Rape and blame: Time to change the perception of women as provocateurs

8 Sep

It’s always unsettling to read about a woman who isn’t into feminism – it’s like meeting a child who doesn’t like ice-cream, or an old person who doesn’t like Midsomer Murders.

British columnist Julia Hartley-Brewer wrote a piece for the London Telegraph last week, published in The Age on Wednesday, which decried feminists for lambasting Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde for her remarks on rape – specifically that it can be a woman’s fault if they are the victim of sexual assault.

Like many who have a go at feminists, Hartley-Brewer uses terms such as shrill and squealing – and therefore worth blocking out, not listening to. Phrases such as “cue outraged squeals … from the Sisterhood” seek to reduce the voicing of legitimate concerns to the meaningless sounds of children or animals. (If only women had deeper voices, how much easier equal rights would be to achieve!) Even the repetitive use of the word “Sisterhood” conjures up images of the terrifying witches or “weird sisters” from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, clustered around a cauldron and plotting the downfall of men.

Hartley-Brewer writes that “Miss Hynde, once seen as a strong feminist role model, had unwittingly breached the first rule of the Sisterhood club: if you want to belong, then you have to conform”. However, the widespread outraged reaction to the singer’s remarks was not due to wanting Hynde to conform to a prescribed form of feminism – it is about the fear we feel when a strong female voice reinforces the notion that women are to blame for violence against them.
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It has taken years and years of work to shift this paradigm ever so slightly and to encourage victims, who too often stay quiet to avoid such censure, to report these crimes. Every time a policeman suggests that women shouldn’t walk alone in parks (such as after the murder of Melbourne schoolgirl Masa Vukotic) or dress provocatively (such as the Canadian police officer who said women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised), women are pushed further into the category of stupid provocateurs, with the implication that the aggressors simply cannot help themselves.

This needs to change.

It is difficult to talk about rape. It is a complex subject, combining violence, firmly rooted prejudices and women’s precarious role in society. Like most women I know, I always text my friends after a night out to make sure they got home safely, and encourage them to take a cab instead of walk. But there is a difference between seeking to minimise risk, and blaming the victim.

If a young man working at a 7-Eleven is punched in the face during a midnight robbery, he will always be seen as the victim – no one will suggest that he brought it on himself or was “asking for it” by working in an all-night convenience store. But if a woman is raped, the most common questions asked include: What was she wearing? How much had she had to drink? Did she take adequate precautions to protect her drink from being spiked? Was she flirting with the man? Had she given him the wrong idea? Why was she out by herself?

Blaming the victim is a horrible phenomenon that seems to occur when people are already marginalised in society. Bike riders are regarded in Australia’s car-friendly cities as inferior beings. I know this because after I was slammed into by a car, suffering fractures in a cheekbone and two of the vertebrae in my neck, the most common reaction from authority figures was: Were you going too fast? Did you have your lights on? Were you riding on a busy road? Were you wearing an adequate amount of bright yellow?

I had sought to minimise risk by riding along a quiet street on a bright sunny morning. I was struck by a car which charged through a roundabout without giving way. And yet the police refused to admit the fault of the driver, and did not even wish to discuss the matter with me. To be wrongly suspected of somehow causing a traumatic event is hugely distressing.

For Hynde to say that she took “full responsibility” for being raped, due to being drunk and high when she went with an Ohio motorcycle gang to what she thought was a party, angered and alarmed many people who are trying to make it easier for victims to report sexual violence. Comments like Hynde’s, which blame women for “enticing” rapists, support the dangerous narrative that a woman is always to blame for horrendous things which happen to her.
While Hynde may have made unwise or reckless decisions, those who perpetrate violence are always to blame, not those who are attacked.

This article was published in The Age on September 7, 2015.

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16 Feb

New York, New York – it’s the city that’s attracting Australia’s young creatives.

 Not so long ago young Australians seeking adventure would grab their backpacks and head to London, pulling beers in pubs and partying their way around Europe. Now a generation of bright young things are finding a new buzz – and career success – in the hustle and bustle of New York. Meet five young women who are chasing their dreams in the Big Apple.

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Jess Cohen, 29, moved to New York from Sydney three years ago. She has recently started her own production company – her latest project is producing a music video for Australian pop idol Guy Sebastian. Her company, Coco Collective, is small but “it means I can work with independent artists and make some interesting stuff”.

