Feminism

May Musings - 25

It’s been a couple of days since Binyavanga Wainaina passed. Binyavanga was a Kenyan writer and journalist who wrote widely, including one famous essay I thought it was worth revisiting. It’s titled ‘How to Write About Africa'.

Always use the word ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’ in your title. Subtitles may include the words ‘Zanzibar’, ‘Masai’, ‘Zulu’, ‘Zambezi’, ‘Congo’, ‘Nile’, ‘Big’, ‘Sky’, ‘Shadow’, ‘Drum’, ‘Sun’ or ‘Bygone’. Also useful are words such as ‘Guerrillas’, ‘Timeless’, ‘Primordial’ and ‘Tribal’. Note that ‘People’ means Africans who are not black, while ‘The People’ means black Africans.

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

On it goes. It’s brilliant, but sad, as you realise the sardonic tone is often missed by the majority of writers outside the continent. Rather, they take Wainaina’s words as instructions. Quartz has shared a lovely obituary here.

Re-reading the piece was timely, as I’m speaking about the ethics of writing at How The Light Gets In festival sharing the stage with another legend, Minna Salami. To my shame, I hadn’t come across Minna’s work before, but her blog, Ms Afropolitan, ‘connects feminism with critical reflections on contemporary culture from an Africa-centred perspective’ in a wonderfully fresh way. In the interests of sharing different voices, here is a recent piece I enjoyed from the site: What is the role of family?

…in modern society, we oscillate between contradictory ideas about family as a place of comfort and an institution of tradition and dogma, where repressive and outmoded views are upheld.

Additionally, people who grew up in countries that were colonised by the West must grapple with the intersection between typical Western ideas of family and their traditional ones. Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, I witnessed how the polygamous family and the Western nuclear family were entangled in ways that, at times, made them more vibrant, but also compromised women.

Going back to the question of the ethics of writing. It has been termed as ‘cultural appropriation’ in the program but that term is so ill-defined I find it unhelpful. Conversations like these mildly interesting, but often miss the point. Why do we even have a conversation about who can write what? In a truly equal society, where no group was deemed supreme, then there wouldn’t be a problem. However, we don’t live in that world - we live in one with structural inequalities, ethnocentric supremacy and ‘epistemic injustice’. In writing, this last term is quite relevant: it refers to the idea that there is injustice and inequality in who gets to ‘know’ things in society, and whose knowledge is respected, deemed worthy of listening to, deemed true. Is a young black man’s testimony of a crime worth the same as a senior, white male engineer? If a young woman accuses a powerful man of sexual assault, is she believed? If an indigenous grandmother speaks of an injustice on her land, is that given the same weight as that of a farmer named Bryon? We might not legislate the differences in how these testimonials or ‘knowledge’ is treated, but society reflects deeper inequalities in this way at every level. I can tell you that my grandmother fasted on Monday and Thursday every day for years and that the Islamic tradition encourages this as good for your health, but the moment that same intermittent fasting regime is published in English, it becomes a down-right phenomenon.

So, in a world with such injustice, how can we say that we can write without an acknowledgement of the responsibility that accompanies that creation?

The thought led me to Orwell’s essay, ‘Why I write’.

All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one's own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books..

Sigh…

GUEST APPEARANCE ON GUILTY FEMINIST PODCAST

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I joined Deborah Frances-White and Susan Wokoma for an entertaining and impassioned edition of the fabulous podcast, The Guilty Feminist. Also a guest on the show was the inspiring co-founder of Legally Black UK, Liv Francis-Cornibert.

Check it out!

 

 

VIDEO IS UP!

Hello all!

It's been an eventful few weeks, and thank you all for the messages of support you have sent through - it has meant a lot.

That's all I will say about that though! What I really wanted to do was share this video of a sweeeeet panel session I did at 'All About Women' a couple of weeks ago with two other amazing writers, Lindy West and Van Badham.  Check it out below!

What do you reckon?

Enjoy your week folks! 

Podcast: Storyology Panel

I had the honour of being on a panel with a couple of awesome women recently at the Walkley's Storyology conference. 

Check out a podcast about the panel below:

Kara in particular, just *says it like it is*. YAAAS! 

Feminism versus Culture?

