Derby + beer + dress ups

Is there anything better than roller derby, beer, and dress ups?

Why yes, actually, there is.

It’s roller derby, beer, dress ups, and an art auction to support a great charity.

My derby gang, the Inner West Roller Derby League, has teamed up with Young Henrys brewery to do some pretty cool stuff this year, and this is the first:

Young Henrys, Inner West Roller Derby League, Jackie Onassis

Young Henrys and the Inner West Roller Derby League put the FUN in fundraiser. (Yeah, ok, that was pretty bad.)

Local artists are donating work to be auctioned, with all proceeds going to Dress for Success, a not-for-profit group offering professional outfits and interview training for women who can’t just go out and buy these things.

The exhibition is this Saturday, from 12pm at Young Henrys brewery (76 Wilford St, Newtown). The auction starts at 5pm. We had some fun last night with the gorgeous Hellcat in a frock, pearls and skates, and one of the photos will be in the auction.

And then the after party is at the Union Hotel in Newtown from 7pm. There’ll be a prize for the best Jackie Onassis outfit, as well as a raffle to support the league.

Here’s the facebook invite.

Come along, buy some art, drink some craft beer, and meet a bunch of fucking fabulous people who have brought so much fun to my life.

The special women’s section

The Guardian has a new women’s section, called She Said:

Bold, insightful and provocative, She Said is here to bring you a fresh perspective on what’s going on. The Observer’s female writers, and some occasional special guests, will post reaction to breaking news along with thoughtful, witty analysis and general musings on life. No topics are off limits – from politics and world affairs to sport and culture, food and fashion. Not to mention our daily irritations and celebrations.

Making an explicit effort to include women’s voices in the news is an excellent idea, but it is a terrible idea to put them in a special section that men will never read. It’s the same complaint I have about Daily Life (another complaint being that the content is often indistinguishable from the lifestyle and entertainment sections), and about the All About Women Festival at the Opera House, where well-off women will pay to see other well-off women talk about stuff they already agree with. Some of the festival will be interesting – Ilwad Elman and Mona Eltahawy are speaking – but is unlikely to lead to any real change because it’s pitched as an event for women. Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s a lot of benefit in women talking with each other about how to change things, and in writing for each other about our opinions and lives. We do that all the time, and I enjoy it and learn a lot from it. But if cultural change is the goal, then it won’t happen this way.

Events pitched at women and special sections on news sites would be fine if talks and conferences and tv panel shows weren’t just a parade of white men talking to white men. How often do you see episodes of QandA or The Project in which women outnumber men? And they’re just there talk about stuff, not necessarily “women’s stuff”? How many news stories in which women are expert voices on something other than parenting? As long media organisations continue to quarantine women’s voices from the “real stuff”, then they can kiss my arse.

The Guardian, like smh.com.au, has realised there are clicks in publishing women’s voices, but they clearly don’t see them as being a part of the “real news”. The news where men write 70 per cent of the front page stories, are the focus of 72 per cent of the stories, and appear as experts in 78 per cent of the stories (figures from The Blokeyness Index and to be fair, they pre-date The Guardian‘s Australian arrival). It’s not hard to find female experts, but it’s apparently too hard for most journalists to look for them. If news organisations were serious about including female voices in their news cycle, then editors would simply send copy back to the journo if it doesn’t include a female voice. It’s not rocket surgery. (And it might mean we stop seeing so many one-voice stories. But that’s another post.)

Get your marching shoes on

On Sunday, I will be marching for my right to control my own body.

We only have a few weeks left. Next month, the NSW Upper House will vote on the Crimes Amendment (Zoe’s Law) Bill 2013 (No. 2). It gives a foetus (20 weeks or more) the same legal rights as a person.

For background, in 2009 Justine Hampson was driving under the influence of drugs when she hit Brodie Donegan, who was 32 weeks pregnant. The child (Zoe) was stillborn as a result of Donegan’s injuries. Hampson was convicted for causing grievous bodily harm to Donegan, including the loss of her foetus, and jailed for nine months. At the time, Donegan seemed to accept the result, but grief is a funny thing. I don’t know what it’s like to lose a child, but I do know what it’s like to lose a baby sibling, and that grief fills up all the spaces in a room.

