Down Under Feminists’ Carnival

Like most people who read blogs, I’d been reading them longer than I’ve been writing my own.  And one of my favourite reads is the monthly installment put together by the DUFC (down under feminists’ carnival).  Yes, I know the logo has an apostrophe missing – I love them anyway!  This month I’ll be hosting the carnival so you can look forward to reading about the crème de la crème of feminist bloggers from hereish.  In the meantime, those of you who are from hereish and write blogs, should submit some posts!  To submit you must: identify as a feminist, identify as being from australasia and have written something in the month of april that you’d like us to read.

Go take a gander, submit through the carnival website, or if that fails (sigh! the vagaries of the internet and suchlike) shoot me an email with it instead.  And I should mention, the deadline is the 5th of May, but I am subject to more vagaries than the internet and  as such, the earlier I have the submissions the happier I’ll be.  There could be cookies.

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Ambedkar jayanti

Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (affectionately know as babasaheb) was born on the 14th of April, 1891.  He was from a harijan (untouchable) caste and campaigned his entire life for the rights and lives of his people.  And all day today people have been terribly troubled by the celebrations in the streets to mark the anniversary of his birth.  I have heard twice that this day is problematic because none of the cleaners (and cooks and chandals and chamars and all those other people who perform essential functions and are then either shunned or patronised or both) are coming in to work.  And several people have mentioned that the streets are too full and the music too loud at the demonstrations being held all around Pune.  If it weren’t so infuriating, it would amuse me.  And not just because when these people speak of caste based discrimination, they all use the past tense.

I am willing to consider the argument that the caste system was a complex and mutable thing.  And that the creation of a monolithic and immutable hierarchy lies at the door of british ethnographers.  But babasaheb Ambedkar had it to rights – all harijans who abide by the religious and cultural practices of hinduism derive no benefit from doing so.  And that living on the outside of a religion that does not accept their presence as human does qualify them as having entirely different needs and beliefs.  The politics here are of affinity under a system of enforced identity, and oh the power of claiming that with pride.  It’s no surprise of course that he and Gandhi had radically different views on the nature, cause and function of the castes in India.  Or that Gandhi bitterly opposed Ambedkar’s proposal of forming separate electorates for harijans even though he considered them necessary for other discriminated against groups and religions within India.

So today I get to celebrate a man who read and wrote and thought when all around him were desperately trying to pretend he didn’t exist while also adding to my ever growing list of why Gandhi was an annoying pest.  Remind me to post that sometime.  In the meantime, and if you’re interested, go read babasaheb’s paper on the genesis and function of caste, or better yet his thesis on who the shudras were.  I need more friends who’ve read this stuff!

Poetry: mental health, genius and madness.

Poetry and mental illness

In my honours year I did a research project on the links between mental illness and artistic genius. The purpose of course was to enquire into the commonly referenced idea that madness is a necessary condition for the production of brilliant work. The research, unsurprisingly, is much more ambiguous than popular belief. And much more cautious about making statements regarding causation.

One reason for this ambiguity in the research is because, by and large, it involves the retrospective diagnosis of literary figures with conditions they may or may not have named of their own volition in their lifetimes. Take for example Virginia Woolf. Even the most cursory reading of her letters and memoirs provides evidence to the claim that she suffered from bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression, so named for the bouts of hyperactive mania followed by corresponding bouts of depression). She even referred to her experiences as madness that came in waves she could neither foresee, nor forestall. So it’s reasonable to infer that what she was dealing with was a manifestation of what we refer to as bipolar disorder. But here’s the thing: there is a gulf between self expressed/identified madness and diagnosed madness. Not to mention that treating it as a dichotomy rather than a continuum erases a multitude of experiences. Add to that that a key difference between mad/mentally ill or not, is the judgement of whether or not the madness is interfering with the person’s daily function (as determined by an expert who is not the person whose existence is being judged). Even more problematically, daily functioning is defined as per a capitalist, ableist framework where anything that interferes with smooth social conduct, eight hour work days in a job, an individualist/internal support system is seen as a problem. But perhaps that is the beginning of a different point. Suffice to say that looking for evidence of madness in the lives/experiences of people who have been judged to have been artistic geniuses skews the sample rather spectacularly.

Which brings me to the next point: and that is about set theory and syllogistic reasoning. Not all geniuses have mental illnesses. Not all people suffering from mental illnesses are artistic geniuses. Some people who have mental illnesses are also artistic geniuses. Therefore sometimes mental illness and artistic genius happily co-exist. And sometimes mental illness precludes artistic genius (or the expression thereof). And other times artistic genius is a protective factor against some mental illnesses. So basically all you can say (with any degree of integrity) is “madness and genius are both parts of some psyches”.

