Touching the divine

There are times when listening to music or seeing a piece of art that the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, I get goose bumps and a shiver passes through me.

There are times when experiencing a particular experience, listening to a piece of music, seeing a piece of art that I can’t help myself grin and laugh at the beauty and happiness of it all.

Both these things are touching the divine.  Not the divinity of a deity, but where someone has created (perhaps even myself) something that reaches inside me and speaks to me in ways that I cannot verbalise more than I have above.  What works for me is not necessarily going to be the same as what works for you.  For example, the music that makes me shiver is often
hundreds of years old, acapella choral music – usually in Latin.  I know what the words mean, but its never the words that hit me first, its the massed voices and the music.  The experiences that make me grin and laugh are things like diving into a body of water and just being surrounded by so much of it.

Why have I chosen to use the word divine?  Because I like it, and because it isn’t always associated with a god or theology.  The Macquarie Dictionary (go and subscribe – its cheap and Australia’s official dictionary), says that some of the meanings of “divine” are:

As adjectives
* heavenly; celestial.
* of superhuman or surpassing excellence
* (Colloquial) excellent

And as a verb:
* to have perception by intuition or insight

These experiences of mine, the music, the art, the other, they all make my life a better and more excellent place to be.  What works for you?

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My gender identity

I was asked recently about a statement I made where I indicated that I viewed myself as both male and female, and asked to expand on that further.  Thanks to my wonderful girlfriend who was happy to be the other half of my brain so I could put it all together in writing, I came up with the following:

I do see myself as parts of both.  I don’t think I fit neatly into society’s expectations of female, despite my female body.

On the gender continuum, I believe I sit in the middle… not fully female and not fully male.  I don’t tend to express this in appearance, but I think I express it in behavior.  I dress to look good, but I don’t dress “girly”… I don’t do makeup (unless absolutely called for), false nails, pink or bling… Though I do wear corsets, skirts, jewellery, lingerie etc.

I tend to relate easier to men than to women, I tend to bristle when someone refers to me as feminine, and that might be more political than identity, because I bristle the same way when someone calls me a “lady”.

As my girlfriend so succinctly put it, I am a human who happens to be female. I can choose to act feminine one day and masculine the next and nothing at all the third. That has no real bearing on anything I inherently am.

Is it problematic?  Rarely.  I don’t deal with much sexism because I am quite good at being deaf to it, or being sufficiently intimidating for it not to happen in the first place – that and surrounding myself with non-sexist people.  If someone attempts to impose their gender assumptions on me I tend to ignore them or tell them off – this happens more online than in person (the telling off).  Generally I don’t care what people think of me, unless they are quite close to me.  If some stranger wants to think X, then its not worth my energy educating and/or correcting them.

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Movie Review: Kick Ass

The movie is ultra violent, something which disturbed me, because I’m not a fan of gore – though that could have been close to realistic levels and been far more ick – it was quite toned down.

That said, the movie had some fantastic social commentary nestled in there that only becomes evident once you sit back and start thinking about it.

Firstly, violence is clearly part of nurture and not nature. Hit Girl was brought up to be able to look after herself, kill, incapacitate and not be squeamish about such things.

Secondly, Hit Girl demonstrates that girls can do all the things that are typically the domain of boys, she is able to defend herself, fight to protect those she cares about, kill, incapacitate and swear. Despite her ultra-violent upbringing, she’s still human, loves her dad who clearly dotes on her and wants him to be proud of her – just like any other child regardless of gender.

That aside, the film is also incredibly sex positive. When Dave and his girlfriend eventually hook up and act like sexual teenagers, the film doens’t make that a bad thing. Dave’s dad is happy his son has a girlfriend and tells him so, without any lecturing about “saving himself for marriage” or other such nonsense. The opening scenes about masturbation being a normal part of life also reinforce the sex positivity of this film.

This isn’t a children’s film – and the rating clearly demonstrates that.

The language in the film might be confronting for those who stuff their ears full of cotton wool every time they walk outside. It was funny to hear a tween swear, and particularly a tween girl swear, but really they’re just words people.

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This is why we need relationship training

Today survey results from a study conducted by VicHealth for the Australian Federal Government, into attitudes regarding  violence against women.  The full reports and stuff from VicHealth are here, the ABC coverage of the report is here.

This is the first such survey since 1995, so its been a while since the last one and this survey covered a broad spectrum of the Australian population.  The disturbing findings (“challenges”) as listed in the fact sheet are below:

Fewer people in 2009 believe that slapping and pushing a partner to cause harm or fear is a ‘very serious’ form of violence than in 1995 (from 64% in 1995 to 53% in 2009).