It is understandable that Donegan and her husband Nick Ball want their loss acknowledged. But this is a bad law. That Fred Nile drafted the first version in Zoe’s name without even speaking to the family makes me pretty damn sure that their loss is being exploited by people who want to remove women’s rights.

The Australian Medical Association, Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Family Planning NSW, Women’s Health NSW, Domestic Violence NSW, Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia, NSW Bar Association, The Law Society, the National Foundation for Australian Women, Reproductive Choice Australia, and the Women Lawyers Association are all against the bill. They say it’s unnecessary and may harm a woman’s access to an abortion after 24-weeks – usually carried out for quite serious reasons. As Sarah Krasnostein writes, this affects:

Those who are in denial or too traumatised to find out because the pregnancy resulted from rape, from incest. Those too young to know the signs. Those who have a mental illness or an intellectual disability and do not understand that they are pregnant.

But it’s not always a question of not knowing. There are those who know too much. Who must make an excruciating choice after test results diagnosing severe foetal abnormality. For instance, the test for Anencephaly happens at 15-20 weeks. Babies with this neural tube defect are born without a forebrain and the remaining tissue exposed. If not stillborn, they die shortly after.

The proposed law has an exemption for medical procedures, but according to Women’s Legal Services NSW, that will be open to interpretation. Keep in mind that abortion in NSW is a crime for women AND doctors, unless the doctor believes the woman’s physical and/or mental health is in serious danger. Faced with this new law, it’s easy to imagine doctors becoming reluctant to perform medical procedures that are legal.

For more info on the legal ramifications, read this excellent piece by law lecturer Hannah Robert:

Once the foetus is defined as a legal person, the law has a direct relationship with it, and the mother’s consent becomes irrelevant. She becomes invisible in the eyes of the law, despite the physical realities of pregnancy meaning that any interaction with the foetus necessarily involves her.

Chilling, isn’t it? As far as the law is concerned, once you get halfway through a pregnancy, you are irrelevant.

This great piece at Hoyden about Town lists some of the potential problems, such as compromising medical care, coercion, and prosecuting pregnant women who don’t follow dietary guidelines.

Make no mistake, this bill is about moving us closer to making it impossible for women to access safe abortion. Women’s Legal Services NSW called the bill “a clear attempt to undermine women’s rights by changing the legal status of a foetus”. Please read that WLS piece, because it deals with the current law, and the emotive and incorrect language of the proposed bill.

In the US, foetal personhood laws are being used to stop women accessing safe abortions and even emergency contraception. Republicans have tried a few times to change the law so that when a man rapes a woman, resulting in pregnancy, that woman is forced to continue the pregnancy and have the baby. They’ve also tried to legalise the murder of doctors who perform abortions. And they are running a war on contraception. Think that won’t happen here? Albury pharmacist Simon Horsfall tells women that if they’re buying the pill so they don’t get pregnant, they should go elsewhere because he doesn’t believe in contraception. He doesn’t sell condoms or the morning-after pill. Melbourne pharmacist Stephen Mulqueeny also refuses to sell the morning-after pill because of his religious beliefs. I have no doubt that there are many more pharmacists who refuse to sell these legal products. (Not that these products are good enough. The majority of abortions in Australia are the result of contraception failure – about sixty per cent of women were using at least one form of contraception at the time.) The Victorian Premier Denis Napthine is willing to remove women’s rights in order to do deals with Geoff Shaw, the MP holding the balance of power. Shaw is an evangelical Christian. The first two things he wants to do are to make late-term abortions illegal, and to remove the legal requirement for a doctor who is a conscientious objector to abortion to refer patients to a doctor without an objection. If he gets those two things, you know he won’t stop there. Having religious/conservative politicians who want to control the bodies of every single woman in Australia is one thing, but it’s disgusting that we have so many other male politicians who are willing to trade away women’s rights to do deals on infrastructure and asset sales. And people like Fred Nile and John Madigan are rubbing their hands with glee.