So if I am mad and I walk through this world in pain and with difficulty but without anyone noticing – I am not mad.  Gah.  In other news, my apologies for skipping last week’s post.  I shall tell you of the events that lead to that presently. x

No justice under an unjust system

The verdict is in. and it’s not a just one. And there is little I can say at this point that would be even moderately coherent. So I’ll point you instead to someone who I think got it right. Kim from He Hoaka points out

Of all the evidence that was presented in the media and in court, culled from hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence collected, there is only one example of anyone other than the Crown causing harm to others (Apology followed shots). Four and a half years of harassment and vilification of those arrested, their whānau, the residents of Ruātoki, and Ngāi Tūhoe in general, does nothing to fix that harm.

We are expected to believe Ruātoki is a community of terrorists, and yet they have faced these years of provocation and threats without retaliation. The police have tried to humiliate and demonise these people, and have failed. They have been caught red-faced as the bullies they are.

I would suggest you read the entire article and then head over to not afraid of ruins and read this one too. Not just because it gives a complete breakdown of the verdict but because she has this to say

During the summing up part of the trial, the judge instructed the jury that, ‘Maybe there are two worlds as [Tāme’s lawyer] Mr Fairbrother has suggested but there is one law—the law that binds us all and under which you must reach your verdict.’

That’s true. There is only one law in New Zealand and that is the coloniser’s law. There could never be a fair trial. The New Zealand courts aren’t an objective arbiter between the prosecution and the defendants. The courts are part of the same colonial system that the defendants are fighting against, the same system they were on trial for fighting against. I’ve heard people say that the charges are bullshit, but really it’s the justice system that’s bullshit.

There’s no justice under colonialism.

What they said.

My food is problematic

[Picture explanation: River Tam, from Firefly, holding up an ice planet – a scoop of battered ice cream hanging by a thread off a stick – and trying and failing to eat it!]

I like food.  Some of the time, I like making it and most of the time, I like eating it.  Like many other things I like, this means I talk about food a lot.  And these conversations are rarely neutral.  And the lack of neutrality is rarely of my making.  I’m vegetarian.  I was raised in a vegetarian household until the time my Father returned from Texas having lived on a diet of potatoes and fizzy drinks for three months and decided that we needed to be able to able to stomach meat should the need arise.  So I have eaten meat for a couple of years and no longer feel queasy in its presence, which is nice.  I am thoroughly comfortable with food and enjoy it.  And I think over time I’ve even learned to talk about it without buying into the moralistic discourses that surround it.  But my food continues to be problematic – for other people.

The most common response to me eating with someone is them starting a conversation about vegetarianism.  Whether or not I have invited or expressed any willingness to be party to one.  And it usually goes one of two ways: either the person decides to tell me what they think the problems with vegetarianism are and why they don’t think being vegetarian is a good idea, or they try to convince me that I’m just missing out on whichever meat it is that they’re most fond of.  I’m not sure why people feel the need to either justify their eating habits or denigrate mine except that being moralistic about food seems to have seeped into most ways in which people engage with food.  So that the mere existence of me sitting there eating triggers uncomfortable and/or defensive responses (according to disposition).

Food is incredibly politicised.  Around animal rights, religious choice, health, disordered eating and control.  I do have politics about food.  And politics around talking about food.  And my primary position is always going to be focused on doing the least harm.  Which basically means that I will not criticise the food people eat.  So I am more than happy to engage in conversations about the hows and whys at some point of our mutual choosing.  Not when the sight of me and food overwhelms you so much that you blurt out everything you’ve ever thought about in connection to the food I’m eating.  Even if you’re “just trying to understand, because people are vegetarian for different reasons”, I’d much rather just be able to eat my food thanks.  Notice how I’m sitting here while you eat whatever it is you’re eating – not asking you what life experiences and politics lead to your decision to put that next forkful in your mouth?  Yep, just do that.  Just because you don’t understand and are trying to does not mean it is my place to explain it to you.

On an entirely separate note, thank you to all the folk who read, listened to and commented on the post last week.  Being freshly pressed was a bit odd really, but a nice way to meet some lovely new blog acquaintances *waves*!

Spoken words

I like words.  I like the look and the sound and the texture of them.  And I believe they are capable of more truth and communication than most of the human race typically permits them.  How are you?  Fine thanks, and you?  Can’t complain.  Well I can, and I do.

Presenting poems that make words do what they are supposed to.

‘If Only Out of Vanity’ by Stayceyann Chin If only out of vanity text

Stayceyann Chin’s vision of who she wants to be sounds like fun.  My version is one who can finally dye her hair bright purple (or maybe green) without needing to stew in bleach for six hours.  Defy all attempts to be reductionist with reality (and magic).  Ride a bike with a trailer and bright flags (and possibly a diamond tipped pointy thing).  And cross roads with a brood that knows to look on all sides before it walks.