Cohen jetted off to the USA after working for several years for Andrew Denton’s production company, Zapruder’s Other Films, on television shows such as Hungry Beast and Enough Rope. She says she had unexpected help finding work in New York. “I noticed a sense of opportunity and a sense of positivity from New Yorkers,” she says. “I was surprised with how many people would lend a hand.”

Cohen’s high school friend EJ Barnes – daughter of Aussie rocker Jimmy Barnes – has also settled in New York after years touring the States. She plays music with another child of rock royalty: Liam Finn, son of Crowded House frontman Neil Finn. “I’ve always had a very romantic image of living in New York,” Barnes says. “I feel more free over here than I am in Australia. My family, they’ve saturated the music market as far as ‘Barnes’ is concerned!” 

With bands playing in local venues every night, Barnes describes New York as a “creative mecca”. “We’ve got a beautiful studio here looking over Manhattan. Every time we rehearse we’ll go up on the roof and look over at the skyline and it feels kind of magical.”

Even the city’s grittier aspects can be stimulating. “In my family home we have great studio equipment and all the instruments. I love the ease of life there for making music, but I think here the grime of the city seeps into your music.”

Jess agrees. “There’s a misconception about New York being really glamorous but it is really grimy, and that’s where the life is. One of my favourite things to do is getting the subway. It’s the most inspiring place. You can witness a break-up and a proposal and someone inappropriately exposing themselves, all on one ride. Which is amazing.”

New York has plenty of allure for those outside of creative industries. After falling in love with the city while visiting on holiday, Kate Matson moved to the Big Apple in 2007 to work in the financial sector, arriving just before the global financial crisis. “Things were booming. I work in restructuring so it was good timing for me,” she says. “I was working at a client in California on the day Lehman Brothers fell over and Wall Street collapsed, it felt like the whole world changed on that day.”

With the downturn came a lot of work, including big-name clients such as collapsed bookstore behemoth Borders. “When I got the Borders engagement I went up the top of the Empire State Building – and it was like that song ‘New York, New York, if you can make it there you’ll make it anywhere’ – I felt that I had truly made it here.”

Matson is now a director at BDO Consulting at the age of 32. “It’s been a great ride. I work really hard but I’m lucky I’ve been successful so I see the rewards for it.”

A passion for hard work seems a must for Australians in New York – it’s certainly something entertainer Anna Copa Cabanna has in spades. Growing up in a Greek family in the country town of Queanbeyan, Anna always felt a bit of an outsider. “I had a pretty shitty time at school to be sure,” Anna says. “There was a lot of racism towards the Greeks and the Italians that moved there.”

But the hard times only gave Anna a greater urge to succeed. “I became quite strong early on, every time I auditioned for a play, or got dux [of my school] I was like really committed and thought ‘I want that’.”

After going to university in Sydney, Anna moved to New York 11 years ago. “I just had a feeling about New York,” she explains. “Everybody I knew moved to London, and I thought, that’s too easy, let me do something that’s a bit more challenging.”

Anna lost no time getting started. “I started going to open mic nights the first week I was here and did cabaret routines and it went over really well.”

Rock bands like The Strokes were huge at the time and Anna was in demand as a 1960s-style go-go dancer at bars and parties. Despite her success she was keen to work on her own projects. “At some point I thought, I wanted to marry the two; the dancing and the singing. So I thought, why not do a spectacular and have puppets and a prize wheel and male dancers and choreograph big routines? So I put together this ’70s variety show, and I’ve been doing that for seven years.”

Anna believes that while Australia struggles with the tall poppy syndrome, New Yorkers support high-achievers. “There’s something about New York where they want you to succeed.”

Positive feedback is a powerful motivator but Anna recalls one particular highlight. “One time I did a gig and I saw this old hippie walking towards me and he was like, ‘You would be great in my play’, and I was like, ‘Oh right, whatever, what is this play?’ and he was like, ‘Hair’.

“I thought I was going to start crying, it was such validation. If I’m ever having a bad day, I’m like, the guy who wrote Hair thought I was awesome!”

Playwright Alexandra Collier moved to New York in 2006 and admits she was “naively optimistic”. “It was actually a real struggle at the beginning,” she says. “I thought I would move and I would start writing, but of course you need a job, you need finances, you need a solid living situation to start creating anything. Maybe Jack Kerouac didn’t but I think most people do.”