In November, the bill passed in the Lower House 63 to 26. Here is a list of those MPs who voted for and against it. It goes to the Upper House in March. We don’t have a lot of time.

This is why I’ll be at the protest tomorrow. See you at midday at Martin Place.

Update: Restricting our access to safe abortion is not an unintended consequence of this bill, it is THE intended consequence. Zoe’s Law is not an accident.

Update: You can email your MP here. Debate on the Bill in the Legislative Council starts at 10am on Thursday 6th March. MPs who oppose this Bill said it helps if we’re there. See you then.

I am a girl

I get why women say that roller derby changed their life. I tried out for the Inner West Roller Derby League last year because I couldn’t bear the gym being my only physical activity. My desk is just eight steps from my bed, so I’m not even getting the ‘walk to the station’ exercise that comes from commuting. I’ve always been uninterested in sport (watching and playing), so joining a team was completely out of character.

I was expecting to get really good at skating, get some impressive bruises, and to wear hotpants. What I wasn’t expecting was to be instantly welcomed into a family of fabulous people with excellent hair, gorgeous tattoos, and great names.

Before I started playing, life had become pretty blah. It wasn’t particularly bad, it just was. I’d been sick for a while, and there was a sameness to each day. But the energy and laughter from playing derby spread to the rest of my life. I started wearing more colours. I met a bunch of awesome women I admired on twitter. I started hosting a writers’ night (next one in April, by the way). Derby marked the point where I got my mojo back. So yeah, when women say that roller derby changed their life, I totally get that.

But – and this is the point of this post, I was just giving you that feel-good stuff to hook you in – we don’t just smash each other on the track and then go for beers afterwards. We’re also trying to do some good shit for other people. Which is why we’re holding a charity screening of I am a girl on Thursday 27th February:

The film follows six young women from Cambodia, PNG, Cameroon, Afghanistan, USA and Australia. It explores what it means to be born a girl in the 21st century.

There’ll be a Q&A session with the award-winning filmmaker Rebecca Barry, and because it’s a derby event, there’ll also be delicious cakes.

The money raised is going to Twenty10, an organisation that supports young people of diverse genders, sexes and sexualities.

Date: Thursday 27th February
Time: doors open 7pm, film starts at 7:30pm
Venue: Red Ratter, 6 Faversham St, Marrickville
Tickets: $12 (get ’em here: http://bit.ly/1nFHbLp)
Here’s the Facebook page.

Come along, say hi, get to know your local derby team, and watch a great film. We’re doing freshmeat soon so perhaps you’ll join us on the track. It might just change your life.

How embarrassing for professional journalists

Oh COME ON, journalists. How can you still be getting this wrong?

This time it’s someone at AAP for writing it, and someone at smh.com.au for running it: Teenage girl sexually assaulted in Sydney toilet block:

A teenage girl has been forced off a Sydney train and then sexually assaulted in a toilet block at the station, police say.

Despite what journalists write, assaults do not just loiter in dark places, waiting to happen at someone like some sort of Vashta Nerada. Assault is a crime committed by a person, so why is it reported differently? It’s the only crime they report this way.

Unless the story was written by a journo who knows what they’re doing, you can bet that the man who committed the crime isn’t mentioned in the first sentence. When I was a journo, it was drummed into us that most people only read the first sentence of a story – two sentences if it’s interesting – so you have to get the important stuff in there quick smart. Quite often, the man who committed the crime isn’t mentioned until the third or fourth sentence. I wonder, is it deliberate, or just incompetence?

I know, I know, it seems like such a minor point. But it’s not. It frames the way people think about male violence against women, and the result is that when we talk about it, we use sentences like “a woman was assaulted on the train”, “a young girl was assaulted in a park”, “a woman was assaulted while walking home”, “a woman was assaulted at a party”. The focus is on where the victim was and what she was doing, rather than on the person who committed the crime. When you talk about violence only in relation to women, then it’s seen as a problem for women to solve. Which is bullshit.

