Category Archives: social justice

A Strumpet Thumbs-Up review for new local novel ‘Digital Venous’

 

GOHL
A dystopian sci-fi novel about a rebel group of tough mothers, pitted against a city of genetically-enhanced elites? Yes, indeed! Add in an intriguingly unique child caught between these opposing worlds, and some secretive and questionable leaders, and you’ve got the central cast of Richard Gohl’s gripping first novel, Digital Venous. Set in a dark futuristic vision of the writer’s home town of Adelaide, Digital Venous will make you re-think the fate of our quiet little city, should a climate catastrophe ever befall us. Spoiler alert: it ain’t pretty!
A series of fierce solar flares have destroyed the Earth’s atmosphere and split the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ into a tensely polarised living arrangement. There is a technologically sophisticated and pleasure-focused way of life for those who could afford the treatment to achieve it (called Nanopeans), which leaves the rest of the people burdened with a subterranean and subsistence-based lifestyle (called Subs), viewed as inferior and sub-human by the Nanopeans. The main interaction between the two ways of life is in the Subs performing manual labour for Nanopeans, and the secret theft of children from the Sub domain to take up into the sterile world of genetic enhancement above.
There are plenty of compelling characters in this story, however personal favourites for me are the rebel group from the subterranean world – mainly women who’ve lost children to the Nanopean child-stealing racket. They are tough, clever and funny and have a believable chemistry as a group. They seek revenge against the system and return of their stolen children. When they discover a dark secret that the Nanopean leaders have in store, it’s up to them to exploit it in order to triumph. The character of a little boy named Ryan who literally embodies both worlds is the catalyst for this, and he’s a welcome mini-hero in a book where the adult male lead is pleasingly outshone by our feisty gang of women.
The science behind the world that Gohl has envisioned both enables and serves the story, rather than the other way around, making the story feel natural to that realm. The whacky subcultural responses of Nanopean people to their genetically-altered appearances are particularly fun to read and add a depth of detail to the futuristic civilisation that the reader is dwelling in.
One of Gohl’s strengths is in great plotting that draws you in and keeps you turning the (digital) page. The story would make a cracking tv series (paging Joss Whedon!), as the episodic plot rhythm is ready-made for that medium. And of course, a visual rendering of the striking world Gohl has created would make for great viewing.
The future may be bleak, but the strength and realism of the women depicted in Digital Venous is an entertaining and refreshing backbone to this story. The novel circles around many thought-provoking themes such as alternative family structures, elitist entitlement and social discrimination, yet always keeps the story as the main priority and ticking along nicely.
My advice: get your digital copy and enjoy the ride!


LIKE A VIRGIN

reputation

It is fascinating the way patriarchy puts extraordinary value on particular aspects of our social identities while denying or devaluing others. For example, in this day and age there is still a strong residual notion that virginity is something valuable, innocent, pure. In general parlance, virginity is something that is “taken”, not given, despite mutual consent. When it comes to rape trials, if a woman was not a virgin at the time of the “alleged” rape, then her sexuality and sexual experiences are on trial too. This is really interesting, given that a rapist’s previous convictions (a matter of public record) are not allowed to be brought up in a court case so as not to prejudice the jury, and yet, the private record of a woman’s sexual experiences are a matter to be investigated and examined by Judge, Jury and the general public.

I would argue that because our social world is defined by a distinctly patriarchal morality; often internalised as being objective and rational or “common sense”, Judges, prosecutors, legal defendants and most members of a jury will have an inherent bias towards placing the innocent until proven guilty privilege on the male defendant, rather than the applicant in court proceedings for sexual abuse.

Furthermore, if a married woman is raped by a stranger, particularly if she is pretty and “feminine” then the crime of rape is perceived as being more heinous than the rape of sexually active single woman. Why is this so? Could it be that a married woman’s sexuality belongs to her husband, while a single woman’s sexuality might belong to herself or any Tom, Dick or Harriet? In Australia, we had a case of a beautiful, newly married Irish national who was raped and murdered in 2012. The public outcry and pouring of emotion was overwhelming. Time and time again we saw CCTV footage of her tottering in her high heels as she was followed and approached by the man who raped and murdered her. Eerily, by viewing the footage it is almost as if the viewer is seeing her through the eyes of the rapist/murderer. The media and public just could not get enough of these few seconds of footage of the last known minutes of her life to satisfy their prurient interest. As a woman I found this repeated airing of the footage creepy, almost like a snuff movie with the key scene understood as off-camera action; as though we are meant to be a bit turned on by this woman’s vulnerability and beauty as we follow her last steps through the neutral eye of the CCTV camera and the patriarchal gaze of the television cameras that repeated the footage on the news.

