Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Crisis of Masculinity

As the sordid details of what Donald Trump has done to women over the years emerges in the public domain, as we are enmeshed in the zenith of the controversy that is his Presidential campaign, and as we reflect on what kind of people his supporters must be - to watch and hear detail after detail of his vile misogyny, his deep hatred of women's agency, his naked distrust of gender equality and all the implications that flow from it, and ponder our place in the universe at just this time, I do need desperately to step back and examine with a critical conscience this crisis encapsulating us, this crisis that we seemed to have taken steps to move on from in the west, only to realize that we are as ensconced in it as our caveman ancestors were; which would have been an exaggeration if not for a guest on a television show yesterday explicitly supporting Trump's misdeeds by saying that the history of civilization could be renamed, "Who Gets The Girl".

I grew up in a conservative society surrounded by strong women who seemed to exude a strength that I admired, but knew I would never possess to a similar degree. Everything in my experience pointed to the validity of a woman's agency, that girls could be as ambitious as boys, that sports were as accessible to both genders, that you would challenge a woman on her assumptions with nothing else to go on but your belief that she was less worthy as a woman, only at your existential peril.
When that changed, I really don't know, but I do remember my mother telling me a number of times while growing up that there was a difference between men and women, that certain assumptions could be made regarding propensity and character according to gender, and that we would be naive to assume otherwise.
These were certainly shocking to hear at the time - coming from a woman who determined who she would love and marry, what she would study, how many children she would have, what businesses she would open and when they would close, and how exactly she would deal with the death of a husband who left her with three little children and very little else when he died of cancer when she was thirty-three.
Even later, in team sport locker rooms, and male-only meetings, I did hear overt misogyny that I assumed reflected a dark shame at something the proponent of such talk needed to be relieved of, and never imagined that it was more pervasive than a marginal male persuasion that was restricted to the inadequate, in ways I wasn't really going to be bothered imagining. Every time I heard an overt appeal for what I supposed was juvenile camaraderie, to join in banter ascribing all sorts of fantastical notions related to the 'purity' (or the lack thereof) of women in our society, that 'they' must know their place, that social breakdown was imminent if traditional gender roles were overturned, I always brushed them aside thinking that this braggadocio would last only so long as it was disabused of in an inevitable enlightening encounter with a woman that I didn't envy the proponent of. I remember that I did also imagine that the things I was hearing, and the attitudes that were being disseminated, were a reflection of a society in the death throes of a tiring social conservatism. As a migrant, I have now left that society behind and live, work and breathe in a world where women are ubiquitous; in every career, in every facet of human experience, in every social encounter... and when they are not, the absence is anomalous; to be fought against, to be campaigned for, to be rejected together. I do have a daughter now, and am married, thankfully, to a woman who will rage against the dying of the light, certainly, but also at any subjective disappointment in her life that may not be a reflection of her professional abilities or her personal agency. I am grateful for that because it reminds me of the women I have always known and grown up with and therefore feels familiar, but also because I know that there will never be a time when I will be allowed a laxity in the opinions I hold, or a compromise I make, when it comes to defending and actively supporting the rights of women everywhere.

But there is this question of the Trump supporters, and all those men (and women) all over the world who dismiss the severity of his actions and view them as reflective of a rightful alignment of the place we should allow women in society. And joke about assault. And condone the sexualization of young girls. Where does that end? Where does it begin? What is its use-by date? Is it really related to the perception of the relative uselessness of men in a world where women can do as well, if not better, than men in traditional occupations?
In my opinion, all of that is superfluous. If we cannot regard the people we live alongside, and love, and share meaningful moments with, on par with those we don't; who have nothing more in common with us than a historical notion of superiority based on muscle power or anatomy or sexual submission, then there is certainly nothing wrong with the world at large.
There is something deeply wrong with us.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

White Blinding

In the normal course of events, any nationally embarrassing occurrence that has been given rise to by a confluence of factors determined directly by the institutions that people rely on for their understanding of standards in public safety or public decency or a societal sense of fairness is, before being investigated thoroughly and been seen by the public to be investigated thoroughly, condemned publicly and unequivocally by the powers that be so that, if for nothing else, the occurrence can be seen as an aberration - not reflective of community standards and beliefs, and in need of review, not least in the mores of the very institutions that allowed such events to transpire.