This is the story:

A teenage girl has been forced off a Sydney train and then sexually assaulted in a toilet block at the station, police say.

The 17-year-old girl was on a train when a man allegedly approached her and began talking to her around 12.30pm (AEDT) on Wednesday.

The 34-year-old man then forced her off the train and into a toilet block at Strathfield station in Sydney’s inner west, where he sexually assaulted her, police allege.

He then fled the scene and emergency services were called.

A short time later, police said they found the man and arrested him.

He was charged with sexual assault and will appear at Burwood Local Court on Thursday.

Oh, so the story is actually that a man has been arrested for assaulting someone. Here AAP and SMH, let me write it for you, using your language:

Man arrested for assaulting teen

A man has been charged with sexual assault after attacking a teenage girl.

The 34-year-old man allegedly approached the 17-year-old girl on a train and began talking to her around 12.30pm (AEDT) on Wednesday.

He then forced her off the train and into a toilet block at Strathfield station in Sydney’s inner west, where he sexually assaulted her, police allege.

He then fled the scene and emergency services were called.

A short time later, police said they found the man and arrested him.

He will appear at Burwood Local Court on Thursday.

There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Update 24 Jan: This morning, The Daily Telegraph has two stories about the alleged rape (also run on News.com.au). In one, reporter Jim O’Rourke caught the train and asked women if they were going to be more careful from now on – proving that he has absolutely no idea about the issue he is reporting on. If all it took was women to “be careful”, then there wouldn’t be any rape or sexual assault. In the second story, O’Rourke includes two gratuitous photos of the toilet. That’s gross and unnecessary.

Brand new year, same crappy reporting

** Warning: This post discusses male violence against women**

Hey look, it’s a bright new year and journalists are STILL pretending that male violence against women and girls just happens all by itself.

A man attacked two girls in a park toilet. His attack has been described as “horrific”. This is how it’s being reported. (Please note: these are the morning versions of the story.)

Ben McClellan’s story for dailytelegraph.com.au – Family’s fury at horror of young girls being indecently assaulted in a Sydney park toilet – doesn’t mention the perpetrator until the third paragraph, and even then, he just writes that police are looking for a man:

IT is every parent’s nightmare – two young girls enjoying a family picnic at a familiar park wander out of sight for a few minutes and into a public toilet block where they are sexually assaulted.

Guildford’s tight-knit community are angry and shocked that the sisters, aged two and six, were attacked­ yesterday just 30m from where their family was enjoying lunch.

A police hunt for a man of Middle Eastern appearance has entered a second day after the girls were attacked after they went into the toilet block at Campbell Hill Pioneer­ Reserve in Guildford about 1.30pm.

McClellan removes the man from his crime, and puts the focus on the actions of the girls. It might seem harmless, but the focus on the victims’ actions is insidious. I’m not suggesting that McClellan is implying that a two-year-old and a six-year-old are responsible for the man’s crime, but when you focus on their actions it feeds into the cultural message that, as a female, your actions influence whether or not someone else commits a crime. That if you weren’t doing this particular thing, or in this particular place, then this horrific thing wouldn’t have happened to you. That’s complete nonsense. And it’s certainly not the way we talk about male on male violence – that the men who are in hospital somehow influenced another man to king hit them.

But I shouldn’t single McClellan out, because most journalists do it.

Online at dailytelegraph.com.au, the standfirst hides the man in the section of the sentence no one really pays much attention to:

If you read quickly, you miss that the man is there.

If you read quickly, you miss that the man is there.

The story at smh.com.au is unbylined AAP copy – ‘It’s horrific’: Sisters, aged two and six, sexually assaulted in Sydney park toilet – and is only a little better. When it does finally mention the perpetrator, it puts the focus on his actions:

Police have described as a “parent’s worst nightmare” the sexual assault of two sisters, aged two and six, in the toilet block of a western Sydney park.