Islamic-feminism

The question of feminism in the space of race and religion is one that can often be divisive, particularly given the history of the word ‘feminism’ and the connotations it presents.

A recent post by an Aboriginal Feminist titled "Aboriginal Feminism – So what does this entail?” highlighted some of these difficulties translating ‘western’ feminism to the Aboriginal - and by extension, culturally diverse - space.  For example, she cited the use of the didgeridoo.

"One such example I can think of are the constant questions we get about women playing the didgeridoo. It is considered culturally inappropriate for women to play this instrument which is commonly interpreted by mainstream feminism as sexist. However, black women don't tend interpret it this way, rather it is seen as “men's business” and therefore a respected part of culture.”

She continues by illustrating something I have found difficult to articulate without sounding exclusionary myself.

"If it were an issue, it would be an issue for black women to challenge. White women challenging this would not only come across as an act of imperialism, it would also severely diminish our right as black women to enact change within our own communities.”

Indeed.

This may be part of the reason why the concept of feminism is so divisive and polarising in communities, such as for example, the Muslim community that I am familiar with.  At times, the very act of mentioning feminism immediately sidelines you from being a participant in the discussion.   It is assumed you then embody the value system of ‘Western Feminism’, a concept disparaged and associated with man-hating, bra-burning and a rejection of any traditional role and expectation in society.

Unfortunately at times, the world of western feminism seems to reinforce these perceptions.  A classic example is that of Femen, a group who claim fight patriarchy in its manifestations in religion, and to speak on behalf of ‘oppressed Muslim women’ among other things.

To be fairly frank, I don’t get it.  However, as a covered Muslim woman, I don’t think I was ever going to ‘get’ protesting through toplessness.  More critically however, by deciding that wearing the hijab was oppressive and actively fighting against it, two things happen:

1. The perspectives, beliefs and norms of those whose right they are claiming to protect are actually ignored, and

2. The right of Muslim women to fight for their rights is undermined.

There is no doubt that there are oppressed Muslim women around the world, but there seems to be a lack of nuance as to how to fight that oppression.  This arises from a lack of understanding of the cultures in which these women operate.

If the very act of fighting FOR someone silences the very person that is meant to be liberated…should it be done at all?  Personally, I feel that groups like FEMEN do more damage to Muslim women who chose to wear the hijab and follow the religion in their own ways than it does to help those who are oppressed through its misinterpretation.

The question then is this: how do we talk about feminism in a space that respects the diversity of races and religions as well as the norms and beliefs they expect and demand?  

A tougher nut to crack indeed.

What do you think?

Is feminism even really a word that we, as culturally and linguistically diverse women, use without being tainted and rejected by our communities? 

TBC... cross-cultural-feminism-cartoon-1

Maybe we should 'get over it'?

Should women take every advantage offered to them, even if it is on the basis of gender?

 quotas

Is this fair, equitable and in the line of the values of our society?

March the 8th this year, like every year, was International Womens’ Day.  It is a day (usually is preceded by a week) of celebrations and commentary about the status of women in society, how far we have come in affirming womens’ rights and how far we have to go.

In the world of women in technical roles, the role of women and the gender balance is something that is often talked about but remains divisive.  Quotas in particular are something that are hotly debated, by men and women alike.

“Are quotas a good thing?” is something young women often ask.  “I don’t want to get a job on the basis that I am a woman to even up the gender balance if there is a man that is better than me.  I want to know that I am there on merit…right?”

Perhaps.  Perhaps however, we should - as some senior women say - just ‘get over it’.

Now this may be a radical view point. Scratch that, it is definitely seen by some as a little crazy.  However, it was suggested to me firstly by an unlikely source: a fellow rig-worker.

“Rather than trying to achieve equal numbers in the engineering workforce,” he mused,  "why not publicly encourage those girls who want to 'do' engineering that they have the advantage because there are so few of them Vs their male counterparts?”

Curious, I thought. He then elaborated, and essentially said that there are huge advantages for women because of the push to level the playing field.

Why shouldn’t women learn to exploit every offer that could help them, and then show that success to others, he asked. Won’t that success then breed further success?There is a strange logic to such a perspective.

There are also alternative ways of looking at it. Would a man say no to any advantage he was offered because he wanted to be chosen on ‘merit’?  Don’t we accept quotas on the cultural diversity side of things?  What makes that different?