For various reasons, the moral high ground has been given a pass, much less captured, by everyone in the public eye following the revelation of events that occurred in the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre amidst the public outcry that has followed in its wake. And instead of a clear delineation between what is the personally and institutionally understood acceptable treatment of detained children in the state's custody and the distancing of such from the brutality witnessed in the Four Corners episode, we have launched into a bizarre national discussion about familial standards in Australian indigenous societies.
As a first generation immigrant to Australia, with only a rudimentary understanding of the history of this nation in its documented treatment of, and its communal and social relations with, the indigenous communities of this land, and not possessed of a first-hand experience of the justice system in the Northern Territory, I understand that I am not equipped to question the institutional and structural inadequacies of the penal/corrections system anywhere in this country. What I can do, though, is address attitudes that I have been exposed to in my interactions with white Australians in their natural habitat, namely the pubs or cafes where a certain lowering of the guard and exchanges of confidences have been known to occur, unrestricted therein by notions of propriety that govern our interactions in the workplace and within most family homes where children are present.
The only paraphrased interaction (with parentheses for details that were not cleared up at the time) I need cite here, among many many others expressing a wish that, "...they just die off...", or that indigenous people lack dignity and self-respect because, "...they piss right there in their pants while waiting in the queue for the dole..." is this illustration that was put to me during a discussion about racism towards Aboriginals in modern Australia :-

You are looking at a road with two pavements running along on either side. On one side of the road you see an elderly white Australian woman walking slowly and coming into contact with a group of Aboriginal children (age undeclared) who are heading in the opposite direction. They impede her path, tease her, render her shaken and scared, and then move on. Would you call that woman racist if, on a future occasion, when walking down the same pavement, she were to cross the road to the other side if she noticed a group of Aboriginal children (unclear if they were the same children) walking again towards her?

It is important to state at the outset that there are a number of assumptions attached to the question at hand that the anonymous poser has made, related to my understanding of this case, all having to do with perspective. Would I, for example, have viewed what happened differently if I was geographically looking on from the other direction i.e. the place from which the children were travelling? What if I had known the identity of the elderly woman including possible unsavoury parts of her history as related to her known attitudes towards indigenous people? Is there ever an excuse for bad behaviour by youth brought on by triggers ranging from developmental issues to social/economic disparities and health inequities, and do they deserve wider scrutiny when considering the policing of, and wider attitudes towards the jurisprudence of, disadvantaged minors?

This is, in essence, a simple and illustrative test case that we can all immediately get on the right side of, isn't it? After all, everyone wants to feel secure when walking down a street. Everyone is outraged that an elderly person, who has probably made untold sacrifices in her life for her family, community, and country, can be treated in this way without consequences for her unprovoked aggressors. Where is the law, where are the children's families, where are the community standards etc., etc., etc.?
But the larger question is; whose standards are we imposing, whose laws are we enforcing, whose families are we casting aspersions on? By restricting yourself to the perspective of the elderly woman, who has every right to move on to the other side of the street without being labelled an incorrigible racist, aren't we identifying with her a little too much?
If one has not been born into a well of privilege, lacking opportunities for well-rounded education through childhood and early youth, encountering violence and alcoholism within the family home, and is exposed to a litany of communal victimisation and shame and villainy throughout his/her life, can we judge him/her by the same standards that we impose on a group of opportunistic and misguided children cruelly preying upon a hapless victim for a momentary experience of predatory bravado?
No, we cannot. Perspective is everything. If we are not able to structurally address the causes of Aboriginal victimhood by a system specifically set up to address the concerns of the Aboriginal community throughout Australia, we do not have the right to judge the predatory behaviour of an outlying few of their members. If we do not set up a system by, of, and for all indigenous peoples that repairs and rehabilitates the historical deficits of trust between immigrants and the original custodians of this land, then we are never going to give rise to a common hope for the future of all communities that make up modern Australia.

The time to cross the road is long past.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

About That Person Who Said, "Life is Easy"

It is said about the course of history that there always comes a time when an event, however seemingly insignificant at the time, determines the eventual direction of an outcome. And in the course of enervating election campaigns, critical national referendums, hugely consequential law suits, portentous parliamentary debates et al, it can be said that there always is a public expectation that such an 'earth-shattering', 'game-changing' event is nigh.

It is almost a comment on the evolution of modern society; the much maligned study of instant gratification and its causes, for instance, or the seasonally popular debate on the FoMo (Fear of Missing Out) crisis spreading in an increasingly social media-reliant world. It goes without saying that sometimes these events are actively scripted by the parties involved - a couple of hours spent on that seminal Barry Levinson movie, 'Wag the Dog' (1997) should suffice to illustrate, accompanied by a bewitchingly becalming soundtrack, how these kinds of things could come about.