“The parents involved in this are absolutely devastated and so is the immediate family,” Detective Acting Superintendent Peter Yeomans told Macquarie Radio on Friday.

“It’s horrific, what has happened to them.”

The girls were approached by a man inside the toilet block and he indecently and sexually assaulted them, police said.

Shame the same can’t be said for the online editorial team:

Nope, no mention that someone did it - it just happened.

Nope, no mention that someone did it – it just happened.

At abc.net.au, the standfirst focus is on the attacker (even if they did call it a sex assault):

Finally! Someone is reporting this crime the same way other crimes are reported.

Finally! Someone is reporting this crime the same way other crimes are reported.

The headline is as bad as the others – Girls aged 2 and 6 indecently assaulted in park at Guildford in Sydney’s west – but at least the story itself is better:

Sydney police have established a strike force as they continue to hunt for a man who attacked two young girls in a toilet block in the city’s west.

Police say the girls, aged two and six, went with family members to Campbell Hill Pioneer Reserve in Guildford yesterday afternoon.

Officers say the man approached the girls about 1:30pm (AEDT) and took them into the toilets where they were indecently assaulted.

It is astounding that this still needs to be spelled out to journalists. After all, they spend so much time online that this can hardly be the first time they’ve come across this issue. But what is more astounding is that they show so little desire to think about the words that they use. A while ago I started emailing the journalists who write these stories. Usually my emails are ignored. The one response I got was along the lines of “OF COURSE I don’t remove the perpetrator from his actions, see, he is mentioned in the story”. Yes, but four or five pars in, and never in relation to the actual violence. I even used other examples of that journalist’s crime reporting side by side to illustrate my point, but it obviously went over their head.

Kelly McBride from the Poynter Institute runs a course for journalists on how to cover sexual assault. She says that “in addition to being precise about the language they use to describe sexual assault, journalists need to get a lot smarter about the research in order to describe it in a way that is accurate and that conveys the gravity of the situation,” (interview, 2008, p. 14 – reference below).

McBride uses the example of media coverage of HIV/AIDS – in the late 80s and early 90s, journalists focused on who had it and how they got it, end of story. Then, they went and actually learned about what they were reporting on, and the focus changed to the bigger picture. She says the same approach is needed for media reporting of sexual violence:

“Once you start realising that this story about sexual assault is really meant to hold the court system accountable, and this story about sexual assault is meant to provide some insight into what happens to victims and how devastating it is, and this story is about children and how systems fail to protect children, and this story is about public safety… once you start learning how to figure out the journalistic purpose of individual stories and types of stories, then you can start to apply different tools in different ways. So you become much more precise in your approach,” (interview, 2008, p. 14).

Journalists need to figure out how to cover the rest of the story. (And that means doing more than just tacking on a sentence of statistics at the end. That’s as meaningless as putting the contact details for Lifeline at the end of a story about someone dying from mental illness.)

The story does not start and end with this man’s attack on these two little girls. When one in three girls will be sexually abused before they turn 16, it is not good enough that journalists report male violence against females without any context. It is not good enough that any wider discussion of male violence against women and girls will be left to a single article in the weekend papers that will only be read by the people who are already talking and writing about this stuff online.

Look at the way the alcohol-related violence in Kings Cross is reported. At first the journalists focused on the victims, portraying them as innocent people who were just enjoying a night out with friends. That almost never happens when a man attacks a woman. Then the journalists focused on the perpetrators, and the public discussion very quickly became “how do we stop young men hitting other young men? How do we find a solution to this awful crime?”. One in three girls before they turn 16, but no, let’s keep pretending that these are just random attacks that are not part of a massive problem.

The mainstream media shapes the way we think about our world and shapes the language we use to think about it. As long as journalists keep reporting that “a woman/girl was assaulted in her home/public place”, that will continue to be the language people use. People will continue to think about assault as something that just happens to women and girls who are unlucky. People will continue to think two little girls were attacked, rather than what actually happened: a man attacked two little girls.