Clearly, we live in a society where there are discrepancies between the outcomes for men and for women, and not all of these can be pegged to biological differences.

Legislative changes in Australia have been around for a while, so it is safe to say that sometimes making the legal environment conducive to a change will not always guarantee the results expected.  Sometimes a little more encouragement is required.

I recently made a lovely acquaintance in the TV make up industry and asked how she got the position. Did she have to apply?

“No,” she laughed and shook her head when I asked.  “My dad works in the industry.”

“Oh wow,” I nodded, thinking that made sense. “So it’s all about having the contacts.”

“Yes… but you know what Dad said to me? I can get you in, but I can’t keep you there.  You still have to be good.”

There lies the crux of the argument.  Quotas, targets, positive discrimination - all of those techniques are about opening the door for people who wouldn’t usually get a look-in due to something they cannot control: their race, their gender, their age.  If they aren’t up to scratch, no doubt that will become known and further opportunities won’t be as easily made available.  As my new found friend said: the door may be opened for you, but after that it is on you to prove yourself and earn the right to stay.

Furthermore, almost every single person I know who represents some sort of diverse background will work harder simply to prove that they belong in a position, as they know that they, whether they like it or not, are somehow defacto representatives of an entire demographic.

Women have yet to earn the right to be mediocre so to suggest that quotas or targets will mean that less competent people will make it up the top is short-sighted.  We as women should also stop underestimating our own capacity, support one another and jump at every open door and opportunity that is made available.

Whether it is a door that is opened by a sponsor or a window opened by a quota, does it really matter? You tell me.

Podcast: Talking Doctor Who!

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At the Brisbane Writer's Festival a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Ben McKenzie, and we established early on that we were both Doctor Who fans and self confessed nerds!

To celebrate the occasion we had a lovely chat about it, and it was made into this podcast for the "Splendid Chaps" program Ben runs, celebrating 50 years of the Tardis...

Listen here! (My section starts at 12:38 seconds in)

 

 

 

WOW Bites: Survival Guide for Chicks on Rigs.

Earlier this month I had the honour of presenting at the World of Women (WOW) part of the Sydney Writers Festival. It was quite an inspiring session, with speakers who included the likes of novelist Melissa Luckashenko to a young Iraqi lady who had traveled to Australia seeking asylum.

Find out more about WOW at Sydney here.

The majority of the 'Bites' - strictly ten minutes bites of inspiration and the like - were quite deep and moving. Lucashenko's and Kristi Mansfield's were both quite brutal to be honest, forcing the audience to confront issues of rape and violence occuring on a daily basis to young women in our own cities.

I took a different tack and went for a slightly more light hearted and humourous angle. My piece was a 'Survival Guide for Chicks on Rigs...' (because you know, there are just so many of us!). I started off with a bit of a poem...and I would like to share a little bit of the presentation with you!

 

Aren't you frightened, they will ask,

Of the men, the remoteness, the difficulty of the task?

Why on earth do you want to do that, they will question

Where as if you were a guy, that wouldn't rate a mention.

The fact of the day is, ladies and gentlemen,

That this guide is not about survival.

We will survive - Gloria Gaynor said so.

It is about thriving and owning our power from the get go.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome.

Working on the oil and gas rigs, particularly as a woman, is an adventure and a half indeed.

As I am an engineer and love lists and numbers, I've put together a numbered list of suggestions, and I hope you enjoy!

 

Number 1.

Determine where YOUR line is, how thick YOUR skin is, how much you are willing to let slide. Factor in the 'drilling rig bonus'.

Often when a woman begins working on a rig, the men won't talk to her for some time at all. Don't take it personally, but they are slightly scared themselves (though they will never admit it!). They won't know how to react to you, what they can say around you, how thick YOUR skin is...they know something will be different now that you are here but they don't know HOW that difference will play out.

Let them take the cues from you. You have power here - a power we as women never used to have, and that is the opportunity to set the tone of the conversation.

What is the drilling rig bonus? An amorphous measure that accepts that normal society is quite different to the microcosm that is the drilling rig and so your line might be different in this situation, or might need to be slightly different. Adjust accordingly.


Number 2.

Make the most of being underestimated.