So although the percentage of people who think that slapping and pushing a partner to cause harm or fear has dropped, it is still stupidly high.

22% of people in 2009 believe that domestic violence is perpetrated equally by both men and women compared with 9% in 1995.

This is better I suppose.  Domestic violence is perpetrated by both genders, even if one gender features higher in statistics of domestic violence, but the number is still low, meaning that men who are victims of domestic violence are unlikely to be able to get the help or validation they need.

34% believe that ‘rape results from men being unable to control their need for sex’.

This feeds back into rape culture and the fact that men shouldn’t be held responsible for their actions in relation to sex, because it is an overwhelming thing that just destroys their minds…. or something.  Seriously although someone may crave sex, they can just masturbate versus raping someone.

One in four people (26%) disagrees that ‘women rarely make false claims of being raped’.

To put this in perspective, 26% of the people surveyed believe that women cry rape for fun.  Seriously people what is wrong with you?  Why would someone falsely claim that they were raped by someone else?  This is such a damaging claim, it detracts from everyone who has ever been raped and forces victims to go further than they need to to prove that they have been raped.  This is one reason why so many victims don’t go to the authorities after they’ve been raped, because who would believe them?

13% of people still agree that women ‘often say no when they mean yes’ and roughly one in six (16%) agrees that a woman ‘is partly responsible if she is raped when drunk or drug affected’.

This again is pure rape culture. The one at fault for raping someone is the rapist, and not the victim.  Victim blaming does not reduce rape culture, does not help the victim and if someone says “NO”, then that’s pretty clear.  When I say “No”, I do not mean, “Please come by and rape me later, it’d be fun.”  Thankfully there are some good rape prevention programs being launched around the world.

One in five people (22%) believes that domestic violence can be excused if later the perpetrator regrets what they have done.

“Oh, I’m so sorry I punched you in the face and gave you a black eye.  I didn’t mean to fracture your eye socket, I was having a bad day.”

Does that work for you?  Do you feel better now about that black eye and fractured eye socket, having to wear makeup to hide the bruising?  Probably not.  Domestic violence should not be excused, it is assault, it is a crime and no matter how sorry to perpetrator feels afterwards, that does not excuse what they did.  You may choose to forgive them, but that doesn’t wipe the slate and make what they did acceptable.

Eight in ten people in the general community say it is hard to understand why women stay in violent relationships and more than half believe a woman could leave a violent relationship if she really wanted to.

Thanks to the Family Law Center I have the perfect answer to this (yay the internet!).

Simply asking the question “Why do women stay in violent relationships?” is blaming the victim. People don’t seem to ask nearly as often, “Why do men batter?”, a question which places the blame with the perpetrator. It is easy to blame the victims in battering relationships. Often, those outside the relationship will think that if she really wants to leave, she can. However, abuse is never the victim’s fault, and there are often many psychological issues affecting abused women and their ability to leave an abusive relationship.

Ok, so to take this back to the title of the post.  I’ve been a long believer in the fact that sex education in Australia is completely inadequate to prepare people for not just sex but also relationships with the people they’re having sex with.  Teenagers muddle along in relationships, possibly basing them on what they’ve read, other relationships they’ve witnessed (good and/or bad) and the media.  If the education system actually had proper discussions about types of relationships, what was good in a relationship and what could be bad or problematic, that alternate relationship styles (BDSM, polyamory, etc) were ok and that alternate sexualities were also ok, then suddenly we have a system that can start preparing children and teenagers to have good relationships.  If we throw in good communication skills; an understanding of why honesty is important with your partner; proper discussions of domestic violence and sexual assault; and discussions of STI testing, and we’ve moved to providing a world class educational model for the next generation.

If this is done well, then maybe we’d reduce the number of people who think that victims should be blamed, reduce rape culture and get that tricky issue of consent sorted out.

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Tony Abbott – shut the f**k up

Tony Abbott, our delightful opposition leader, stated recently what Jesus would say and do regarding asylum seekers in Australia.  It showed yet again that Abbott’s Catholic beliefs are a cover for his arch-Conservative views and that he really has no idea what he’s talking about.  As a lapsed and possibly now agnostic Catholic, I know more about the bible than Abbot appears to.

Here is what he said recently, which really makes me wish he’d just stop talking and embarrassing the rest of us:

“Jesus didn’t say yes to everyone,” Mr Abbott said on ABC television’s Q&A program, according to the Herald Sun.

“Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it’s not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.”

Mr Abbott was quizzed extensively on his criticisms of the Rudd Government’s softening of Australia’s border protection policies and how that criticism squared with his own strong Catholic faith.

Asked what Jesus would do on the issue of asylum-seekers, he replied: “Don’t forget, Jesus drove the traders from the temple as well.”

“This idea that Jesus would say to every person who wanted to come to Australia, ‘Fine, the door’s open’, I just don’t think is necessarily right,” Mr Abbott said.

“(But) let’s not verbal Jesus, he is not here to defend himself.”

Ok, now lets look at what Jesus is actually attributed as saying on such issues:

Matthew 7: 1 – 5

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

So Abbott, don’t judge others because you do not have the authority to do so.

Matthew 19:14

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

John 13:34

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

Both of these quotes would suggest that a welcoming and loving heart are the call of the day and not one that would willingly exclude others, whether it be from entering a country or seeking asylum.

And as far as Jesus driving people from the temple goes, the story is as follows:

Matthew 21: 12 – 13

Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, ” ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.'”

Which has nothing to do with keeping asylum seekers from seeking asylum in Australia or any other country they can make it to and choose to seek asylum in.  Jesus spoke of befriending outcasts, the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 and, Zacchaeus the tax collector in Luke 19:1-2.  He healed Lepers (Luke 17:11-19) and others with diseases and disabilities.  He taught about humbleness and acceptance of others.  He is not the man that Tony Abbott keeps thinking he is.  And on a final note, a quote from Luke 18:9-14 that Tony Abbott needs to consider:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

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An encounter

I gave two men money for their accommodation the other night.  They were both homeless, but had secured night by night accommodation at a backpackers, and were attempting to raise further funds, separately, to have a room for the night.  Since then I’ve thought about begging and homelessness and all the messages I have been given about homelessness, whether from my peers, the media or our politicians.

Pretty much all of the messages that go with homeless people are pretty awful.  They’re losers, they want to be homeless, they’re drug addicts, alcoholics, dirty, helpless, ill or diseased.  I personally cannot imagine too many people who would want to be homeless, and who would want to be homeless in Melbourne with winter approaching, or really in any city.  Although sleeping outside in balmy weather is a nice thing to do on occasion, imagine doing it every night, in doorways, under bridges or in the park.

Tony Abbot recently misused the bible to justify not acting on homeless people.  Abbott quoted from the Gospel of Matthew: ”The poor will always be with us,” and referred to the fact there is little a government can do for people who choose to be homeless.  It is this type of attitude that needs to change in relation to thinking about homeless people.  Surely as a society we should be caring for those of us who stumble over misfortune in their lives.

And if people living on the streets are self medicating or are alcoholic, is that any reason not to help them when approached?  I think it’s horribly judgemental to believe that someone asking you for money a) has to justify what it is to be used for and b) has to fight through a whole lot of prejudice regarding whether or not that money will be used for what they claim it will be.  I know I’m far more likely to give money to people who ask for it humbly, and that’s something that just pushes my buttons, they have every right to ask for it as forcefully as they need it, though unlikely to achieve much success.  Begging is, by its very definition, something that is done in a supplicating manner, so to ask requires a certain deference, which is also unfair even if necessary.

I have had people demand money of me, and that makes me feel threatened.  I’m far more likely to refuse money to someone who I am afraid of.  This of course ends up with homeless people often being powerless and with them being voiceless and invisible generally.  I get charity spruikers pushing their charity in my face far more than I get homeless individuals who would need my money more.

Yes, there are charities that exist to provide services to the homeless, and universally they are beyond their capacity with more homeless people to cope with than funds to manage them.  If someone needs money and I have some (and am in the right frame of mind, etc), I’ll give them money to find a room, find a meal and to have a little more comfort for the evening.  I’ve decided to reject society’s messages about homelessness and the helplessness of those who are homeless.  I’ll help where I can, including by donating to organisations that work with homeless people, and by helping homeless people themselves.

I also support the Big Issue which is set up to help the homeless and long-term unemployed by employing them as vendors and providing them with support.  The Big Issue also provides education to school students to help them “break down stereotypes surrounding homelessness and encourage tolerance and empathy towards all people.”

So is there a point to this post… not really.  Its just a collection of my current thoughts on homelessness.  I haven’t even touched on issues of gender, disability and age in relation to homelessness, how homeless people and those at risk of becoming homeless are targeted by unscrupulous boarding home operators, and how the homeless often remain invisible and silent when it comes to politics.

