Stop Violence against who?

I’ve always been a bit uneasy about the slogan “stop violence against women”. Not because I disagree with the sentiment, but because I think it leaves a huge hole in the issue we need to tackle.

We certainly do need to stop violence against women. And against children. But also against men. And animals. Recent reports of native wildlife being shot with arrows, and wombats being deliberately run over in a NSW campground are horrific. Who does this sort of thing for fun?? Someone who sees violence as entertainment!?

What we have is a society that sees violence as a solution. That manages crowds of refugees with tear gas and water cannons. That deals with a bloody revolution by bombing civilians.

That deals with frightened, desperate people by stripping them of their human rights, exposing children to horrific abuse, and putting their lives at risk so as to appear “tough on border control”. Which, by the way, wins votes for the perpetrators.

We live in a society where violence is perceived as a solution to many things. Where a drug problem becomes a war, instead of a health problem that can be managed. Where our collective instinct, when threatened, is to lash out, notwithstanding the simple truth that violence begets violence, and that wars create wars.

So yes, let’s stop violence against women. There’s no question there’s far too much of it. But let’s also give everything we’ve got to build a society where violence isn’t the answer. Where communities are built and connections made. Where unhappy people can reach out for support, and the foundations of our society are the connections between us, not the walls we build around ourselves.

I know I’m a little naive. I’m not suggesting that the answer to Daesh is a group hug. I don’t know that there is an answer, although something clearly needs to be done. But I’m pretty sure that bombing them isn’t going to make them turn around and say “Sorry, you were right. We’ll just leave our weapons in a pile over here and become nice peaceful citizens. Sorry to trouble you.” More likely is that they will ensure, as far as they can, that civilians die in their place, and the west gets blamed.

I don’t hit my kids. But sometimes I do lose it and shout at them in a pretty aggressive way. And I know that when I do that it’s because I have failed to find a constructive way through whatever situation we are in. When I lose control of my temper it means I have failed to find a workable solution. And I always, always regret it.

Asimov once wrote that violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. To be fair, he had a character say that, and we probably can’t accuse him of believing everything any of his characters ever said. But it’s a compelling line. Violence isn’t a solution. It’s a failure.

Maybe I’m looking for more change than we can manage from where we’re starting, but it would be nice to see it at least part of the conversation. Stop violence against women, definitely. But let’s see if we can’t make violence itself unacceptable.

PS It’s been suggested to me by someone I respect greatly that I may be distracting from the effectiveness of the Stop Violence Against Women Campaign, and that stopping violence altogether is too hard. We have to tackle it piece by piece. But the more I think about it the more I think that it’s not going to work. Malcolm Turnbull today said “Real men don’t hit women.” With the very clear implication that real men can hit men and that’s ok. And that’s wrong on so many levels. Women are weak and can’t take it (rubbish). Men are strong and can take it (rubbish). We are all weak and strong in our own ways, but no-one should ever have to take it. Violence is wrong, and we can make it wholly unacceptable, not just against women but against anyone. We shouldn’t do a clothing check, or a DNA test, before we decide whether we can hit someone or not! That kind of attitude makes it ok to hit a transgender woman (“because she’s really a man”), or a homosexual man (“not a woman but not my sort of a man”). It relies on stereotypes that we should all be trying to leave behind. Of men protecting women. Of women needing protection. Of men not needing protection.  Support the Stop Violence Against Women Campaign – it’s important. But work towards stopping violence, full stop. Real men, real women… real people don’t hit.

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Feeling Springy

I love September. When I was sixteen my sister and her boyfriend gave me armloads of daffodils and jonquils for my birthday, and for a week or two my bedroom was a a festival of Spring colour and fragrance. I felt very special. When the sun comes back after a long, grey winter, when the air warms and the wattles turn the world yellow I always feel that way again, whatever else is going on in my life.

Spring blossom

Spring feels like a burst of hope, in an explosion of warmth, colour, and intense perfume. Sunday’s low temperature was higher than many of the preceding week’s highs. It may well be warmer than most of next week too, as the winter is threatening to return for one last (I hope!) frozen hurrah.

