March

One foot in front of the other, my sisters. One foot in front of the other.

I’ll be there right beside you, every step of the way.

jennifermaravillas-ourbodiesourminds-2

*Poster Art: WOMEN’S MARCH ON WASHINGTON – JENNIFER MARAVILLAS*

Know your history. Know her story. Seek out Audre, Alice, MayaGloria – seek out all the incredible women who speak bone deep, beautiful truths. Then go tell your own story, loud, clear and proud. Your voice has never been more needed in this world.

Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women. ~ Maya Angelou

Advertisements

Dear –

Dear -,

The thing is, I don’t exactly know who I’m writing to here. That dash, it represents the cliff my thoughts sit at the edge of, the screeching halt of my words. The fear, perhaps, that if I let my words topple over today, friendships, peace, will be ruined in the fall. My reputation too, as someone nice. Reasonable. A delight.

I got called that the other day by a bigot. I loved him, and I wanted to cry.

When did you become so angry?

Someone asked me that too, another, other day this week. And I wanted to say, I’ve never not been angry, you fool. Have you never really known me at all?

Mostly, I wanted to cry.

So this letter. The fashion made of an open ‘Dear -’. But exactly who is my Dear today? What do I most want to say?

Perhaps – I’m writing to election morning. A mourning. You should have seen me that day! Jet-lagged, awake since 4am. I can’t stop crying! I messaged that phrase all over the world, watching women put stickers on Susan B A’s grave, reading story after daughter’s story on the miracle that is Pantsuit Nation. All the while thinking – here’s the thing, the secret thing – that perhaps I could do that, too. Bring a child into this world I’ve been waiting for.

I can’t.

And so. Maybe I’m writing to election night instead. The sun and the numbers sinking. One of the worst nights of my life so far. Being the one who had to say she can’t win. I’m so sorry. Over and over.

It’s over.

I can’t.

A friend sobbing down the phone. Messages from another, terrified, so raw, so painful, so possible in this new reality that I broke apart. I don’t remember much more from there, from that heart-punching, dizzying point of her pain. Though my phone and Facebook records tell me I raged in a way I’ve never raged before.

I feel sure you will see that again.

She said, never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it. So maybe this letter should go to HRC instead. To Hillz. My Her.

I’ve always been with you, Madam President.

I heard you say at your campaign launch, quiet, private, in Eleanor’s ear – we’re going to get there. It’s going to be long and hard, but we’ll get there. And I believed you. I do believe you. I didn’t know what to say then, and now – … and now. I’m so sorry. I believe you. Know this. You changed my life. Over and over and over.

You changed my life. I should have said.

It isn’t over, by the way.

I could write the rest of this letter to 15 year old me, I suppose. Whole books are dedicated to that particular self, after-all. As if she (or he) is somehow separate to who you are now, to what you now know. But I’m not separate to that 15 year old me at all. I am her. I am now. Less and more and just the same as I was at the age that I ‘met’ her.

The way she kept her name. The things she knew and did and said and was. The way he looked at her. The – ahhhhhhhhhhh.

Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton

Image credit: Harry Benson, 1992

I kept this picture in a shoebox under my bed back then. It said something I couldn’t quite understand – but would.

And do.

You were desired for your brilliant mind, HRC. And you desired that brilliance in return.

I’ve always been with you. I’ve always been there.

And now I’m crying again.

So maybe this letter goes out to anyone who knows what this means. To every single one of you who reached out to me this week, with your love and your fear and your anger and sadness. With your LOVE most of all. We lit up the whole world, you know that? I could make constellations with the map of you and you and you and you coming together. I love you. I could not ever say how very much, and so –

I think I might be writing to the people who didn’t. To the ones who broke my heart by staying silent so long that I knew. I know. A thousand words typed out to ask – and I’ve deleted every single question. But still. I know. I knew.

I know.

Things are so very, very broken between us. And I’m not the (whiny, safe space) one who has to repair them.

This used to be my home.

It’s not. Right? Right. Turns out, I’m mostly writing to you, my dear America. To your beautiful, to your spacious skies and your closing borders. Our land of – what, now exactly is it? Free and brave? Not so. Not now. I’ve loved you deeply since I was five years old. I’ve studied your government, your history, and your people. I’ve believed in you my whole damn life.

And I don’t believe you anymore.

America. My dear, dear America.

Dear America. What have you done?

crying-statue-of-liberty

“And then I explain to him how naïve we were, that the world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.” ~ Eli Wiesel, Nobel Prize Speech, 1986

And this to close it out. My words could never come close to this. I’m With Her:

With love and directed anger. Now find your team and get to work xxx

You are the maker of manners (why I won’t be voting for Barack Obama on Tuesday)

This is what a feminist looks like - Barack ObamaI won’t be voting for Barack Obama on Tuesday. Mine is a vote he cannot have. Not because I will cast my vote for the right, however. I won’t be voting for a simple and defining reason: I cannot vote at all. Honorary American though I may be, and a yellow-dog Democrat to boot, I don’t have the papers or the legal status to prove it.