Studying playwriting at Brooklyn College gave Collier an “instant community” and doors started opening. Since then more opportunities have come her way. “I’m working on two projects at the moment. One, called Take Me Home, is a show that’s happening in a taxi. The second project is a musical I’m writing with an Australian composer called Greta Gertler, who wrote the music for The Whitlams’ Blow Up the Pokies song.”

Writing an original rock musical while penning a play set in a taxi makes sense for someone who left Melbourne because she was bored. “I had a good job, I probably could have climbed the ladder but I just wasn’t interested. Maybe there’s some insane part of me that needed to push myself into a terrifying, difficult circumstance to feel like I was fulfilled.”

Maybe there is a little bit of insane courage that is driving these young women to pick up their lives and start again in a strange, wild city. Collier certainly believes you have to scare yourself to push your limits. “I was riding my bike the other night through this slightly sketchy neighbourhood in Brooklyn and there was this little voice inside me saying ‘Are you crazy? Someone’s going to mug you out here!’ and the other part was like, ‘This is awesome!’”

Stumped by an unnatural love

13 Feb

Despite an initial distrust of the game, I soon found a love of cricket rising from the Ashes.

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As summer began I have to admit I felt deeply suspicious about cricket in all its forms. Lasting for days and sometimes ending in a draw, Test cricket seemed to me a feeble excuse for grown men to spend the best part of a week sitting on the couch drinking beer in their underpants.

Gaudy and brash, the newfangled Big Bash League was nothing but a cheap spinoff for the entertainment of fans with short attention spans and a penchant for pyrotechnics, pop music and cheerleaders. One-dayers, meanwhile, were cruel methods of torture that forced spectators to sit in a plastic seat for eight hours, getting a sunburnt neck while drinking poor-quality beer. Yes, cricket was a waste of time, but even as I tried to avoid it, I found the sport was still sucking the life out of my summer.

“Shall we go to the beach?” I asked my Significant Other one lovely sunny day. “The beach!?” he replied, shocked. “It’s the third day of the fourth Test! I’m not going anywhere!”

“Shall we go see a movie?” I suggested one evening. He stared at me in dismay. “A movie? Tonight? But the Stars are playing the Sixers in the Big Bash! They’re top of the ladder!”

“Is there anything good on TV?” I asked, reaching for the remote one night after a hard day’s work. “What!” he exclaimed, grabbing the control. “We’re playing England in the first International T20!”

Relegated to playing second fiddle to eleven men in white tracksuits, I had no choice but to flop down in resignation and watch some of the ghastly stuff. And sure enough, something horrible started to happen. I started to LIKE CRICKET.

Despite my inability to understand how any sane person could enjoy this rubbish, I found myself becoming inexorably drawn to the game, no doubt brainwashed by its ubiquitous presence on large television screens at home and at work. Like one of those Magic Eye pictures from the 1990s, the more I stared at Test cricket, the more a beautiful pattern began to emerge.

Far from being less interesting than watching grass grow, Test cricket was actually a heady chess game of tactics and patience, where shaking your opponent’s self-belief was as important as actual skill with the bat and ball. It was an old-fashioned pantomime where England’s Stuart Broad played the role of the villain who drew boos from the crowd, while beleaguered captain Alastair Cook elicited my sympathy as his melty brown doe-eyes seemed to grow larger and fill with despair after every loss.

Australia’s hero was played by a swaggering Mitchell Johnson, whose aggressive deliveries and fearsome moustache rattled the Brits’ sang froid and rendered them as incapable as a pack of hapless amateurs. I even developed an affection for plucky batsman David Warner, whose goofy features and stocky physique belied an ability to peg it from wicket to wicket in record time.

Swept up in this rush of enthusiasm, even one-day cricket became exciting. I watched spellbound recently as James Faulkner lifted a losing Australia to victory at the Gabba, smashing 69 runs from 47 balls as Australia faced the improbable task of beating England’s 300 runs. Batting at No.9, Faulkner’s breath-taking performance included a quickfire five sixes and three fours to win the game. Magical stuff!

Before I could tear myself away from the box, I even started liking the Big Bash League. I picked the Perth Scorchers as my favourite team, due to an admiration for the graceful humility of last year’s Test prodigy Ashton Agar. Although the teenage superstar was relegated to carting around drinks for most of the season, I soon found much to appreciate in the broad grin, protruding tongue and nifty fielding skills of veteran Brad Hogg, and was bowled over by the speedy efforts of beaming Pakistani import Yasir Arafat.