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Derryn Hinch – longtime campaigner against sexual abuse

[Trigger warning – this post discusses sexual abuse and the articles linked in this post may contain graphic descriptions of sexual abuse]

Say what you like about Derryn Hinch, and I’ve said plenty before, but he certainly has chosen a cause that makes me grateful he’s still around annoying everyone.  I always thought that Hinch was like a bulldog… he’d grab a story, an idea, or even a misrepresentation and keep at it until he’d made a point, and given his current campaign against sexual abuse landing him in trouble, you’d think that maybe he’d back off and find something else to campaign against.

But no… this is Derryn Hinch, and he is a bulldog.  He wrote an article in The Sunday Age regarding a church elder/founder who stands accused of abusing the position of trust that he held within that organisation through sexually abusing a woman who had survived sexual abuse as a child from her family.  Being Derryn Hinch, which kinda means he has different ways and means that the average person, he grabbed this story and ran… tugged… whatever it is that bulldogs do.  He broke this story for The Age, and I suspect we’ll hear more about it and the fallout, especially as the alleged abuser claims he has not resigned his position within his church/thing despite the officials of the church/thing claiming he has.

Is there a point here?  Not overly… I do like being surprised by people in unexpected ways, even after I’ve decided I don’t like them.  I still think that Hinch is an over opinionated shock-jock, but there appears to be common ground between him and I that I never thought I’d find.

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Roses Only… more like sexist only

I was at the cinema last night to watch Joueuse (Queen to Play) as part of the French Film Festival in Melbourne.  As with every other cinema experience, we were treated to a range of ads for products and services before the film began.  Tefal featured strongly as the sponsor of the festival, and then the last ad (well the last ad I paid attention to) came up.

Unfortunately the ad is not available online, so I’ll just have to summarise what happened here:

  • Man A is sitting in a pub with Man B.  Man A talks about his shed extension and the problems he faced.
  • Man A describes his female partner objecting to the shed extension and the scene changes to her complaining that to extend his shed he’ll have to cut this tree down, and “what about the birds”
  • Man B asks what Man A did to solve this problem
  • Man A states, “Roses only” and the scene cuts to his female partner looking adoringly at a dozen roses and Man A outside starting a chain saw.

I was staggered at the amazing sexism in this ad:

  1. Firstly only women care about the environment, and if you care about the environment, then you’re a woman;
  2. The best way to get what you want is to buy into gender tropes and buy your female partner a nice shiny thing to distract her from her worries or to change her principles;
  3. Women will easily change their principles for expensive gifts; and
  4. Buying an expensive gift now will absolve you from all future issues relating to the same topic.

Now imagine if the ad was switched around, sticking to gender tropes:

  • Woman A is in a cafe talking to Woman B about her recent kitchen extension and the problems she faced
  • Woman A describes her male partner objecting to the kitchen extension and the scene changes to him complaining that to extend the kitchen his shed will be demolished and what will he do?
  • Woman B asks what Woman A did to solve this problem
  • Woman A states, “I bought him a slab/DVD of the footy/tickets to a sporting event/a drill” and the scene cuts to her male partner looking at said item adoringly while his shed is ripped down.

Or of course we could remove gender entirely from this annoying trope and just use people:

  • Person A is dining with Person B explaining about the resort they’ve just built and the issues they faced
  • Person A describes how Person C complained about the development because of the site of the development impacted on a site of significance/religious importance/their own dwelling
  • Person B asks what they did to solve this problem
  • Person A states that they gave Person C some beads/shiny thing/grog/small sum of money and the scene cuts to Person C looking at said item adoringly while having their site of significance/religious importance/their own dwelling destroyed.

Cheerful isn’t it?  So Roses Only, how about:

  1. Not being sexist;
  2. Not playing into gender tropes about what women will do and what principles they’ll compromise for an expensive gift;
  3. Not being so heterosexual focused; and
  4. Never advertise again?

If only it was so easy.

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    More rabid ignorance

    I’m going to join the bandwagon of Hoydon About Town, FWD/Forward and Pharyngula and discuss the awful statements made by US Republican State Delegate Bob Marshall of Manassas.

    As PZ suggested, I wrote directly to Bob Marshall and told him off in no uncertain terms (well as much as I tell anyone off), and thought at the time that perhaps I should blog about what I was saying, and then got distracted writing my other blog post.

    Here are the comments that everyone is rightly objecting to:

    “The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children,” said Marshall, a Republican.

    “In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There’s a special punishment Christians would suggest.”

