Australia Day: Thank goodness that’s over for another year

Upon observing a spike in stats here on Australia Day, I note with some pleasure that my un-Australian musings from last year are being revisited. (My thoughts haven’t changed, create a new holiday, not on ‘Invasion Day’ and put it somewhere like July or August – a time of year when we could all do with a day off). This year I was again troubled by the thought that this year’s public holiday would be marred by the violence that soured last year’s events. (The signs were not good, not only the ‘cheap, cheap’ stores, but also Target and Big W, were stocking up on patriotic wear for the whole family and then there was the sudden appearance of a large Australian flag in my neighbour’s front window).  But things don’t seem to have been that bad this year. A quick (and I do emphasise quick, share in comments any stories that I’ve missed) peruse of the interwebs has not turned up the ‘Boozy Australia Day brawl deplorable’ type headlines of last year, but rather, I did find various commentators critiquing the seemingly ubiquitous ‘patriotic’ bad behaviour that emerges this time of year. See, for examples, Marieke Hardy on ABC’s the Drum, John Birmingham in the Brisbane Times, Shakira Hussein at the Stump, and tigtog at Hoyden About Town. Our Kev chooses not to indulge in rhetoric about keeping out the so-called undeserving to mark the holiday, he pontificates on other topics, (I wish the leader for the Opposition would show the same restraint).

(Prime example of patriotic bumper sticker)

Here we celebrated in a very low-key fashion, with a quiet BBQ with some friends that we have been meaning to catch up with since before Christmas. Unlike the rest of the street – the party only ended when our neighbour’s brawling united everyone in their desire to get them to calm down. After the police had been and gone and taken home a couple of young girls who didn’t feel safe in the street we could all get some sleep. This morning as I cleaned up the beer bottles from the front gutter I couldn’t help but wonder why a day putatively about celebrating the great things about  Australia so often brings out the worst in us.

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What’s the difference between group sex and gang rape?

These are my confused thoughts on a complex topic.  I do not speak for all feminists although my thoughts are informed by a feminist perspective.  This post, which is probably attempting too much, is on the one hand about a group sex/gang rape case that took place in New Zealand in 2002.  On the other hand its about the dangerous mix of football, sex, success, fame and glory and the adulation of aggression that takes place in our sports loving culture. (If in regards to the case of “Clare” from New Zealand you are going to engage in some victim blaming, I suggest that you read the following link and comment when you aren’t going perpetuate Rape myths)

After reading this news story, (which really was just a “heads up” about this 4 Corners program about footballers and sex;  transcript here, the program can be watched from here -but only for the next four weeks) about a “group sex” incident in New Zealand involving football personality Matthew Johns,  I got thinking about the fine line between group sex and gang rape.  And I had a few thoughts.  

(The 4 Corners program discussed various aspects of the footballers and sex issue, and one of the most disturbing parts of the program was a description of the events in New Zealand in 2002, involving member of the Cronulla Sharks and a young woman the program calls “Clare”.  She was nineteen at the time, and while waitressing she was invited back by two players to their room.  About a dozen players ended up in room, and the events so traumatised Clare that seven years later she is still suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress)

Consent

Consent is obviously a key issue.  Absence of “No” does NOT mean that consent took place.  For this reason it is illegal to have sex with someone who is unable to say “no”, someone who is unconscious or asleep for example.  Just because they didn’t say no, doesn’t mean that rape did not occur.

Just because a man does not believe that he raped a woman does NOT necessarily mean that he did not. ( From Tigtog’s post on rape myths: “One in 12 men surveyed in this study admitted to acting in ways that satisfied the legal definition of rape or attempted rape, with 84% of these men believing that what they had done was “definitely not rape.”).  So in terms of the group sex cases discussed in the 4 Corners programs, just because the guys involved don’t believe that rape took place, doesn’t mean that it didn’t.

So if we are discussing the New Zealand case we have to consider whether a young woman is truly able to consent when surrounded by big, strong, football players? (From the transcript of the program: CLARE: “They were massive, like ah big Rugby players, I felt that I just had no idea what to do.”).  Consider this comment from this blog discussing the story:

Lisa S : I don’t believe it is “man bashing gone mad”. In the instance of the girl from new zealand it is very, very hard to get out of a situation like that, especially when there are a pack of men who are very large, and are “egging” each other on. In fact it is terrifying. I was followed into a bedroom once at a party by three rugby players. I had been speaking to one, (briefly because it wasn’t a very interesting conversation), I went to get my jacket from a room, and they followed me in. I was lucky that a friend had seen them, and came and got me. Why is it always about the woman having to take responsibility, when is going to mens turn to actually decide to not participate in that behaviour as well.