Some of the rig workers may hold the unspoken belief that a woman is less competent or deserving of a role. We all know that is not the case, but use that underestimation to your benefit! Surprise them at being AWESOME at your job and letting your actions speak for themselves. Being really good at your job is a language they understand and WILL respect, particularly out there.

 

Number 3.

Have a sense of humour

Nothing breaks down barriers like a bit of laughter. Being witty, sharp, or deploying quick, timely ripsotes are always appreciated (but careful not to descend into bullying).

If you aren't a regular standup comedian, try to see the humour in the everyday interactions - because there is plenty. Personally, I am terrible at being witty but I find most everything hilarious. Nothing warms a hardened man's heart more than having a laugh at a joke he cracked

Number 4.

Learn the language.

There is nothing more effective than good communication. For the sake of mirth though, here are some of the phrases I have picked up (the ones used in polite company anyway!).

I'm drier than a dead dingo's donga.

You wana run with the big dogs you gotta pee in the long grass.

They thought I did what?! That's lower than the basic wage.

I'm like a mushroom. I get fed rubbish, everything just slides off me and I only come out in the dark.

 

Number 5.

Be Flexible, within limits. Don't forget your rights.

The guys working in the field will appreciate flexibility, humour and cues taken from you, as illustrated previously. A level of flexibility is required, as fighting every single battle is not only ineffective, it is exhausting.

However, you must also be cognizant of your rights as a woman and individual and if things DO go too far and they DO overstep the line, stop them. Use the tools necessary if required.

You might think it is a career limiter but rest assured, it is a career killer for the other individual. The law is on your side. If you are in a situation like this - talk to someone you trust, and then make a decision and don't ever feel guilty for the actions of others.


Number 6.

Always pack more sanitary items than you might think you need. You won't be able to buy any if you're stuck out in the middle of the desert or the ocean.

There's always one really practical survival tip in every guide. This is one of those. Trust me. Oh and a word of warning, the guys LOVE blaming any mood swings on our hormones. It's great.


Number 7.

Be your version of strong.

When I started out, I thought strong only meant masculine. I think that my time on the rigs has redefinined the relationships between masculinity, strength and what it means to be a strong, feminine woman. It means something different to everyone.

Now, for me, strength is in the fact that I can not only phsyically hold my own, but that I am not afraid of the men and the environment. Strength comes from knowing who I am and that I accept the fact that I am a woman in the industry and embrace it. Strength comes from knowing that I can choose to wear, dress, behave and speak how I please - whether that's rough or refined, the strength comes from knowing I have the power and gumption to make that choice.

Strength for you can mean any number of things, and I believe figuring that out is indeed strengthening in itself.


Number 8.

Enjoy the adventure!

Working as a female in a male dominated industry will always raise eyebrows and provoke questions.

Be ready for that. Decide whether this is something you want to *embrace* and talk about or whether it is something you would like to *ignore*.

Remember that no matter how much you ignore it, you still will be the odd one out. But that's not a terrible thing. If there are enough women that want to be the odd one out, soon the day will come when that is no longer the case.

Either way, I think it says a lot that we now have the CHOICE to to participate in this previously closed environment.

Be proud of who you are, and never apologise for it.

***

So what do you think?

Ladies, we don't need permission.

The Allens Law Firm just held an amazing event - Womens@Allens for Queensland week and I thought it was worth sharing and discussing before the awesomeness faded from my memory (as things tend to do so quickly these days!). The pearls of wisdom that came out of this panel of inspiring Queensland women bear repeating.

Madonna King talked about one of her biggest successes being choosing her husband. An interesting point, but one I think that is quite pertinent - your choice of spouse and the subsequent spousal support (or lack thereof) can play a big part in your future options.

Peter Hackworth's story (second from the left) is also amazing, and she pointed out that it is a smart and lovely thing to do to always be nice, charming and smiling to everyone, regardless of how you may feel or what their standing is. A cliche you may say, but so underestimated and such wise advice! Because we're all humans at the end of the day, and life really is about those interpersonal skills. I used to think I shouldn't be 'nice' on the rigs because that's 'too feminine'... until I realised that a) there was nothing wrong with being feminine and b) there was nothing wrong with being nice! In fact, the guys usually appreciate it. Those who don't, well, you can't win 'em all!

