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Men, this is your cue

Men, this is your cue

“She’s a cougar,” he said, smiling with amusement.

Davy* (not his real name) was dismissing the romantic interest of a woman at the speed dating event – she was an attractive 52-year-old.

“How old are you?” I asked. Davy looked like he might be quite close to 50 himself.

He looked surprised for a second then answered, “I’m 47.”

“But you’d go out with a woman five years younger than you, right?” I queried.

“Yeah, of course,” he said offhandedly before changing the subject.

Of course.

Davy’s comments shouldn’t have surprised me but they did. I keep hoping that when it comes to gender politics, we will have evolved more. But too many men seem to be stuck in some weird dimension located around the 1950s where double-standards are still in residence and remain quite comfortable, thank you very much.

Over the past year or so, I have watched:

  • Tony Robbins (a supposedly evolved thought leader) disparage the #metoo movement and use his physicality to push a woman back (into her box?) at an event in front of thousands of people
  • legislation be passed in some southern states in the United States to control women and their reproductive choices by preventing their access to abortion (even in the cases of rape and incest!). No surprises that the legislators have frequently been white men and religious doctrine has played an influencing role.
  • increasing commentary on social media about how abortion shouldn’t be permitted in Australia either – once again with a lot of men and religious rhetoric leading the discussion (men + religion often doesn’t always work out so great for women’s rights)
  • Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius (following the murder of yet another woman in Melbourne this week) state, “The key point, is this is about men’s behaviour, it’s not about women’s behaviour. Every time I hear about woman being attacked – for me as a man – it gives me some pause for reflection about what it is in our community that makes men think it’s okay to attack women, or take what they want from women”.

    Some public commentators subsequently bleated the same old “but not all men” statement in response to Luke’s words instead of doing some of their own reflection and saying, “Well, yeah, I can see that men are doing this and I’m a man, so I guess I have a role to play. What action can I take?”

  • Tanya Plibersek pull out of the Labor leadership race stating she could “not reconcile” the “important responsibilities I have to my family with the additional responsibilities of the Labor leadership” (Sydney Morning Herald, May 26, 2019) clearly indicating that perhaps Australia’s parliament isn’t the most family friendly or supportive place for women

  • Australia’s prime minister give a speech on International Women’s Day saying “We don’t want to see women rise only on the basis of others doing worse.” In other words, women can’t rise if it means others [men] will be displaced. Despite the fact that many women haven’t risen because they haven’t received the same advantages as men.

Let’s just say, as a woman, a feminist and someone who supports equality, these events have been disappointing to say the least. We’re not in the 1950s anymore, so why does it feel like we’re still there?

I understand these are tricky times. Men don’t always know these days what their role is. Most want to do the right thing but there is, I’m afraid, a large degree of apathy when it comes to standing up and saying to other men, “Mate, that’s not how we do things anymore. Women deserve our respect. We don’t control them. And we don’t dismiss their opinions just because they don’t align with our beliefs about how things should (and have always) been.”

There also seems to be a degree of reticence by some men to genuinely reflect on their own behaviour and consider that their ‘normal’ treatment of women is no longer acceptable (not that it ever was). Instead of being calm and less emotional (as they often tell us women to be), some men jump to angry defensiveness at the very mention that they may have a role to play in addressing the issues women are experiencing at the hands of men. It’s much easier it seems to point back to women and somehow blame them for being the problem than take a look at their own behaviour.

Some don’t like the thought that they may not hold exclusive power for much longer and are using their influence to try to retain the status quo. I think this explains the swing to the right we are seeing in the US particularly, and also in other nations globally where governments are increasingly seeking to stifle women’s voices and rights.

For example, a woman’s right to decide if she is going to use her womb to procreate is one of the few things that men cannot directly control – it is one of the few things women have exclusive power over. Yet, we are seeing moves in some places to remove our rights to this body autonomy. If we ever needed a sign that some men were very fearful – then this is a big one. Let’s not delude ourselves. If those men were really concerned about unwanted pregnancies, they would be legislating to make it unlawful for men to have sex without birth control (vasectomy anyone?) or legally ensuring they had to be 100 percent involved post-birth (both financially and in person) and provide adequate flexibility in workplaces, etc. But of course, they’re not doing that. Forcing birth control on men (which would definitely prevent abortions because their would be no accidental pregnancies in the first place) is out of the question yet forcing women to procreate against their will is acceptable, apparently. Double standards anyone?

Women are standing up and demanding more. And I won’t lie, a lot of us are angry about the way things have been going. We’re angry because things aren’t changing and, in fact, sometimes it feels like we’re going backwards.

I believe that when we work together, women, men or however you identify, we can achieve great things. But at the moment, many men are sitting on the sidelines and allowing the status quo to be maintained through their silence.

You need to get into the game gentlemen. We need you there. We want you there. We want to hear you standing beside us saying things like:

“It’s not good enough. Women deserve to have autonomy over their bodies, just like I have over my body.”

“Mate, don’t speak about women disrespectfully. No means no and she doesn’t have to stroke your ego and worry you might become abusive just because she hurt your feelings by saying no.”

“We need more flexible work arrangements so parents can work and take care of their children, so I’m going to make that company policy.”

“Being violent towards women is never acceptable and if I know that you are intimidating or being violent towards a woman, I’m going to pull you into line, report you and let you know very clearly that it’s not acceptable behaviour.”

Good men, we need you to do this because a lot of your peers don’t seem to be listening. We need your help. If you want to know what your role is nowadays, this is a big part of it. This is how you help provide for the safety and rights of the women and society you care about – you make sure women have a non-negotiable, equal voice at the table.