This year my Spring is at least as much internal as external. Though the sunshine has been unusually delayed, the spring has returned to my step ahead of schedule, and it’s all down to my new best friend – my CPAP machine.

For those who have never encountered it, CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Air Pressure. Every night I do a Darth Vader impersonation and attach a hose to my nose via a soft silicone mask, and my beloved machine forces air into my lungs all night.

This may sound like a horrible, traumatic thing, but in actual fact it has been the most extraordinary revelation. Because it turns out I used to stop breathing in my sleep. Not a lot – my apnoea score is a meagre 7, meaning I stopped breathing just 7 times per hour.  But in between those 7 strange pauses my breathing was interrupted just enough to wake me up. This happened so often that I never actually went into deep sleep. I snored. I tossed and turned. And I woke every morning feeling as though I had been running a marathon in my sleep.

The impact of this was surprisingly extreme. My health was plummeting. I was becoming more and more depressed. I was struggling on just about every front, and as my desperation increased, so too did my despair. And then came CPAP. And over the course of about two months I experimented with different machines and different settings and finally found my way into deep sleep at long last. It took time. The first machine was noisy and the mask uncomfortable. It took time to find the right mask, the right air pressure, and just to get used to the whole setup. But even as I fiddled with the settings, things started to change.

I found myself singing as I rode to and from work. I found myself joining my kids on the trampoline from time to time. I started to bounce. And play. And feel.

It’s like staring at a black and white photo and finding it suddenly transforming into an immersive 3D interactive experience in vibrant colour.

It’s like being blind for years and suddenly being able to see.

It’s like spending half your life deaf and hearing a symphony for the first time.

It’s like going to sleep in the darkest of Arctic winters and waking on a tropical beach.

It’s like dying and being reborn, but without having to go through teething or puberty again.

It’s like watching a flower grow from seed to bloom in a matter of moments, right inside your own head.

Today I’m tired. I had a huge day yesterday, and a late night blissfully immersed in the kind of conversation that extends for hours beyond the first tentative “I should be going”. I woke at 5:30am and couldn’t get back to sleep because my head was buzzing with plans and ideas. I should be completely wrecked. But I’m just normally tired. And tonight I will sleep. Those words are beyond miraculous to me. I will sleep. And I will most likely wake feeling rested. From there, absolutely anything is possible.

I’m 44 today. My kids think that’s extraordinarily old. I’m told it’s all downhill from 40. I should, apparently, be feeling old and creaky and disheartened. Instead I have my life back. I feel brighter, more energetic, and younger than I’ve felt in years. CPAP is a daunting prospect, and it certainly takes some getting used to, but it has given me a whole new life.

Finding Compassion

All our Prime Minister can say is “Stop the boats!”

But stopping the boats does not stop the death.

Stopping the boats does not stop the torture.

Stopping the boats does not free prisoners, prevent rape, or feed the hungry.

Stopping the boats means they don’t die inconveniently within sight of our shores. Stopping the boats means they die elsewhere, while we rest easy in our privileged beds.

So we march. And the government closes its ears and covers its eyes.

So we sign petitions. And the government covers its eyes and closes its ears.

So we share photos of the doomed and the dying. And the government says it has solved the problem because it has Stopped the Boats. And the dying continues where we can’t see it.

I’m tired of marching. I’m tired of signing. I’m tired of sharing the photos. Above all I am tired of the torture and the dying, and the complete absence of compassion and humanity.

But compassion exists.

Humanity exists.

People are making a difference.

So rather than march and be ignored, I am going to put my credit card where my marching would be.

I am going to find compassion by funding compassion.

If my government won’t open its arms, I will fund those who will.

Please join me in funding compassion. Fund the UNHCR to shelter refugees. Families. People like us. People who are fleeing war zones, terror, and trauma. People who are just trying to find safety for their families. People who just want to be safe.

As yourself this: If your family was at risk, what would you do to protect them?

You can protect a family at risk right now. Fund Compassion today.

Together we can make a difference.