As summer wore on, I even began to understand why it was so important that we not only beat England and reclaim the Ashes, but that we crushed them to a pulp until they ran home humiliated with their tails between their legs – in a very sportsmanlike way of course. To make matters worse, I found myself slipping into the dialect of a true-blue cricket fan; whenever an umpire looked ready to judge a batsman out, I found myself yelling “GORN!” But if the ump failed to lift a dismissive finger, I would start muttering “Bullshit” and make scathing remarks about his faulty eyesight.

No doubt, as soon as I manage to get my head around the silly mid-ons, fine legs, yorkers, reverse sweeps, doosras, googlies and night watchmen, the glorious summer of cricket will end and a new sporting season will begin. So what will I do then? Who knows, I might even start liking AFL.

A Caribbean Mystery

22 Jan

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Agatha Christie’s elderly sleuth gets to kick off her sensible shoes and enjoy some sun and sand before plunging into this dark mystery in the West Indies isle of St Honore.

While holidaying in the Caribbean, Miss Marple (Julia McKenzie) is politely listening as Major Palgrave (Oliver Ford Davies) bores the hotel guests at dinner with another long story about his life, boasting that he has in his possession a photograph of a serial killer. As he goes to show the photo, he suddenly looks up, sees somebody and stops. The next day, he is found dead, apparently of natural causes.

Miss Marple smells a rat, and recruits wheelchair-bound tycoon Jason Rafiel (Antony Sher) as a reluctant sidekick to help her find out who on the idyllic island would want the Major dead. As they probe a web of voodoo enchantments, philandering couples and ancient grudges, the death toll begins to mount and they must race against time to unveil the murderer before more lives are lost.

Filmed in the beautiful beachside locale of Cape Town, South Africa, this gorgeous adaptation features several well-known British actors such as Peep Show‘s Robert Webb as hotelier Tim Kendall, and The Fast Show‘s Charlie Higson, who also wrote the screenplay, in a cameo as ornithologist James Bond who inspired the name of Ian Fleming’s famous spy. A must-see for Marple fans.

Greetings from Tim Buckley

20 Jan

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Jeff Buckley fans will rejoice or despair while watching this movie, depending on whether they found Gossip Girl actor Penn Badgley’s portrayal of the famous musician as faithful or flawed.

As an avid Jeff Buckley devotee I had serious misgivings: how could a mere actor embody the legendary 1990s singer-songwriter who touched so many people’s hearts before his untimely death at the age of 30? However, I will grudgingly admit that tousle-haired Badgley makes a passable Jeff, if you squint a little, with his curly dark locks and elegant features, the actor has an uncanny resemblance to the singer with the soaring voice of an angel.

Set in 1991, the film focuses on Jeff’s relationship with his father, folk singer Tim Buckley, who died of an overdose at 28 and rarely saw Jeff during his life. A troubled young Jeff is invited to participate in a tribute concert in New York for his father, and in doing so, launches his own musical career and embarks on a romantic relationship with an enigmatic young woman, Allie (Imogen Poots). As Jeff struggles with his feelings while preparing for the concert, we flash back to scenes featuring his father heading off to play a gig in 1966, giving us an insight into the character of Tim Buckley (Ben Rosenfield).

For fans it may be something of a bittersweet experience to have Jeff resurrected, especially as Badgley has imbued him with a cocky and self-assured swagger that becomes a little irritating at times. However he redeems himself with his singing and guitar-playing, even managing an admirable rendition of Buckley’s famous falsetto. One scene in a record shop, when Jeff entertains Allie with some impromptu warbling, is a standout.

In making the film, director Daniel Algrant consulted those who worked at the pivotal 1991 concert, including Gary Lucas who later collaborated with Jeff. The final concert scenes are emotional but not saccharine, and it is with a touching simplicity that Jeff is able to embrace his father’s legacy.

For viewers today, the joy of seeing the singer unleash his own astounding musical style is tempered by the grim knowledge that in six years’ time he would drown in a Memphis river. A beautiful, restrained portrait of two musical legends who both died tragically young.

Time to call a truce in the generational war

10 Jan

Recently I wrote an opinion piece defending the younger generation against some ill-informed allegations by teacher and writer Christopher Bantick, who claimed that we young people were a bunch of so-and-sos who didn’t know our Mahler from our elbow. This kind of rant pops up from time to time, usually penned by a greying baby boomer whose own generation was once the forefront of all that was innovative and radical, defying their own elders by embracing free love, dabbling with drugs and rocking out to controversial bands like the Beatles and Rolling Stones.

