Feminist In Focus

I was lucky enough to be featured as this weeks Feminist In Focus on Lip Mag! You can read my responses below. If you want to be featured as the next Feminist In Focus, email editor@lipmag.com

What inspires you?

I think I have a love-hate relationship with humanity. I am horrified by the destruction we are causing to the earth, as well as the amount of racism, sexism, persecution and violence that exists. I am a firm believer that people are, for the most part, products of their experiences and what they know. The hope that people will change is constantly inspiring me to try to educate and share through my writing.

When did you first begin identifying as a feminist?

I grew up in a small town and although I was always aware of gender inequalities, this wasn’t framed in a feminist conversation. When I moved away from the country to the city, I had confronting experiences that made me fully realise the extent of systemic sexism. I started reading a lot more about feminist theory and also started writing for Lip Magazine. This is when I first started to fully understand what it means to be a feminist, and began to comfortably label myself as such.

What’s the most important feminist cause in your life?

The most important feminist cause in my life is getting to the core of what is causing and perpetuating these social inequalities. In my opinion, improving education should be a huge priority because of it’s power to change norms and create a topple down effect.

The fact that women make up two-thirds of illiterate adults reveals the grand scale of gender based disparity and the way that this transcends into an unequal social system. In developing countries, access to education is far more difficult for women than men. In 2013, a UNESCO report showed that one out of four girls in developing countries had never completed primary school, despite studies showing that higher rates of education increases involvement in the labor force, political involvement, awareness of legal rights and decreased child morbidity rates. It also lowers the rate of domestic violence, sex trafficking, genital cutting, bride burning and general gender discrimination. These points alone should show how fundamental education is in increasing individual agency and decision-making, as well as women’s rights overall.

In developed countries, lessons on feminism and sexuality should be incorporated into our education system and taught at an earlier age, placing focus on intersectionality to widen understanding in how gender interacts with various social identities. New initiatives targeted towards men are also vital, such as Duke University’s recent inclusion of a program for male feminists that aims to deconstruct male privilege and toxicity. Many people (both male and female) are ignorant to the extent of inequalities today, the power balances that exist and the systemic sexism in daily life. Coming from a white-cis background, I realise how easy it can be to overlook your own privilege. I think that education is key to understanding the issues that go on and our place within them.

What do you believe are the biggest challenges facing women today?

Many people justify the systemic sexism that exists today because it’s not as obvious as it used to be. This completely undermines the experiences faced by women on a daily basis. Our lives and the way we see ourselves are shaped by the institutionalisation of sexism – how we should act, what we should wear, how we should speak. Fighting the normalisation of these dynamics is one of the biggest challenges facing women, both because they are so ingrained and because of the lack of understanding/acknowledgement surrounding them.

Like micro-aggressions, acts of gendered violence have also moved ‘behind closed doors’ to fit with outwardly acceptable norms in society. Although one woman a week is being killed due to domestic violence, there has been very little substantive government action and the public seems to be stuck in a victim blaming rhetoric. There are also other issues of unequal pay, representation, childcare and body image. I think the way these challenges can be genuinely dealt with is through more public campaigning that will hopefully cause a shift in community values.

Which feminist stereotype bothers you most? Why?

I find that the stereotype that all feminists are angry, irrational extremists is used to avoid acknowledging that this global movement might be based upon something valid. This frustrates me because it is also commonly used by men to avoid thinking about individual actions that might be perpetuating the experiences we speak about.

Do you believe young people are disillusioned by feminism? (Please explain your position)

I think feminism has become a divisive term in modern day society and is often considered jumping on the bandwagon. The predisposed ideas that many young people have towards feminism stop them from understanding why it’s still needed, and more importantly using it to frame their own experiences. The subtle and private way that sexism and gendered violence often plays out reinforces this by making it more difficult for people to understand their experiences in the context of a larger power dynamic. I also think there is a lack of understanding between the different branches of feminism, like liberal and radical, which can make the movement seem un-cohesive and unproductive.

What does the future of feminism look like?

Although I don’t know whether this is truly possible, I hope that one day we can achieve a stable egalitarian society where feminism no longer needs to exist. For now, we need to focus on getting women’s issues acknowledged as human rights issues and gender based violence understood as a global epidemic. We need to increase cohesiveness and include intersectionality in feminist conversation. Our society is constantly and dynamically changing, as are our conceptions of identity and sexuality. In our fight for equality, we need to ensure that feminism remains a safe space that is founded on inclusiveness, informed dialogue and critical analysis.