At this time, according to the ABS 490,400 women in Australia were victims of physical violence, largely by their partners or husbands, also 47,100 woman have experienced physical and sexual violence. During the 12 months prior to the survey 7% of women experienced an incident of violence. Although small in percentage terms, this corresponds to a sizeable number of women, 490,400 (table S3.1). Women were more likely to experience physical violence than sexual violence (6% compared with 2%). However, 47,100 women had experienced physical and sexual violence on separate occasions. Women were nearly four times more likely to experience violence by a man than by a woman. 22% of women who experienced violence (109,100) reported incidents by more than one perpetrator in the previous 12 months.
http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs

And yet, it was this one case that captured the prurient imagination and moral indignation of the media and public. I suspect this had a lot to do with that creepy footage as much as the fact she was a pretty, white, middle-class married woman who worked for the national broadcasting corporation. There was also endless footage of her distraught husband’s grief that another man had raped and killed his wife as he slept. The press rarely publish stories on the actual statistics of violence against women…they prefer images from CCTV footage of individuals, and, if the woman is attractive- i.e. she has the “fuckability” factor that commercial TV executives laud for women on air then her individual story becomes sensational, in the public interest.

The man convicted of the rape and killing of Jill Meagher, Adrian Bayley, claimed to have been physically abused by his father and to have been sexually abused by a relative when only 6-years-old. Malamuth’s research found that men with the highest potential to commit rape have developmental backgrounds that blur the moral boundaries. In other words, they have problems with ethical decision-making and making appropriate choices in their social world. http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/comm/malamuth/pdf/81Jsi37.pdf

Bayley is uneducated, rough, blue-collar class and distinctly lacking in social capital. There is no doubt he is a violent misogynist. His early childhood background is no excuse for his murderous, raping proclivities, but it does go some way to explaining the blurring of his moral boundaries, his rage. Patriarchy failed him too as a little child, the symbolic nature of rape would suggest he wanted to feel powerful, dominant and enact his rage against his feelings of powerlessness in a society that values male privilege over children’s innocence.

Why am I bringing up an old news rape/murder case? Because something stinks about the elevation of patriarchal values when it comes to judging certain women and children, and, their placement in the ranking of our social hierarchy. A pretty MARRIED woman has more value than the nameless hundreds of single women, children and sex workers who are sexually assaulted and killed every day. What links these apparently different cases is the differential demarcations of patriarchal power. As we have seen in the Woody Allen case or the Catholic Church or Jimmy Saville (just to name a few) children have very little power to stop abuse and their mothers often have very little power to protect them. When they speak out they are not believed. If the alleged abuser is a man with social capital, then the argument is usually that the claims are a malicious and spiteful attempt to ruin the accused’s reputation. Yes, that’s right folks, these children and their mothers are trying to rape a man’s reputation.

Why? Because here is one value that is pre-eminent over all others in a patriarchal society and its moral framework and that is a man’s REPUTATION. You may challenge all kinds of inequities and injustices but if you challenge a man’s reputation you better make sure you can win. Back in the days when Adrian Bayley was a little child there would have been little protection or recourse to justice because children were simply not believed even if they dared to say what had occurred to them. The same is true for Dylan Farrow’s social context back when she was seven years old. Her mother asked her if what she said was true because her father had vehemently denied it. Luckily for her, her mother accepted her story and supported her and still does today. The way her case was handled by the medical and legal profession simply would not happen today, now that there is more awareness of the impact of child sexual abuse and the handling of abuse allegations. For those who struggle to accept that children very, very RARELY lie about sexual abuse, here’s a fact sheet: http://childabusesolutions.com/page_07.html

We have slowly evolved to place slightly less value on the concept of virginity in patriarchal societies but when it comes to a man’s REPUTATION it’s more precious, more innocent, more morally superior and virtuous than virtually any other social value in the dominant patriarchal moral hierarchy that governs the way we see the world. In the case of Woody Allen, embedded in the discourse constellating around the debate about the veracity of Dylan and her mother’s claims is a pro conservative marriage discourse: Step-children are not really one’s own children, legal de-facto relationships are not really a proper partnership, adopted children don’t have the same status as biological children.

This is a morally dangerous position to internalise and judge from, because it makes it even more difficult for mothers to protect their children. So what if Woody fucked his defacto step-daughter Soon-Yi? She’s not of his blood, she was of legal age and thus, by extension so what if any step-father molests his partner’s legal aged child? So what if Soon Yi lost the only mother, siblings she had? She’s got a rich, white, neurotic, privileged, ephebophiliac MAN with a A+ listed reputation and now a nomination for an award, no less. In the case of Bayley what chance would he have stood against his father, or the man who raped him? When it comes down to it, we all know who and what is valued in our society and if push comes to shove, woman and children will nearly always be the losers if a man’s REPUTATION is at stake. If he is a rich, white, privileged, man of authority his reputation will always get the benefit of the doubt in the eyes of the law and public opinion as viewed through the lens of patriarchal morality.

It’s time to question the value we put on a man’s reputation and the privilege it accords him just as we have questioned the value placed on female virginity; or there will be many more Adrian Bayleys on the streets and in gaols, and, more creepy old privileged white men getting awards and accolades on the stage and screen. If we don’t critically reflect on why a man’s reputation is like a mantle of protection we are all fucked when it comes to protecting children and women from sexual abuse and validating their experience as human beings.


