Dissenting feminisms: reflections on the Feminist Writers Festival

Reflecting on the recent Feminist Writers Festival, I wrote an article for Overland online about the ongoing tensions within the feminist movement and some of the lessons that I learned from the experience of establishing FWF:

So what have I taken away from all this? First, we need to become even better at listening to each other. This might not always be a comfortable experience – it might be challenging or even boring – but it is an essential foundation for moving forward together as a movement. Second, we need to be willing to learn from our mistakes and, perhaps more importantly, we need to give each other permission to make them. Only then can we risk making ourselves vulnerable enough to really grow and stretch our capacities.

Lactivism – a review

I was recently asked to review Courtney Jung’s book, Lactivism, for the Alternative Law Journal. While I appreciated much of the nuanced critique of American neoliberal social policy and the penalty that it imposes on mothers under the guise of individual ‘choice’ (an issue that is also very relevant to Australia), ultimately I wasn’t convinced by the central premise of the book – that ‘Lactivists’ (rather than neoliberal governance) are the real culprits in this situation.

My full review can be found here.

Announcing the 2016 Feminist Writers Festival

This week I was so excited to see a long-held dream start to become a reality when I joined with a fabulous group of women from around Australia to launch the 2016 Feminist Writers Festival in partnership with the Melbourne Writers Festival. The festival will be held in Melbourne on 26-28 August and will bring together feminist writers and readers to connect and strengthen the diverse writing communities that exist around Australia.

Our hope is that the festival will expand the themes and voices around feminism and women’s writing by offering a space for critical engagement and practical support for all feminist writers and readers. I hope you’ll come!

Poker machines and the law: when is a win not a win?

If I took all of the money out of your wallet, you’d probably feel as though you’d lost something – wouldn’t you? Now imagine instead that I only took 80% of your money. Would you feel as though you had “won” the remaining 20%?

What if I tried to convince you that you had actually benefited from this transaction by playing happy music and letting off a few firecrackers?

This thought experiment might help you to get your head around a proposed legal action by law firm Maurice Blackburn that plans to use Australian consumer law to argue that poker machine operators are engaging in misleading and deceptive conduct to entice gamblers into using poker machines.

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The day I bought my son ‘beautiful gold shoes’

I have an article up on Essential Kids about the challenges of raising our son to be free of the constraining effects of gender stereotypes.

I’m driving to the shops with my four-year-old to buy a pair of ‘beautiful gold shoes’. He desperately wants a pair just like his big sister’s.

When we find them – a pair of sparkly gold slippers with fluffy white bows – I wait for the sales assistant to say something. She does double-check that they are actually for him, but then appears to swallow her objection and smiles nervously. I breathe a sigh of relief. He has a lifetime to deal with the weight of other people’s gender issues; he doesn’t need to hear them now.

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The government vs the environment: lawfare in Australia

The good people at The Conversation asked me to write an article about the government’s proposed changes to the EPBC Act after the success of the litigation against the Adani Coal mine:

A key feature of authoritarianism is that the government is above the law – it is not accountable to the people for its actions. In contrast, under a democratic system, the rule of law means that the government is constrained by law and can be held accountable by the people. Continue reading

‘Think of the children’ – and other spurious arguments against marriage equality

I was nine when it happened. Mum introduced my brother and I to her girlfriend and told us that she was going to move in. I remember the feeling I had in my stomach. It churned. I felt sick.

‘Lesbian’ was the worst insult in Year 4. It tarnished you. It made you dirty; disgusting.

I kept my mother’s sexuality a secret. It was a shameful burden that isolated me. I avoided inviting people over to my house. I tried not to talk about home.

That’s the power of stigma. It needs no rational basis. It just is and it sucks.

Spurious arguments against marriage equality are grounded in stigma and they serve to entrench the discrimination against same-sex attracted (or LGBTI) people and to legitimise its extension into so many areas of life.

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Byron Bay Writers Festival – Day Two

Let me just admit from the outset that I didn’t see Julia Gillard. I realised early that if I wanted to get a spot in her session then I would basically have to plan my whole day around it. I considered doing this, but in the end I decided to take advantage of the relatively smaller crowds elsewhere and enjoy the rest of the festival.

So, first up I checked out the local authors at the ‘Meet the Locals’ panel. I enjoyed hearing more from Emma Ashmere and Eden Venter, and was entertained by the fact that Lisa Walker found inspiration for her book, ‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing‘, at the Big Prawn in Ballina. It was also lovely to see local High Schooler, Thea Shields, win the Susie Warrick Young Writers Award. She read an excerpt from her winning short story and it was beautiful writing.

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Byron Bay Writers Festival – Day One

The first day of the Byron Bay Writers Festival was gloriously clear and sunny. So, when the traffic slowed to a crawl, I abandoned my car (legally) and walked the final 500m to the festival gates.

I decided to attended ‘The Appeal of War’ for my first session solely to see Sally Sara, but actually the whole panel was fascinating (despite my ambivalence about the topic). The Chair, Mick O’Regan, joked that it was an odd topic for the Northern Rivers and that he was surprised by the strong turn out. He then proceeded to interrogate the panel on the affects of war on people and cultures, and on the way that the effects of war can echo throughout lives. Sally Sara talked about her confronting experiences of reporting from the front line in Afghanistan, while Mark Dapin talked about his interviews with over 150 Vietnam War Vets. It was interesting to hear that for many returned servicemen the war was basically the highlight of their lives.

Mark Dapin, Gregory Day, Sally Sara & Mick O'Regan

Mark Dapin, Gregory Day, Sally Sara & Mick O’Regan

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Brandis’ vision for human rights in Australia

This post was originally published on Larvatus Prodeo.

Before the election, the Human Rights Law Centre asked Mark Dreyfus, Penny Wright and George Brandis to each write a short article outlining their visions and priorities for human rights and justice in Australia. Now that Brandis has become our Attorney-General, it’s worth examining what he said in his piece.

The title of Brandis’ article, ‘Reclaiming human rights from the fury of ideologues‘, tells us a lot about his approach to the issue of human rights. He sees it as an explicitly ideological contest. Brandis starts off by complaining that, ‘the [current] discussion of human rights issues has been both narrow and one sided. The very term “human rights” has been appropriated by the Left, as if human rights advocacy were a left-wing cause.’ Then he proceeds to outline a frighteningly ‘narrow, one sided’ and conservative vision for human rights under his watch.

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