Finish this sentence:

I need feminism because… over the last few days, 1 million women have recounted experiences of sexual assault after a presidential candidate was recorded describing how he likes to grab “women by the pussy”. I need feminism because all over the world, girls are being raped and then punished for being raped. I need feminism because one Australian woman a week is being killed due to gendered violence and one in six women are victims of sexual assault. I need feminism because despite women being killed to epidemic proportions, people are still condemning the fight for equality. I need feminism because society isn’t equal, and I’m exhausted of having my worth determined by my gender.

 

 

Stop Pretending Domestic Violence Only Affects Straight Couples

Originally published on VICE

Maria* was 16 years old when she first met her ex-partner, Hannah*. Growing up in a sheltered, anti-gay household, Maria struggled with her sexual identity all through high school.

“I had little to no exposure to queer people growing up. I’d spent a lot of that time period being afraid that I was very different and I was going to be alone,” she explains. “Hannah seemed perfect in every way. She was sweet, kind, gentle. I’d never been in love before so it was jarring to think I’d actually found someone so much like me… That I wasn’t actually going to be alone my whole life.”

Over the next four years, Hannah subjected Maria to emotional abuse and degradation, and cheated on her time and time again. “She constantly made me feel like there [weren’t] many other queer people in the world,” Maria says. “She constantly [reminded] me that she had so much more experience with other queer people, and all I had was her.”

But with her family unwilling to accept their daughter was gay, Maria moved in with Hannah, who became her only social support. “She’d tell me my family was trying to keep us apart.”

Confronting Hannah about the abuse was nearly impossible—she’d tell Maria she was being “controlling” and “restrictive.” That she was “fucked in the head.” The cycle of abuse continued until Hannah met another woman, and told Maria not to come home. “I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t even know there was a thriving queer community in Sydney,” Maria tells me. “She always made me feel so isolated.” Maria also didn’t realise she’d been abused until after Hannah broke up with her.

“I’d been in a physically abusive relationship before with a man who nearly broke my jaw, but I didn’t think that a woman could be abusive to me,” she says. “My therapist now is a straight cisgendered woman. I feel uncomfortable talking to her about a lot of things because I feel it doesn’t sound as bad as it actually is when you are talking about [abusive] relationships with women.”

“Domestic violence in LGBTIQ relationships may have unique characteristics… threatening to “out” the abused partner… withholding of gender transition medication…”

With one woman being killed every week because of gender abuse, the promises to combat domestic violence have been at the forefront of this year’s election. The Coalition made waves with its “He Just Did It Cause He Likes You” campaign, Labor pledged$88 million to fund safe housing for domestic violence victims, and a “domestic violence levy” was introduced in the ACT. Pauline Hanson even opened up about her own experiences of domestic violence.

But the epidemic of domestic violence in the LGBTQI community remains almost completely ignored by the government. The first substantial study into this area, theCalling It What It Really Is report, took place last year. The study shows that domestic violence affects one in three people in the LGBTQI community. This is the same rate, if not higher, than domestic violence in heterosexual relationships.

Why don’t we hear about it? Well, the reasons for a lack of public awareness are complex. Firstly, we have a relatively fixed understanding of what domestic violence looks like, and it’s a very heteronormative view. The impact homophobia and transphobia have had on lack of understanding and research towards LGBTQI domestic violence is also hard to ignore. And then there’s a mistrust of the legal system, that’s been fostered within the LGBTIQ community. These factors have combined to cause underreporting, reduced awareness, and inadequate support for LGBTQI survivors of abuse.

Rates of domestic violence in LGBTQI relationships are as bad, if not worse, than in the broader community. Image via

Dr Philomena Horsley, who wrote the Family Violence and the LGBTI Community study last year, suggests domestic violence in LGBTIQ relationships may have unique characteristics. These include threatening to “out” the abused partner, increased isolation due to societal stigma, withholding of gender transition medication, and homophobic or transphobic name calling. Generally, these warning signs aren’t included domestic violence resources, such as checklists or case studies, making it difficult for those in LGBTQI relationships to identify abuse.

Dr Horsley points to one example where police were called to a domestic violence incident in Melbourne. Two men were arguing in a flat and, although one appeared visibly shaken, the cops dismissed the call after the larger man assured them the pair were just housemates and it was a trivial argument. Later than night, the smaller man had to be taken to ICU after he was severely beaten.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a social worker told VICE there are many similar incidents of domestic violence between women being dismissed. They have even seen cases where women have been physically attacked by their partners in public but nobody calls the police, or even intervenes to help, because they think it’s just a “cat fight.”