(She also talked about the value of picking up the phone and talking to people as a pose to emailing and texting which honestly, is so true! Fastest way to get an answer usually, right?)

Chelsea de Luca also talked more broadly about taking risks (she left a stable job to start her own jewellery line) and doing things that ultimately, in the broader scope of things, make you happy - and to see happiness as the final outcome. Not every day is going to be joyful, but it's that final outcome that counts.

Some other tidbits from the night:

  • Don't take things personally (something especially women do, perhaps?);
  • Understand that failure and risk are part of the process;
  • Hindsight is 20/20 but you are who you are today because of the tapestry of your past (life's too short to wonder about what could have been!);
  • Balancing family and career is always going to be a huge juggling act...but don't be afraid to ask for help either;
  • Just ask! (for that promotion, for that leave...);
  • ...and if they say no, sometimes go ahead and do it anyway! (start your own business etc).

One last thing that came out of a conversation right at the end (and a previous conversation with a good friend) was about the 'should do's' and dealing with what society tells us we 'should be' doing - as a woman, as an academic, or an achiever etc.

"You should be getting a good job and climbing the ladder"

"You should be working harder than everyone else"

"You should be focusing your career"...and so on and so forth.

Sometimes though, the rules aren't the be all and end all. They are societal expectations and they are there because society likes people to conform.

They are not hard and fast rules. 'Should' is not the same as 'must'.

There are always exceptions to the rule, no?

The question is - are you brave enough to be that exception? We don't need permission from anyone - just ourselves.

At the end of the day, it is up to us to choose what we want to do. It is safer to get that legitimacy from an external source like a company position, but it is also just as viable to find it yourself, doing it your way.

It might not work, but at least you'll have tried. You will definitely come back from that experience a different person. After all, the best experience comes from the worst situations! What is the worst that can happen, really?

So stop waiting for someone to give you permission to break the rules and do what you feel like doing. Just...do it.

Who knows?

When have you ever felt the urge to do something different? What 'should be's have you experienced? How have you broken through...or what stopped you??

Links, Links, Links!! 28th April 2013

Hi everyone! How are we this fine Sunday? 11887_10151568205954060_952084009_n

 

I've had an interesting week, not least as I was interviewed by the ABC (live! zomgsh) on my piece in the Griffith Review.  Check out the video HERE!

How many times do we have to say this?  The use of the word "illegal" is ignorant and mischievous!

[box] While the Coalition may have hoped to score political points with the reappearance of its "illegal boats" billboard this week, it has shone a spotlight on its feeble grasp of international law. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is wrong to say that the Refugee Convention says asylum seekers are "illegal". [/box]

On the topic of the Boston Marathon Bombings: why is it considered terrorism and Aurora and Sandy Hook not?

Wise words on Bahrain from an unlikely source: Joe Saward, the F1 journalist...

[box] Some would argue that it is necessary to remove all religion from the political process and that until Bahrainis stop thinking about being Shias or Sunnis there cannot be a truly democratic country. If you go back in history you see many nations going through similar religious troubles, notably in Europe in the 16th and 17th Centuries when Catholics and Protestants murdered one another in large numbers. We do not live in a perfect world, but sport is one of the few ways in which nations can unite, transcending internal divisions and thinking as a group. Thus looking at a much bigger picture one has to say that the Grand Prix is a good idea for Bahrain. No doubt some will disagree…[/box]

Finding a way of being a girl that doesn't hurt... again going to a question of where the feminist movement is?

Again on the issue of feminism...Five Myths about Feminism.  How do you feel about the label?

A massive discussion about social media's do's and don'ts. Really interesting - how do you use social media, as an individual and as a company?

Seth Godin asks the question: What is your critical mass?

[box] If your idea isn't spreading, one reason might be that it's for too many people. Or it might be because the cohort that appreciates it isn't tightly connected. When you focus on a smaller, more connected group, it's far easier to make an impact.[/box]

This is old news but I think I forgot to link it in my hubris - the first female, Muslim MP in Australia!

I am a sucker for beautiful photography (who isn't), and beautiful photography of beautiful machines? How could I resist...

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Oh and don't forget to check out my posts this week; one on Global Migration and Identity and the other on Stirling Moss's comment's on women in F1. If you want to keep in touch more regularly, you can always check out my Facebook page!

 

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