company, being in my own skin, my age, my economic circumstances, and my abilities and preferences, while genuinely not giving a toss about what other people might think.

Fearlessness also helps me to resist emotional blackmail and stand up to bullies. It entitles me to refuse to be defined or constrained by others’ value systems and currencies for measuring self-worth. It equips me to speak my mind. And it helps me to accept when I am not liked – or loved – and to understand that solitude does not mean loneliness.

Perhaps most importantly of all, fearlessness enables me to be totally unapologetic about putting my own well being first.

Yes, my fearlessness makes me uncompromising but I write about it in the hope that I can encourage other people to be fearless too. Particularly women, who I believe are not well served by this society which even now encourages them to put themselves second after partners, families and their employers.

Fear makes us small and erodes our self-worth. Fearlessness gives us the right to be, and to protect, ourselves. Be fearless, be yourself, and protect your well being.

Time to demand better behaviour from our sporting heroes

The issue at the heart of recent footballer fiascos is acceptance of the responsibility that comes with celebrity.

In many ways, it is the football establishment that has dropped the ball by not adequately preparing players for the considerable risk that celebrity can pose to their personal and professional reputations.

It is astounding that in this modern football age, which uses sophisticated training regimes including GPS tracking of players, and which depends upon split second decision-making by finely-tuned athletes, that little attempt is made to simultaneously develop the decision-making capability of these testosterone-laden men off the field.

It is astounding that in this modern football age, where literally millions of dollars are invested in the various football brands, that each player is not constantly drilled with the 24/7 responsibility he carries to protect the integrity of the brand and therefore his own livelihood.

Why is this so? In part, I believe this can be attributed to our own willingness to let successful professional sportsmen get away with blokish and yobbish behaviour. It is a combination of the “boys will be boys” deflection with the “win at any cost” mentality.

At the heart of this, it is the fans who condone the behaviour, and so the football management and sponsors follow suit.

Professional footballers can be paid up to 2-3 times more than the politicians who run our country. The politicians know that they are under constant scrutiny by the community and, while there are some notable exceptions, most act accordingly.

Conversely, professional footballers are led to believe – by management and by fans – that they are publicly accountable only for their actions on the field and that what happens after the game is nobody’s business but their own. This selective accountability is magnified if the individual is particularly talented or his club is high on the ladder.

It is indeed true that what happens in an individual’s private life is their own business. Equally though, each person must also conduct themselves in a way to ensure that their private life does not spill into and adversely impact their public life.

Surely the time has come to teach these men that their playing career is a job, not a game, and that it should be taken seriously – both on and off field. Surely the time has come for alcohol to be ruled out of a professional footballer’s life – as it is for many other professional athletes.

Surely the time has come for football management to equip these young men with the awareness and skills necessary to realise they don’t have to get drunk to have a good time, don’t have to flash their bits to have a laugh, and don’t have to demean a eoman to feel like a man.

Surely its time for the fans to realise that we have created a monster and to start demanding better behaviour from our sporting heroes.

Post script: The “St Kilda schoolgirl” posted a very similar piece of advice on her blog in February.

This post also appeared at The Notion Factory.

I’m sick of running the gauntlet of smiling harassers

The smiling gauntlet

How has it come to this? How has the natural human reaction to be polite been turned against us as a ruthless selling ploy?

I guess I should be thankful I’m not naturally a people person, but I still feel a small pang of guilt or embarrassment every time I decline to be stopped by the handsome young man trying to “just ask a quick question” before he plies me with his employer’s over-priced hand moisturiser.

Or when I turn away the cute Telstra guy who appears on my doorstep on a Sunday afternoon trying to sell me his employer’s latest broadband package.

Or when I decline to take up the latest fabulous accommodation package from the friendly woman on my mobile who amazingly doesn’t stop for breath during her sales pitch.

These selling tactics rely on us being too polite to ignore them or brush them away, and too guilty to buy nothing once they have invested time and energy in the exchange.

It has now come to the point that we can no longer pop down to the local store for a loaf of bread, take a leisurely stroll through our favourite shopping mall or even open our front door without having to run the gauntlet of these smiling harassers.

I’m sick of feeling guilty when I am forced to engage with these pan-handlers. Now I feel manipulated by the charming, smiling, waving, hand-proffering young people who have been trained not to take no for an answer and to persevere with salutations and questions and dazzling smiles.

The irony of course is that I’m a profligate spender. Catch my attention in a way that lets me make up my own mind in my own time and I’ll open my wallet with surprising speed.  I’m happy to sponsor a child’s education through the Smith Family, drop a twenty on an Anzac or Legacy badge, spend $50 on a wonderful smelling candle or $300 on the right face cream.  But I do all these things because they make me feel good either directly or indirectly.  None of these expenditures were leveraged through guilt.

It’s time we all stood up to this selling tactic and just said no – tell them directly, complain to the shopping centre or mall manager and broadcast your rejection as loudly and widely as you can.  I’ve already started and I hope you will join me.

Postscript: Cornucopia Consulting is the company that trains these harassers. Here is the email address that you can use to lodge your personal complaint:enquiries@cornucopia.com.au