Her presence in the room does NOT equal consent.  If two guys say “Come to our room for a drink” and someone goes to their room for a drink, the drink is all they consented to.  Presence does not equal consent.  And while I’m on the topic, a drunk woman does not equal consent, flirting does not equal consent, skimpy clothes does not equal consent.  No woman, EVER, asks to be raped.  No matter what she’s wearing, where she is or how much she’s been drinking.  In this case it seems that something along the lines of “come to our room for a drink”, really meant “come to our room for group sex”, which really meant “come to our room so you can be the prop for our homosocial bonding session”.  This young lady certainly did NOT deserve what happened to her just because she did not understand the coded messages that were really being spoken.

If and when a girl consents to sex with one guy it does not mean that she is consenting to sex with any and all companions that he has with him.  This reminds me of this case, and I feel that the old virgin and whore dichotomy continues to run its insidious thread through society.  It seems that some pockets of society continue to hold the false belief that if a woman is willing to have sex with one guy than then it means that she is open to all comers whether they ask her or not.

Privilege (Message to the people of my town)

Just because someone is a famous football player it does not mean that every woman that they meet wants to sex with them.  (Granted a proportion do, but by no means all).  It is an abuse of privilege to presume that that is the case.  It is an abuse of one’s position to use it to degrade women, to make someone dress in bunny ears and give an entire team head jobs [example from 4 Corners].  It is an abuse of privilege to defaecate on the floor of a crowded pub, because you’re a famous hero in your town, and no one can touch you [local anecdote]. Its an abuse of privilege to grab a woman’s wallet and throw her money away because she winced when you hit her broken shoulder and you didn’t like that reaction [happened to a friend].  It’s an abuse of position to enter an unlocked woman’s room and expect that she is going to want to have sex with you because are you – young, famous, and hot [from the program].

We enable these behaviours when we as a society, excuse them.  When we apologise for rapists and blame the victims.  When we let young men get away with their anti-social behaviours, and excuse them as though they had no control over their actions.  When we laud them as heroes and praise them for their aggression, the fact that they are ” risk takers”.

From the transcript of the 4 Corners program:

STEVE BURRASTON, CEO NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS: These guys are pumped up, they are playing a very aggressive game and they are putting their bodies on the line, it’s fearless. It’s not as bad as going to war and I wouldn’t suggest that, but it’s probably like the old gladiator days and they get out there and they belt the hell out of each other and there’s probably no other game that is like it…When we want them on the field we want them to be aggressive. They’ve got to make tackles, they’ve got to be fearless, then we want them to do things that other people don’t do. So we attract an aggressive, young, risk taking male.  We give him a shower, put a suit on him and then say now we want you to be, you know, a submissive male. We want you to go out there and not have any problems, it’s very difficult to do that. [Emphasis mine]

Ok Steve, I know that you are trying to change the culture of the Knights and educate those young men, but sending the message that putting on a suit and acting in accordance to the norms of common decency is being a submissive male, is just not helping your cause.  You know that the men can follow the rules on the field, well do not excuse them for breaking the rules off the field. Most players do the right thing, get rid of the ones that don’t and if the team has too lose a valuable player, so be it.  A small price to pay to save further women from being raped, and it would be a decent contribution to stopping the perpetuation of a this particular culture.

The way Steve and others speak about these guys it sounds as though they are bulls being bred to fight, and we wonder why they behave like animals.  As human beings, we have control over our actions and that is one of the things that seperates us from the animal kingdom.  Elite sporting stars should be held to the same standards as everybody else, not excused on the basis that they have to take risks on the field.  Some football players manage to separate their on field and off field behaviour quite well, so it can done.  Footballers are not a special species that need protection and apologists for their down time antics.

Respect

One of the saddest aspects of the program, of the whole situation, is that these guys need an education program to learn how to treat women.  And from the glimpses we got in 4 Corners it doesn’t seem like the classes are working. SIMON WILLIAMS, NYC RUGBY PLAYER: It’s not during the act, it’s the way you treat them after it. Most of them could have been avoided, if they had put them in a cab and said thanks or that sort of thing not just kicked her out and called her a dirty whatever. It’s how you treat them afterwards that can cover a lot of that stuff up.