But are we now seeing the Dawn of an Age of the perpetual anti-climax in relation to our sense about the expected timing of these revelations in the natural order of our lives?
No one expected the events of 9/11 to transpire when they did, surely. They came at a time when public apathy to calamities in the Third World and the environment, to a sense of community participation, to the inequalities and suffering of peoples far removed from our social and economic spheres of influence was at an all-time high, and when music evoking a spirit of nihilism influenced a generation of all-too-eager escapists. But the social upheavals we are seeing right now have only a marginal relation to the events, and the repercussions to the events, of 9/11, even though they seem to occupy a before-and-after kind of epoch-like social significance in the understanding of the modern world. Pandemics have occurred, and were tackled at the time by governments and researchers, long before we discovered their propensity to traverse time-zones and affect the fates of millions of people not immediately responsible for their advent. Innumerable refugee crises followed history-altering changes in the societies of people whose names we still cannot pronounce. Drought, floods, dictator-driven pogroms, and genocide have been happening ever since the dawn of time and continue to happen today.

Why do we only see the significance of these events in relation to our unique place in the history of the world today? Are we becoming a more democratic, less spiritually-distant, more community-oriented, and - dare I say it - less apathetic species with our unparalleled inter-connectivity, our multi-faceted grassroots activism, our ecologically-inspired convictions about leading relatively less-wasteful lives today? Are we finally seeing that every little thing that happens to the least of us, somewhere far away from our immediate orbit, in a distant land, among those with only the most rudimentary of symbolic connections to our own lives, is something that happens to all of us 'here and now' too? Is it possible to ignore the cynicism of daily political discourse, the 'reality' of things as politicians of a certain persuasion are fond of saying, the very real and frightening prospect of large-scale temporary unemployment, and persevere in the search for a new and authentic leadership that courageously faces the naysayers of the world with an absolute conviction about the validity of our tryst with the global community, our pact with the natural world, and our belief in the common good?

Is it possible that all the tools we need to spark the event we have all been waiting for are already at hand, and that all it will take to change our world is to believe that we actually can?

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Shape of It

There are warning signs. There always are.

A pattern is slowly established from innocuous occurrences that build up frustration at things that you would otherwise regard as the natural wages of living - inadequacies on a professional or familial or personal level, disappointments at the pace and progress of life, the expressed troubles of members of the family unit that have nothing to do with you but that you tend to view subjectively, as if it is a personal failure of some kind that's being superimposed on the other.
This is most often followed by an unconscious preparation - chores that are left undone until the last possible minute, inane things that distract the mind from what's coming.

And then it inexorably hits; first as an explosion that is often directed at the original source of the frustration that was its first herald, and then the revelatory aftermath that redirects at yourself the realisation that it has, indeed, struck again and is determining the course of your life independent of the will.
It is always a submission then; at the self-pity, the rage at historical slights, and always, always, at the razor-sharp focus on the inadequacy of others - how they are perceived to have let you down, how they could have prevented that letting down from happening, that they could have so easily been better: parents, siblings, relatives, friends, managers, colleagues, other human beings that you had actually met too briefly to impose such a world of responsibility for your current fate on. (So yes, it does take on the qualities of a grand fiction for a time.)

The submission is total; it clouds everything. A television show that's on only to shame you into remembering that that writer, director, producer, actor could have indeed been you and that you have failed to take advantage of the opportunities that came your way. A book whose every sentence is reminding you that you did not write that still-born tome of yours and that you would have, if only you had expended the effort at the chance when it arose. The customer service attendant at the service station, newsagent, liquor store, or supermarket reminding you of how hard she's working when you're totally slacking off and mired in self-pity at the fact that you're so totally slacking off.

Communication with loved ones becomes a tiring exercise in camouflage - feigning interest in what they're talking about, their trials and successes, their failures and hopes, when all you can think about is how whatever they're telling you reflects on you.

It is a monster of perception excess. It is monumental scrutiny of the subjective. It is a microphone and a stethoscope and a camera and a mirror focused wholly on you, picking up all the minutiae of the parts of you that you that are the most vulnerable and showing it straight back to you without the benefit of a space-time analytic distance. It is a relentless cycle. The body feels weak, the mind shackled, the day long, the air thin... Until all you can do is wish and will and pray and plead for it to be gone, to go back from whence it came, to disappear just as organically as it diabolically appeared, to rise and leave you and not look back at your quivering, sniveling, pathetic self when it does.

And then you wake up, sometimes days, weeks, months, years since you began to think of your life in this way, and it is not there.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


Oh Memory, What are you?
Just the glimpse of the corner of a wall
Or a bush or a pattern in the air
Bringing on a rush of longing for a feeling
Long swept aside or so I thought
On a terraced wave of suppressed anxiety.

Can you not intrude on my present, please?
When all I want is not to cringe and berate myself and lie awake
When I am engaged in relating to the here and now
Completely uninterested in the then and there
And the who and how.

Oh Memory, If I could so much as resist a whiff
Of the better times
And the warmer people
And the unalloyed love
And the greater passion
Of times past that should remain there
And not in the now.