A question of identity

When my girls were really little, the youngest, JB, had a bit of a problem. She quite liked pretty dresses and flowers, but she was also dead keen on things she thought of as “boy stuff”.  She felt as though she had to choose a side. She was quite relieved when we talked it through and worked out that she didn’t have to be either a girly girl or a tomboy. She could just be herself. Now that she’s 8, she has clearly picked a side, and it’s her own.

She has very short hair, and today is wearing a grey and black striped hoodie, old blue trackies with a pink stripe (and paint splotches from when we helped some friends paint their new house), and black sneakers. Tomorrow she could just as easily be wearing a frilly dress. We’re both at home with a virus, and when we went to a new GP to get a medical certificate for me, the GP asked who this “handsome young man” was by my side.  JB was unfazed, but the doctor was hugely embarrassed when I introduced them. She felt terrible that she had made the wrong assumption about JB’s gender, but it happens all the time, and JB isn’t bothered by it at all.

What does bother her, though, is when she corrects kids her own age and they refuse to accept it. One boy came up to me on Sunday and said “Your son keeps saying he’s a girl.” It bothered him hugely (and it probably didn’t help when I laughed and said “My son is a girl!”), and he and a couple of other kids pushed the issue to the point where JB became quite upset. They kept insisting that she had to be a boy, largely because she has very short hair. She was wearing a red t-shirt with cherries, and trousers with pink on them, so I assume it was just the hair. Kids like to put people in categories. It’s a normal, human way of processing the world. It’s a learning experience for them when someone doesn’t quite fit in the usual box. Adults, though, should know better.

I’ve known people with acute gender dysphoria who have eventually transitioned, and with people who don’t readily identify with a single gender. I’ve known people who are homosexual, or kinky, or polyamorous. I’ve even known a few people who society considers normal (although they are rarer than you might think). The one thing that becomes clearer to me with every new experience is that we, as a society, urgently need to learn to accept people for who they are on the inside.

There is nothing more comforting, enabling, and joyful than being accepted for who you are. And there are few things more destructive and corrosive than being told that who you are is somehow wrong.

That’s why it’s not “political correctness gone mad” to want to stop labeling toys as just for boys, or just for girls. Because in doing that we are telling girls who like “boys’ toys” that who they are is not normal, and not ok. And we are telling boys who like “girls’ toys” that who they are is not normal and not ok. And we are pushing the boys into nice, safe, boy occupations like building and engineering, and we are pushing the girls into nice, safe, girl occupations like teaching and nursing. Whether they belong there or not.

We reinforce these rigid gender boxes in so many unthinking ways. Schools have boys’ uniforms and girls’ uniforms. Why can’t they just have uniforms, and let people choose the bits that suit them? There are high schools around here where girls can wear shorts (although it’s not well advertised) but the girls’ shorts are dark blue, while the boys’ are grey. What is the point of that? Why do we feel this intense need to draw this deep dark line under gender, and underscore it so hard we cut through the paper?

Being very tall, I used to worry that someone would “catch” me buying men’s jeans, or that I would inadvertently buy something off the wrong rack, and find out later that I was accidentally wearing men’s clothes. It took me a surprisingly long time to decide that there was no inherent shame, or indeed gender, in clothing. Clothes, for the most part, don’t actually have genitalia.

Here we are in 2015, and we still have poker nights for the men and tupperware parties for the girls, but I take some heart from the fact that my younger friends don’t seem to acknowledge the divide the way my contemporaries do. When I hang out with younger crowds there’s no clear gender split, yet when I hang out with my uni friends my cherished status as “one of the boys” has been revoked. Among people my age it remains strange to try to breach that divide, and once I had kids I was put firmly back into my gender role, whether I liked it or not. (I did not!)

I hope we don’t wind up imposing our rigid and, let’s face it, very broken ideas about gender on the next generation. I hope that those kids who continue to tease JB for being a girl but looking like a boy might stop and reflect on why it bothers them so much. Above all I hope that we are capable, sooner rather than later, of ditching the boxes and accepting people for who they are.