FAIL.  Sorry, pal, its not how you treat them after that can cover a lot of that stuff up.  Its how you treat them before, during and after.  Its how you view women.  It is about having respect for women and treating them as fellow human beings.  Treating their sexuality with the respect that you treat your own.  It not treating them nicely afterwards in order to prevent a rape call from being made.  Its treating them well with every interaction and respecting women so there’ll be no ambiguity, because you won’t be able to rape them, because you respect, care, and love women and their well being is important to you.

I’m not saying don’t have fun.  Lots of respectful consensual fun can be had by all.  But at the basis is respect.  Women are not playthings to be handed around between team mates.  Women are not tools for your homosocial bonding.  They are not the spoils of victory, they are not reward for your glory, props for your homoerotic fantasies, their bodies are not yours by right.  They are living breathing human beings who deserve to be respected as such, and not degraded because “sharing” with your mates is more important than their dignity, because it is not, ever.

Apology

From the transcript (Excerpt of footage from television apology on THE FOOTY SHOW)  MATTHEW JOHNS: It caused all parties enormous pain and embarrassment.  Um, for me personally it has put my family through enormous anguish and embarrassment and has once again, [sic] and for that I m just, can’t say sorry enough. There were no charges laid. But there has been a lot of pain and embarrassment to a lot of people.

PAUL VAUTIN, FOOTY SHOW HOST: Alright mate, well said. Alright, let’s get on with the show. (End of Excerpt)

This is not an apology.  This is damage control for Matthew Johns, for the Footy Show, for the NRL.  This is saying what had to be said, so we can all get on with our lives and pretend that the story was never brought to the light of day.  This was an apology to his family, to those that he cares about.  This was not an apology to Clare, because he couldn’t give a shit about this poor young women whose life he was a part of traumatising.  This is a fauxpology and simply does nothing to counter the pain and suffering of the real victim here.  This apology is insulting, so Fuck you Matty Johns, fuck you Footy Show and fuck you anyone who thinks that that measly weasly apology goes anywhere towards addressing the harm done here.

Want more from elsewhere?

From the Dawn Chorus

I was pleased to see training for rugby players about consent and sexual violence but despair that such training is necessary at all.  Such ‘education programs’ further perpetrate the notion that acts of sexual violence can be attributed to a lack of knowledge or willful ignorance of what constitutes sexual assault or consent. Surely respect for women at a deep internal level is not something which can be taught. Further, I shudder to think how one tabulates whether such programs reduce the instances of sexual assault against women.

‘One of the Boys’ Discussion from a man’s perspective

Perhaps this whole emphasis on team bonding and ‘one in, all in’ from the sporting field is translating to an inability to switch off that mentality when the game is over. If so, it is a worrying indication of what team sport is doing for our young men. Far from being a positive influence on our lives, if this is the culture that team sport is engendering, it is indeed a worrying thing.

From Tigtog ‘Elite male athletes and homosocial bonding through sexual coercion of women’

So often we hear “women are throwing themselves at these men, they don’t need to force anyone” (how revealing is that phrase I’ve emphasised with italics – we accept that some men need to, do we? or that a need might make it “OK”?). This is crap. The idea of men turning to sexual coercion out of sexual desperation is simply not an adequate explanation – men turning to sexual coercion due to their sexual expectations, their sense of entitlement due to their status, explains so much more.

ABC’s Background reading and support links

Happy International Women’s Day

It would be a happy day indeed if we no longer needed an International Women’s Day, but alas, much misogyny/violence/discrimination abounds.   This year the theme of IWD is Women and men united to end violence against women and girls.  Here’s some tip of the iceberg stuff topical for IWD, I’ll start locally and go international.

From the ABC:

Unions are highlighting pay differences between the sexes ahead of International Women’s Day.  The ACTU says Australian women on average earn 16 per cent less than men, but that it varies between states.  ACTU president Sharon Burrow says Victorian women earn 14 per cent less than men, while in Western Australia women earn 28 per cent less because of the mining boom.  Ms Burrow says the gap will widen as the economic slowdown continues.  “We’re seeing women, young people simply being told their hours are being cut or in fact they’re not required anymore,” she said.  “That will simply add to the income disparity for women – we’re very concerned that the pay gap will simply widen as a result of the global financial crisis.”