This election matters to me, having to watch it from the side. Or across an ocean specifically. Where the decisions of next week will flow on down; the cultural currents between us are swift after-all. A profound shift to the right in matters of equality, and the inching (running?!) together of Church and State will be keenly noted from battlegrounds here. Where our Cardinals talk about gay marriage as a “grave offence” to children whilst protecting decades of abusers from their pulpits, and our Archbishops softly advise our brides to submit. Where our opposition leader calls abortion a “national tragedy” and a woman is still paid on average $250 a week less than a man.

It is true that the bigger implications of an American Presidency are these – the wars you engage in, your economic troubles, your relationship with other players on the world stage. The impacts of 9/11 in particular have flowed downstream. A list of Australia’s 242 casualties in Afghanistan can sadly attest to that. But your cultural reign is another tie that binds, and has a global impact just the same.

America, you are the maker of manners, you see. Art has always influenced culture; art informs the way we live, and we consume your art in every way. Since the early 1980’s, 60% of all films screened in my country have told your stories. Seven of our current top ten singles are from American singers and bands. Six of our ten best-selling books from 2011 were written by US authors. Our television stations rush to show your hit shows right after they’ve aired stateside (the rest we can find on the internet). About the only cultural aspect you don’t dominate is our sport. But then, alas, you suck at rugby! We know your icons and your heroes America – the actors, the singers, the sporting and the political. We mourned the loss of Camelot too.

Barack and Michelle ObamaThe stories you tell matter. The stories you tell about yourselves matter. How you treat your women matters. This crazy war on women that the right is waging, their re-defining of rape, their push to make women incubators, the attempts to close down vital providers of women’s health – these are all stories you’re telling our men and our boys. Our young girls too. In a country that supports a $10 billion dollar porn industry but gets jumpy at the idea of sex education (teen pregnancies cost you just about the same by the way) this retrograde view of women and sex in particular informs your culture and it informs mine too. It keeps the word slut in rotation, it sexualises the violence of rape, and it tells the world to get pissed off at me when I don’t get the joke. I repeat: the stories you tell matter.

And they don’t just matter to someone who looks or lives like you and me. This cultural disempowerment of women, the allowing of the religious right to change and control the narrative on women’s reproductive choices, it will cause a tidal wave for women in developing countries if Romney wins. Actually, if Republican precedent is anything to go by, it will be the very first act of President Romney – a reinstatement of the global gag rule, the policy that bans US funds from going to any aid organisation that so much as provides information on abortion. Information. This is the party that makes silence consent.

Barack Obama at body, rememberThis sacrificing of vulnerable women to the alter of the right breaks my heart. I have lived in a developing nation, amongst the very women this gag rule affects. I’ve spent time in stinking, under-staffed hospitals with 14 year old girls holding swollen bellies, with women trying to feed another mouth after their husband dies of HIV. I’ve watched bibles not condoms destroy communities from the outside, in. Romney and his men will cut off money to The United Nations Population Fund and other such organisations who do life-saving work with impoverished women. They will essentially shut these organisations down – for providing information, for offering choice. It is not called the gag rule for nothing.

Which brings me to this. A blog post unlike my others – but connected. I am a writer and a feminist, for me they are one and the same. I write about women at body, remember. About flawed, passionate, courageous women. I don’t believe in angels and whores, and you will not find heroes here – only stories. And every so often the story is mine.

You have to vote for Obama.

There, I said it.

Vote for the man who rescinded the global gag rule. Vote for the man whose first bill signed into law was the Equal Pay legislation of The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (which Romney opposed). Vote for the man who expanded VAWA, the Violence Against Women Act (chipped away at by the Republican Party). Vote for the man who says “Rape is rape. It is a crime.” (when the Republican Party seeks to dilute and re-define it). Vote for the man who repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and supports marriage equality – for the man who understands that gay rights are civil rights too. Vote for the man who put two women on the Supreme Court, including the first Latina Justice.

Vote for the man who turned around the US auto industry. Who ended the war in Iraq. Who passed Wall Street reform and signed into law the Recovery Act. Vote for the man who got Bin Laden. Vote for the man who is providing healthcare access to 11 millions kids living in poverty, the man for whom Obamacare is not a derisive term, not when you consider how the Affordable Care Act provides universal healthcare for the very first time in your country’s history.

You have to vote for Obama.

He is the story you want to tell. The son of a black Kenyan and a white Kansan. Raised by a single mom and his grandparents. A community organiser, a civil rights lawyer who rose from poverty to become the first African American President. Whose journey to your highest office personifies the American Dream. Right when we thought we had lost it.

I am a writer and a feminist. That capital F on my chest doesn’t ensure I get things right all the time. It doesn’t make me a superhero – this blog is primarily about all the mistakes that I’ve made. But it gives me a voice and I’m using it now. As loud as I can, across the Pacific. The personal is political, after-all.