These rants irritate me when, like Bantick’s, they are poorly written and lack a coherent argument. But for the most part, they make me sigh, and think, really? Do today’s youth really need to keep defending ourselves in this bitter generational war, just because we have different musical tastes and wear our hair differently? Can’t we all be friends?

So I think it’s time we laid this tired topic to rest and forged a new path of peace and harmony (don’t laugh) between the generations, recognising our differences as being both valid and valuable. It is important I practise what I preach so I will start by declaring what I love about old people.

Old people are awesome. I love hanging out with them. I prefer to think of them as “people rich in life experience”. It’s great. They haven’t quite got the hang of Google yet so instead of looking up the answer to something, they will discuss it among themselves, exploring tangents, probing buried memories, and often emerging with a deeper and more valuable solution to the original problem.

OK sometimes it’s wrong and it can often take half the day to get there, but I have a warm nostalgia for the time when we used to sit around muttering “What’s that actor’s name? You know, the one with the hair. And the eyes. He was in that movie, you know, the one with explosions. It’s on the tip of my tongue …”

These days we just jump on IMDB on our smartphones and the debate is over in 10 seconds. Boring!

Older folks are also fantastic because they know everything. You name it, they’ve probably done it. OK maybe not skydiving in Rio de Janeiro in a microbikini, but those kinds of activities weren’t on the bucket list of your average teen back in the old days. But hey, most of us youngsters have never lived through a world war, held a grandchild or shared half a century with a loving partner, so maybe we don’t know everything after all. 
 
In fact the best relationship advice I have ever received was from my grandma, who turns 90 this year. I know her words are worth listening to because she was so smitten with my grandfather that even after 70 years and four children together, she still gazed at him like a lovestruck girl right up until his passing at 91. Compared to her, I acknowledge that I am a mere amoeba in the ways of love.
 
So there, older folk, please accept my pledge of friendship. But if I’m really going to put down my weapons and accept a truce with the other generations, I should also extend a hand to the teens. Teens. Oh god. Teens are terrifying. Whenever I see them I cross to the other side of the road and keep my head down. They scare me more than a pack of slavering rottweilers. Look at them, with their piercings and their dyed hair, glued to their iPhones, hell, they don’t even know how to spell any more!
 
Then again, if you are having a technical problem with your laptop or smartphone, who are you going to call? That’s right, a young person. They have their uses after all. These youngsters are growing up in the middle of an exciting digital revolution, while we are still trying to figure out how to change the ringtone on our phones, they are dreaming up new ways of communicating with people on the other side of the globe. While ordering a pizza on their iPhone.
 
They’re easy to hate, those spoilt kids with the world at their fingertips (we didn’t have mobile phones in my day!) and no sense of gratitude for how easy their lives are. Except for the depression. And the eating disorders. And their inability to one day entering the housing market. Hmm.
So let’s cut them a bit of slack too, I reckon they’re not too bad once you get to know them.
 
Martin Luther King once had a beautiful dream that one day little black boys and little white girls could play without racial divides. I dream too, that one day the younger and older generations can sit down and have a cup of coffee and laugh about the absurdities of life without secretly thinking that the other knows nothing at all.
 

Keating: The Interviews

10 Jan

Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Paul Keating is one of Australia’s most charismatic and fascinating political leaders. In this candid, four-part interview series, the former prime minister reveals intimate details about his childhood, his early passion for politics and the highs and lows of his 40-year political career.

From his childhood growing up in the working-class suburb of Bankstown, to taking on the top job between 1991 and 1996, Keating reveals an early fascination with power and the ability to use it to effect great change. While Keating’s love of Mahler and fine Italian suits is well documented, here we are given a fascinating insight into other facets of his life, such as his early years managing rock band The Ramrods and his close relationship with his grandmother.

Veteran journalist Kerry O’Brien is a master interviewer whose thought-provoking questions help to uncover the underlying motivations of this great man. Keating, who turns 70 this year, is as thoughtful and acerbic as ever, his famous talent for scathing ripostes still evident as he describes his tumultuous relationship with Bob Hawke.

While many voters today are switching off from the political debate amid insipid leadership, it’s inspiring to hear Keating speak with passion for economic and social reform and painting a bigger picture for Australia. Labor fans in particular will love this exploration of one of Australia’s most intriguing political characters.