The Catholic Church continues a grand tradition of misogynistic legality.

Brazil’s influential Catholic Church raged against an abortion carried out on a nine-year-old girl who had been pregnant with twins after allegedly being raped by her stepfather.  An archbishop for the northern region where the termination was conducted, Father Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, said the church was excommunicating all those responsible for the abortion: the medical team and the girl’s mother.  The operation – carried out because of doctors’ fears the slender girl might die if she carried the foetuses to term – was a crime in the eyes of the church, he said.  “God’s law is above any human law. So when a human law… is contrary to God’s law, this human law has no value,” [said] archbishop Cardoso.  “The adults who approved, who carried out this abortion, will be excommunicated,” said the archbishop for the Recife region.

And, of course, the Vatican backs the Bishop.  Now might be the time to announce that there goes the lasting lingering threat of my Catholicism.  Where is the compassion for the poor girl who could have died if she carried the twins to term?  Where is the excommunication/denunciation of the creep who raped and abused her?  God didn’t cause this pregnancy her stepfather did and the pontificating judgment should be directed at him and not at those trying to save the girl’s life.

Iraqi women lack basic services and widows, in particular, have no support

In Indian women are campaigning against the violence and patriarchal control aimed at them.

Poster from Pink Chaddis campaign seeking to end mob violence against women

Poster from 'Pink Chaddis' campaign seeking to end mob violence against women

From the horrific to the ridiculous –  from here, I discover that there is a 75 000 strong petition on facebook to get pole dancing included as an Olympic sport for the 2012 games.  FFS.

In other news, and this is trivial in comparison to what the women in countries such as Indian and Iraq are facing, but Barbie turns fifty tomorrow, and still looks as young and perky as ever.  Thus we see (and remember we are barely scratching the surface here) a continuum of issues faced by women, running the gamut from economic disadvantage, to intense struggle for survival and to live unmolested, right through to ideological struggles against a culture that emphasises women’s passive and ornamental sexuality at the expense of all else.  *sigh*

Further to my “Un-Australian” musings – here be links

In the Sydney suburb of Manly, hundreds of youths draped in “Aussie pride” livery wore slogans declaring “f–k off we’re full” as they smashed car windows and ran up the famous Corso targeting non-white shop keepers.    (From the LP post, link below)

Picture of Australia Day revelers at Manly Beach, their bodies adorned with the slogan “Fuck off we’re full” (via Lauredhel@Hoyden About Town, see here more info and discussion about this image)

Unbelievably enough, bearing in mind our discussion about flag wearing Aussies and the seedy side of patriotism, there was some trouble yesterday of the Australia Day kind.  Let me make plain I am not saying that Australia Day is bad, in fact, there are many council run events and fundraisers and family picnics and all sorts of other lovely things that happen on Australia Day. Unfortunately some celebratory things were marred by trouble.  It seems that the darker side of patriotism is growing more noticeable – discussed here in depth on the LP thread. Upon hearing about the events described above, my nearest and dearest noted “Nationalism is only one step away from Facism.”   So anyhows, for your information here we have a collection of news stories about Australia Day happenings.

Rudd rejects Australia Day change

Kevin Rudd, who last year delivered a formal apology to Aboriginal Australians for past injustices, has rejected the idea. “Let me say,” he said, “a simple, respectful, but straightforward no”.

Rees slams Oz Day brawlers

Nathan Rees says he is concerned some people are still trying to hijack Australia Day celebrations.

“Absolutely reprehensible that people use the cloak of Australia Day or indeed the flag as insignia or a flag itself to dress up what is bigoted behaviour,” he said.

Boozy Australia Day brawl deplorable: police

No arrests made in Lennox Head Australia Day brawl

Police praise well-behaved Australia Day festivities

Riot police called to quell Aust Day brawl

Policewoman punched during Hunter brawl

and in other Australia Day news

Sex on Fire tops triple j’s hottest 100

American rock band Kings of Leon has taken out the number one place on triple j’s hottest 100 countdown with their song Sex on Fire.

Billed as “the biggest music poll in the world”, the annual Australia Day countdown took place live from Parramatta Park in Sydney.

On a more personal note, apparently a group of youths tried to pick a fight with my little bro (he’s 18 ) at the Melbourne BDO.  His current facebook status :    “ sticking feathers up ur butt does not make u a chicken, wearing a flag as a cape does not make you aussie.”