    After asking if he had any evidence to back up his first statement (which I’m 100% sure he doesn’t), I made the following points to Bob Marshall:

    How could the god of love, forgiveness and compassion (the one I was taught about at school), punish children for their mother’s sins.  How could this Judeo-Christian god be so full of vengeance and hate towards his people?

    What happens to those mothers who foetus/babies die of natural causes, either still birth or miscarried?  Are those mothers also punished by god or nature because their first born child was not “dedicated to the Lord”?

    What about those who don’t believe in a Judeo-Christian god?  How are these arguments even remotely relevant to them?

    Why can’t he and the rest of his posse, trust that women are capable of acting morally and capable of making their own decisions?  Does he honestly think that organisations like Planned Parenthood solicit abortions?  In addition to that, what business is of his whether someone does or does not get an abortion.  I remember from my bible days, that Jesus told everyone to stop judging others, and that’s what Bob is doing here… calling judgement on women who have abortions.

    I also asked him what would he believe would happen in my case given I had to have an abortion or die when I had an ectopic pregnancy.  I found out I was pregnant the same time I was in the process of beginning to die.  I chose to live because I had that choice.  Is Bob and his posse trying to take that option away from women?

    In the end I told Bob he needed to chill and relax, the world will look after itself and he’s not doing himself  (or anyone else) any favours by stressing over such things.

    Of course he will never see my message to him as many other Pharyngula readers would have also contacted him expressing their displeasure at his inflammatory and terrible thoughts.

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    The Gay Agenda!!!eleventy!!

    From god hates protestors (http://godhatesprotesters.wordpress.com/2010/01/04/the-gay-agenda/)
    From: god hates protesters

    Every time I hear about “the gay agenda” I want to scream.  My father-in-law, when I have to spend time with him, will often wax lyrical on this topic, particularly about how gay people are trying to convert others to being gay.

    I’m not 100% sure why I woke up this morning thinking about how stupid the whole “gay agenda” and “gay conversion” thing is, but I did, and so I’m going to talk about it for a bit.

    I was talking to my girlfriend the other day about the “traditional Desi dyke” and how single Desi dykes are scary because they’re out to convert the innocent straight girls.  Her comment was that this really showed a lack of understanding about heterosexuality.  That’s been at the back of my mind for the past few days, as well as the other crap that is generally percolating in my head at any given moment.

    To suggest that gay, lesbian or bisexual people are out to convert people or that they have some sort of agenda indicates that those saying this believe that to be gay, lesbian or bisexual is just a choice, and that the choice is so attractive that people have to be warned against it by religion and other forms of societal disapproval.

    Because let’s face it, being a second class citizen in Australia, not having the same rights as your straight brothers and sisters, is a very attractive choice.  Not being able to marry, adopt children from overseas, obtain reproductive assistance (in some states) and the like is so very attractive, clearly I must rush now and divorce my husband and enter a lesbian relationship.  In the US it is even worse.  Gay, lesbian and bisexual people can have access to their partners denied in hospital, face discrimination in the workplace, are unable to bring their non-US partners back with them to the US, etc.  Why would people choose to do this?  Because, as many lesbian, gay and bisexual people state, as science has begun to back up, and as society is actually leaning towards… there is no choice.  You are gay, lesbian or bisexual… you can’t change that and you should have the freedom to be yourself just like all those straight people do.

    I do love the idea as well that the gay, lesbian and bisexual communities, made up of disparate people with different ideas, wants and needs apparently has some “agenda” that threatens all the straight people.  What agenda?  The agenda that they want to be treated like everyone else?  The agenda that they might want to marry their life partners like their straight cousins can?

    Conservative Christians say that gay, lesbian or bisexual people marrying will ruin the sanctity of marriage, and that since god (who the gay, lesbian or bisexual people may or may not believe in) stated that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that is how it has always been done, we can’t possibly change things now… like how we couldn’t change slavery or the role of women.  Its not like marriage is “sacred” these days with the ability to marry complete strangers as long as each are man or woman, or beating your new bride and being arrested twice on your wedding night, or  the ability to divorce and remarry.

    I think it is far more accurate to say that there is a religious straight agenda.  They’re the ones who claim that there is some sort of “gay agenda” and are the loudest at condemning gays, lesbians and bisexuals who want to marry their same sex partner or who want equal rights.  They’re the ones who claim that being gay, lesbian or bisexual is a choice and that you can be “converted” back to being straight.  Of course, they’re wrong.

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    A blog about feminism, religion and stuff… in no particular order