Reference:
The quotes from Kelly McBride come from an unbylined interview, headlined ‘Time to give more thought to how we cover sexual assault’, in the winter 2008 issue of Media, vol. 13, no. 3, p. 14.

Write it right

The COAG Reform Council has released a report looking at education, employment, housing, health, disability, and homelessness outcomes by gender: Tracking equity: Comparing outcomes for women and girls across Australia (127 page pdf). Basically, it says women are being fucked over in most parts of their lives.

This is how it’s being reported in the Sydney Morning Herald: COAG report: girls ahead at school but women lag in pay stakes:


It is the “baffling contrast” in gender equality in Australia: girls generally outperform boys at school, and are more likely to hold a bachelor degree, but men continue to earn more than women in the workplace and overwhelmingly dominate leadership roles…

…But in the workforce a significant gender pay gap still exists, with women paid about 17.5 per cent, or $266 a week, less than men. The disparity exists even within the same profession in many cases, and once the different average hours worked by men and women are taken into account.

At dailytelegraph.com.au (I don’t know if it’s in the paper): Women paid less than men for same job:

GIRLS outshine boys at school and are more likely to graduate from university – but are still paid less to do the same work as men, a damning new report reveals.

The Council of Australian Governments Reform Council report, shows that young male dentists earn $14,000 more than women in their first job, while male architect graduates earn $9000 more and male lawyers $4300 more…

…”Financial disadvantage starts as soon as women enter the workforce,” the official report says.

“Graduate starting salaries are overall significantly lower for women than men.”

And at abc.net.au – COAG equity report finds Australian women still lag behind men in pay, care more for disabled – it was the same general summary of the findings, with this detail at the end:


The report also found women continue to bear the brunt of caring for Australia’s disabled and that they often pay an economic and psychological price.

The report says women are almost twice as likely as men to be the primary carers for people with a disability.

Nearly 40 per cent of women who are caring for a person with a disability are not in the workforce, with many suffering physical and mental health impacts stemming from their role.

The report also states Indigenous women continue to face a significant homelessness problem.

The rate of homelessness of Indigenous women is more than 15 times higher than it is for non-Indigenous women.

Only the ABC mentioned Indigenous women and women who have caring responsibilities. None of the stories mentioned the fact that Indigenous women have a life expectancy of 72.9 years, compared with 84.2 years for non-Indigenous women. And that women with a disability are less likely than men with a disability to be working, and less likely than men to use disability services.

Now, I understand that a single news story doesn’t do justice to a report like this. It’s possible that these journos have saved some of the other issues for more stories over the next few days. Mind you, that doesn’t seem to happen very often these days. Once the report has been released, it’s old news and will sit on the pile of other reports about “women’s issues” that no one with any power does anything about.

But what if we flipped it to put the focus on the real problem?

What if these stories were about the Australian employers who are discriminating against female employees, in a clear breach of the Sex Discrimination Act? It becomes a different story then, doesn’t it? One that’s not so easily dismissed as a women’s issue, for women to sort out.

What if, rather than just numbers per 10,000, the stories about homelessness focussed on family violence being the main reason women report using homelessness services?

Flipping the stories to focus on the cause and not the outcome will help change the way people think about these issues. We know from decades of research into framing, agenda setting, and priming, that not only does the news media shape what issues people think about, but also how they think about those issues. So as long as journalists keep writing about women being underpaid, instead of employers underpaying women, then people will keep thinking about it as a women’s issue.

We know, from report after report after report, that women are paid less than men. We know, from report after report after report, that carers do not have the support that they need. We know, from report after report after report, that Indigenous women have a much lower life expectancy than non-Indigenous women. We know all this, and yet nothing happens.

Many journos will say the reason they became journalists was to change the world. To write the big, important stories that make a difference. Well, these are those big, important stories. It’s time to write about them in a way that forces action, that changes the way people think. It’s time to write about them in a way that wins you a fucking Walkley.