I hope that I’m singing come Tuesday.

Me hopeful (and nervous) on the eve of the election, 2008.

My love is your love (and when the Government says ‘No’)

Equal Love Equal Rights This is my friend Caroline.

Everyone should be so lucky to have a friend like Caroline. She’s fiercely loyal, protective, and just the right amount of crazy. You know with Caroline that if someone hurt you, she would turn up in her pick-up with a shotgun and wait with it fully loaded until you were safely in her arms.

Yeah, she’s that kind of friend. No matter where I am in the world, this woman has my back.

Caroline is getting married in a few weeks. I’d love to go and share the love, but the wedding is taking place in Canada – that’s just a little too far for a long weekend. Caroline isn’t Canadian however, nor does she reside in Canada. She is getting married there because she can’t get married in her home state of Alabama. Come to think, she couldn’t get married here in Australia either, or in my home country of New Zealand. Even as a citizen she couldn’t get married in these countries, because the love of her life, the person who loves my fiercely loyal, protective, and just the right amount of crazy friend the most also happens to be a woman.

They’ve been together 6 years and they’re mad-hippy-dippy in love, these two. That’s the way Caroline does it after-all. I don’t know how her Canadian marriage will be recognised in her own country, but I do know it won’t be recognised here. The Australian Government not only prohibits same-sex marriage, it will not recognise a same-sex marital status conferred by another country. Get married in Canada, take your honeymoon in Australia and somewhere over the Pacific you become what? Travel buddies? Where exactly does the legal status of your relationship change? I’m trying to think of an analogous example for legally married heterosexuals – meet my wife here, here and here, but over there we’re just really good friends!?  

If marriage is the single biggest symbolic and legal commitment two consenting adults can make to each other, how can democratic Governments decide so arbitrarily just when and where it will be recognised?

And it is arbitrary. Marriage segregation exists in the realm of personal whim and prejudice (thank you Collins English Dictionary for backing my word on this one). Consensual love and commitment tend not to threaten the downfall of society when straight couples are doing it, after-all. In the interests of avoiding personal whim or prejudice, I’ve thought long and hard about equal rights, and the dangers of dispensing them to some, not all. It seems to me that when a Government denies a portion of the population access to the rights others freely access, it is perhaps sheer luck that you fall on the ‘right’ side of the law this time around. Because codifying segregation is never limited to the issue at hand. It suggests a society where any ‘other’ can be ostracised should the so-called majority be inclined, whether the lines are drawn through religion, race, gender, or sexual orientation.

It is no surprise to me that the Conservative Right feel just as strongly about women’s reproductive choices as they do about the sanctity of marriage. Take a look at the series of laws – or as I prefer to call it, the epidemic of insanity – sweeping the US at present.  For every North Carolina banning same sex marriage, there is an Arizona blocking funds to Planned Parenthood, and a Virginia trying to mandate invasive internal ultrasounds before an abortion can be discouraged performed.

But back to arbitrary. I don’t mean to suggest that those who hold an opposing view to gay marriage based on their religious teachings are acting on personal whim. Well actually, I don’t mean to suggest religious faith is a personal whim, but perhaps I do consider the use of biblical text to justify upholding marriage discrimination pretty close. I don’t see the same vigilance when it comes to mixing cotton and wool, or banning people with glasses from taking communion. And luckily no-one in my workplace is allowed to stone me to death for blasphemy (though I often receive a forceful frown).  If anything the law protects me against anyone using Leviticus to sanction my behaviour.

This one isn’t about God, people. No-one will be forced to change their personal experience of same-sex relationships. And if recent surveys are anything to go by, most Australians who support same-sex marriage also support the right of a Church or religious institution to refuse to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies. Ceremonies. That’s okay! I’m not going to fight gay battles with God. Just with the Government. Technically I’m not allowed to get married in a Catholic church either and this suggests no threat to my rights before the law.

Because I am allowed to get married. I don’t have to go to another country to have a commitment to my spouse both realised and recognised (and I don’t forfeit that recognition just by taking a plane ride to another city). I don’t have to default to a ‘separate but equal’ civil union (no offence to those who choose this option, I merely dislike it as the only option).  I don’t have to fight the Government to have my consenting adult relationship/leap of faith considered just as legally and socially worthy as that of any other couple featured in the announcements section of the Saturday paper.

Alright, so I’m not actually in a relationship at the moment, let alone close to getting married, but I’m just saying if I were … well luckily for me, the law says yes. See, I may not have a pick-up (or a shotgun) but I’ve got words and a platform, and I’m calling it here. If you are married, or hope to be, think of all that it means to you and yours. Then close your eyes for a moment and imagine your Government says “No”.

Caroline honey, I’ve got your back over here on this side of the world.

Here’s to the bride and bride!