This is how we work in partnership to create a better world.

Men, this is your cue.

#metoo #feminist #menthisisyourcue #equality #equalrights

Refugees, leaky boats and a loss of compassion

refugeesIt was announced this week that the Australian Government had given $40M in aid to the Cambodian Government, along with $15.5M for the International Office of Migration, to support the refugees our country will send to Cambodia this year for resettlement.*

Yes we (a first-world country) have sent refugees who have sought asylum from us to Cambodia (a third-world country with all its associated financial and social challenges) and we’ve sent along a nice package of money to assuage our collective conscience and make it palatable (kind of).

Meanwhile, in the northern hemisphere, European countries discuss ‘doing something’ about the refugee situation while leaving one country (Italy) to do most of the ‘doing’ and rescue those who are perilously close to drowning in local seas.

And in the last month we’ve watched countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia squabble over who should rescue those floating in leaky boats off their shores; possibly risking the possible loss of life while the discussions were held.

The rhetoric of most of these countries is usually focused on ‘stopping the boats’ or ‘cracking down on people traffickers’. But strangely, not many seem to focus too much on why the people get into the boats in the first place. And some of them are also very quick to suggest those refugees aren’t really genuine anyway. Any suggestion of compassion doesn’t seem to feature much at all.

And so it goes.

I don’t generally use my blog to make political statements but I find in this case, I just couldn’t keep quiet anymore. So tomorrow or the next day I will write again about psychic happenings or self-development. But today, I shall write of something else I feel passionate about – compassion and people who ask for our help.

Refugees, however they come, are asking for our help. They are part of a global phenomenon of displaced people that isn’t going away anytime soon. Refugees (including those who arrive by boat) are generally people who are desperate for a better life. Why else would you put your safety, and that of your family, in the hands of a dodgy bloke with dodgy-looking boat? Rational thought would suggest you need to be pretty desperate to take that action.

Refugees are sometimes the human result of wars the West have instigated over the last few years. Other times they are the result of wars or violent repression we have ignored or felt powerless to act against. As human beings, I believe we have a responsibility in these situations to ensure these displaced people are treated with dignity regardless of how they arrive and what their claim is. However, if half the stories about Australia’s detention centres are to be believed, then I guess we’re failing on that front.

As someone who has worked with refugee communities and heard first-hand some of their stories of survival, I can’t help but feel moved by their plight. I’ve also been inspired by their determination to make a life for themselves and ‘give it a go’ in countries where they are often greeted with suspicion and misplaced judgement.

I’ve watched one family walk down a street where every second ‘local’ person turned and rudely stared because they were so very black (being African) and everyone else there was so very white. I squirmed inside to see it and wondered how the ‘locals’ would feel if the situation was reversed. I also wondered how many of them realised just how hard those parents worked to support their family and keep food on the table.

So now, in Australia particularly, I watch the images flicker across my television screen of desperate people in the middle of the ocean and listen to politicians point fingers and pass on the ‘issue of refugees’ to a third-world country. And I listen to those same politicians (and some members of our media) as they determinedly seek to insidiously make the words ‘illegal arrivals’ part of our vernacular when under international law it is legal to seek asylum whenever you believe your life is in peril.

In a perfect world, people who feared for their lives would assemble in an orderly fashion at a desk somewhere and politely request assistance. They would hand over all their relevant documentation (because they would have had time to collect all the relevant documents before their departure) and their claims would be assessed. Unfortunately, in many places in the world, this is simply not an option because people can’t reach a processing centre in the first place. Other times the thought of spending years in refugee camps in desolate conditions is too hopeless to consider. Some will instead risk everything to give their family a better chance because the alternative has become too awful.

I’m not so naïve that I believe we should simply open our doors and say ‘come on in’ without checks and balances. There needs to be a process to ensure those who seek asylum are genuine and processing needs to be timely (not take years and years as it often seems to now).

But I think we need to remember the meaning of compassion and that it doesn’t just apply to our nearest and dearest. Compassion shouldn’t be applied selectively. When someone asks for our help, regardless of whether their request conforms to our idea of appropriateness, as humans we need to provide assistance. We need to remember our compassion and acknowledge that although someone looks different to us on the surface they are still humans (just like us) underneath. They love, feel pain, bleed and try to do their best, just like us.

We are all responsible for each other. Like it or not, we are part of a global community. And when we forget our compassion for others, when our view becomes so narrow that we find it easier to point the finger, convince ourselves it’s not our problem and then pack people (who have been proven to be genuine refugees) off to a third-world country (with a nice wad of money to salve our conscience) there is something seriously wrong.

I would so like to see our politicians remember what compassion is. I would like them to find a new way to approach this global problem that isn’t based on prejudice and passing the buck. I would like them to acknowledge sometimes people seek our help because they need it and we have an obligation to treat them as human beings deserving of our respect.

Locking them up in off-shore detention centres where rational and well-balanced members of the community such as the Australian Medical Association say the conditions are appalling, is not the answer.

Passing legislation to legally stop journalists and others reporting on the refugee issues and conditions in those centres is also not the answer.

And sending refugees off to a third-world country with enough of its own problems is not acceptable either.

Remember compassion and find a better way. Seriously, I beg you. Find a better way than what we’re doing right now. I know we can.

*Statistics taken from ABC News reports http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-04/refugees-from-nauru-detention-centre-arrive-in-cambodia/6521972