‘Not your erotic, not your exotic’ by Suheir Hammad Not your erotic, not your exotic text

I like a lot of Suheir Hammad’s work but this one has a particular resonance for me.  For the many times I have felt like my beauty is invisible, replaced by a mirage of almond-shaped eyes and curls.  Every day I add to my list of ways in which who I am is reduced to someone else’s version of what I must be like – a cardboard cut out could replace me without most people noticing the difference.  But some will, because they know I have the kind of beauty that moves (bonus geek points if you know who I’m quoting here!).

‘The Low Road’ by Marge Piercy the low road text

Recently, Maia posted this in solidarity with the defendants in the Operation 8 trial.  If you have no idea what Operation 8 is, this is a basic introductionthis is what wikipedia has on it, and this is the best writing I have found on the subject.  The trial is a farce (ask me how) and I believe the charges should be dropped.  Marge Piercy is one of the most accomplished writers I’ve read.  And few people can read her better than Stayceyann Chin.   I have nothing to add to what has already collectively been said.  Except perhaps to state that I would like to be counted among the thousand who have solidarity with those demanding justice for the raided, Tino Rangatiratanga and Te Mana Motuhake O Tūhoe.

Polite protest

Last week (the 26th to be specific) marked the anniversary of the arrival of the first fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788.  This has been called many things over the years – Anniversary Day, Foundation Day, Invasion Day.  It is also the anniversary of the declaration of inpedendence by India and the day on which the constitution came into force.  I see a huge qualitative difference between the celebration of colonial control and the celebration of independence from colonial control (however problematic our internal politics were).  So the idea of celebrating Australia day as a good thing makes me more than a little bit queasy.

Last week also marked the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Tent Embassy in Canberra.  And dear Tony Abbott took the opportunity to question its relevance and suggest that it was time to ‘move on’ because ‘“I think a lot has changed for the better since then … I think the indigenous people of Australia can be very proud of the respect in which they are held by every Australian”.  I have no expertise as to the state of first nation peoples in Australia but even I know that the inequalities that were being protested in the 70s when the tent embassy was being set up have not been ameliorated or even dealt with in any respectful way by the governments since.  The benefits to first nations people have been hard won and fought for by them.  And mainstream media and the Australian govt. have been opposing them every inch of the way.

The story being told in the media is about the ‘violent mob’ of indigenous rights protestors who put the c-in-c of the country in danger.  (Let me take this moment to not care about the dominant narrative or the security of the c-in-c)

The protestors were in Canberra to attend a convergence at the tent embassy to celebrate it’s existence, seek support and solidarity from each other and look towards what campaigns/yarns need to occur.  They were there for two days and spent a miniscule fraction of that time being pissed off at Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard.  (Dear over-inflated govt., it really isn’t about you.).  There was no ‘violent mob’ – just a lot of really annoyed protestors who took the opportunity to bang on the glass windows of a restaurant and yell.  The only violence witnessed at the protest came from the police and was directed at the protestors (what a surprise).

Which brings me what really bothers me about the way protest in general and indigenous protest in particular is constructed in the mainstream.  And to a lesser extent in more radical spheres.  As far as the mainstream narrative is concerned, protest is unnecessary in civilised countries.  The only places that protest is valid is in those backward-third-world-countries where they haven’t got it all sorted out like we do.  Even then protest is only acceptable if it is non-violent and is going to ‘achieve something’.  So people in Australia/New Zealand who are protesting a) should just shut up and realise how good they have it, b) should be sensible, rational and strategic about it and c) keep to a liberal non-violent narrative.  I find this deeply problematic.  Not the least because it makes the whiteness of the paradigm for protest so glaringly obvious.  Where I come from, we throw rotten tomatoes and eggs if we disapprove.

A protest can fulfill many functions.  It can bring people together, it can express rage/disappointment/joy, it can make demands, it can create space for dissent and it can show that there is no space.  A protest can come in many forms.  It can be violent and brutal, it can be quiet and peaceful, it can be invisible unless you know where to look and it can lurk in a corner for years until it finally jumps out at you.  When a group of people privilege one form of protest over another, they are revealing their own prejudices, not saying anything about the protest.  And them that thinks collective organising and community building is less worthwhile than throwing molotov cocktails are as shortsighted as them that believe that only a peaceful protest and rational argument will lead to change.

Those in power like to protect their power.  And they are not going to give it up easily.  And before someone quotes Gandhi at me, can I just point out that he’s the guy who said that inaction is rank cowardice and to be shunned at all costs.  And that the blowing up of a train containing blood money is an act of liberation, not of violence.  My point, is that protest needs must be whatever it has to be for the people there.  The protest on the 26th was an outlet for the anger and hurt and grumpiness felt by many.  And the days around it were full of orgnising and talking and planning.  So I for one am glad it all happened.

Also, I wish I had been in Wellington for Waitangi Day.  There would’ve been a tau iwi support for tinorangatiratanga bloc.  And maybe even cookies and a riot!