WOODY, FLUFFING, POWER AND ALL THAT JIZZ

woodyallen
Okaaay here we go. One would have to be living under a rock on Mars not to have heard the recent palaver over Dylan Farrow’s letter published by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/02/opinion/sunday/kristof-dylan-farrows-story.html

Dylan’s letter has unleashed a maelstrom of hostility towards her, and by implication anyone who speaks out about their experience of childhood sexual abuse. Well, not anyone actually, because we all know that if the perpetrator is NOT a privileged, influential, white male then the “alleged” accusations can sometimes sway the onus of proof of innocence onto the abuser rather than the victim.

However, when we are talking about rich, powerful, primarily white, male privilege it’s a different story. In the cases of Woody Allen, Jimmy Saville and the Catholic Church, we have seen time and time again that there is always doubt about the victim’s account, because the “innocent until proven guilty” legal privilege is given to the accused while it is the accuser whose innocence is doubted from the outset.

In the case of Dylan Farrow, her mother has been the target of the most vicious slurs which go some way to illustrating the rampant misogyny underlying the polemical fluffing for Woody by influential white men like Stephen King who described Dylan’s letter as “palpable bitchery” or Robert B Weide’s article published in The Daily Beast http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/01/27/the-woody-allen-allegations-not-so-fast.html where he writes:
“I am not here to slam Mia. I think she’s an exceptional actress and I seriously admire her political activism. (I even follow her on Twitter.) But those who hate Woody “for what he did to Mia,” should be reminded that if Sinatra was indeed Ronan’s biological father, it’s not the first time Mia had a child by a married man. In 1969, at the age of 24, she became pregnant by musician/composer André Previn, 40, who was still married to singer/songwriter Dory Previn. The betrayal is said to have led to Dory Previn’s mental breakdown and institutionalization, during which she received electroconvulsive therapy”.

The point of this article is not to “slam Mia” oh no siree, just an objective accounting of “facts” to help you think Mia is a vindictive fantasist, a home-wrecking liar; to make you question whether Dylan Farrow was molested, question if she was mentally stable, to doubt Ronan Farrow’s credibility.

And just maybe, it is pathetic justification for working with Woody Allen, venerating him because “we just can’t know what happened, it’s a private family matter”. Well ain’t that the truth? White male privilege means that any abuse of power within the private domain of the master’s family and home that comes to light in public will be met with hostility and disbelief- private matters are private unless we have prurient pictures as proof, then they are in the public interest. The go-to position for western society is to seek the comfort of co-option into the morality of patriarchy where we can be “rational”, “objective”, focus on “facts” and punish those who innocently remind us of the inequitable power differential between women, children and men, especially if it collides with sex, class, ability and race.

Disturbingly, in my own little social media world a psychologist wrote:
“ It just doesn’t feel right to me to vilify someone when I am not privy to all the facts (on this occasion??) Inexplicably horrible for this girl if it is true but also as horrible for Woody Allen if it’s not. I’ve sadly seen both sides”.
In another post a children’s special needs educator re-posted Robert B Weide’s article reiterating the dominant view that Dylan, Ronan and Mia Farrow are fantasists out to ruin Woody’s reputation out of malice and spite.

I find this disturbing because implicit in this co-option into the ‘Woody was found innocent of charges” camp is the fundamental view that children and their mothers lie, because “I’ve sadly seen both sides”. This means that in their professional capacity as mandatory reporters of child abuse, these educators and psychologists will be starting from the position that a child may be lying. Children are not stupid, they sense cynicism and doubt, so how are they meant to trust and feel safe with a professional – who palpably has given the benefit of the doubt to the person who has power over them as an abuser, as the entitled member of the innocent (until proven guilty) party?

It is this co-option and group fluffing of phallic power that doubly makes a victim of abuse powerless, marginalised and voiceless, their experience completely invalidated- a symbolic jizz in their faces for daring to speak out. Woody Allen, Jimmy Saville and the Catholic Church have a hell of a lot of sycophantic supporters screaming to drown out the lone voices of their victims. In the case of the Church and Saville it is patently obvious that educators, psychologists, the media and the establishment allowed child sexual abuse to occur under their watch because “we can never know what really happened”, we didn’t SEE it. Thus the very people in a position to protect children fail them time and time again. That’s exactly why privileged, white male child molesters, and, the beneficiaries of a patriarchal society will always place the burden of proof of innocence and thrust shame in the faces of little children who unwittingly challenge patriarchal power.

As for the argument “we cannot know what happened, we weren’t there, so we cannot judge”? How disingenuous: you have judged Dylan Farrow, her mother and brother because Dylan WAS there and she has told you in her own words what happened.

Addendum http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/dylan-farrow-responds-woody-allen-678552

*Postscript for the innocent re: Fluffing: “A technique used in most pornographic films today. When the male star has to get “aroused” for the camera he is fluffed beforehand. A stagehand, someone usually chosen just for this job, either gives the star a hand or blow job” ` http://www.urabandictionary.com