“I couldn’t tell them [Hannah] was my partner,” Maria says. “She made me sleep in the car while she had sex with my cousin in his tent.”

Currently few, if any, housing refuges are available specifically for the LGBTQI community. Despite the alarming fact 53 percent of transgender people in the Calling it What it is study reported they’d experienced sexual or physical abuse, there arerepeated stories of trans women being refused from refuges or “made to feel so uncomfortable that they have left with no place to go.”

Lesbian, bi, and trans women are also faced with limited options. Our narrow understanding of what domestic violence looks like means perpetrators are able to pose as victims and follow their (ex) partners into shelters and services. For many gay, bi, and trans men their only option is to hope to be referred to the Victims of Crime organisation by police.

The government needs to widen its focus to provide prevention education within the LGBTQI community, funding for further research and training of staff in the family violence field. “A lot of problems from the queer community come from people feeling like they are alone and that it’s hopeless,” Maria says. “[People need to] to know from the beginning that there is a whole community of people there who can and will help.”

If you are a victim of domestic violence, or know someone who is, you can call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 1800 RESPECT.

Follow Eliza on Twitter.

Meet the Sydney Accountant Who Wants Ageing Labeled a Disease

Originally published on VICE

If you’ve heard of transhumanism, you probably first think of the people putting LED lights in their skin, magnets in their fingertips, and RFID chips in their arms. You might expect transhumanists to seem pretty, well, extreme. But Peter Xing, co-founder of Transhumanist Australia, doesn’t fit the cliches.

For the past seven years Xing has worked in business tax. He presents himself as a businessman with big dreams. Someone who believes society is accelerating so fast that people have become desensitised to the many possibilities available at our disposal.

It was at his workplace, Deloitte, that Xing first went “full nerd,” after his research brought him into the world of artificial intelligence. In 2014, he dove deep into transhumanism, which he describes as the transformation of the human condition through technology.

Xing has made immortality Transhumanist Australia’s biggest priority. The group has been petitioning for several months to get ageing deemed as a disease and force governmental change. On one level, they have succeeded. The Science Party, after forming an allegiance with Transhumanist Australia, has agreed to include this anti-ageing policy into their health strategy for 2017. Xing, also an executive member of the Science Party, says this is a big step in the right direction.

Not all transhumanists agree with the concept of immortality. But Xing is closely following in the footsteps of Zoltan Istvan, leader of the Transhumanist Party in the US and current independent presidential candidate. It was after watching how effective Istvan’s public relations campaign was and garnering thousands of members, that Xing last year decided to start his own official movement in Australia.

“Everyone is already connected through technology,” Xing explains to me as we sit in one of the many meeting rooms at his high rise office. “It has become an extension of our human brain, tapping into that collective knowledge of society.”

Images by author.

While the concept of immortality feels as though it’s verging on science fiction, Xing insists this resistance is misled. “It’s very poetic to say there is a narrative arc with life and death,” he says. “But it’s a social construct. As society matures, we’re starting to see this.”

Xing tells me that recent scientific studies support the idea that ageing is not a fixed certainty. Earlier this month, the lifespan of mice was extended by 35 percent after removing stagnant cells, a study which has the potential to be adapted to humans.Trials of Metformin also start this year, a drug that could possibly increase human lifespan to 120 years.

“For me it is an existential risk. We will have a finite life if we don’t encourage innovation towards the field of health span extension,” Xing says. “One example is the Human Brain Project. These types of projects help find ways to kill Alzheimer’s and other types of neurological diseases.”

It’s hard to fathom what the implications of age extension could be. The idea that we could live forever contravenes aspects of religion, culture, and ethics that we often think of as fundamental. There is also the question of how society will survive under the strain of an even larger aging population.

Xing; however, is confident that as society progresses, we will learn how to cope with any impediments. “People will look at resources and say ‘I can live indefinitely, why not have children later?'” he says. “We are also only a speck in the grand scheme of things. Eventually, for society to survive, we will become a multi-planetary species.”

There are times in our conversation when Xing strays into the higher concepts of transhumanism that are beyond what I can understand and/or Google. He notes that a counter argument to his movement is that society will become conservative, because old generations aren’t dying and making way for new generations and new worldviews. “But we’ll be constantly connected to the collective intelligence of everyone so we will actually get fresh ideas,” he assures me.

“People will look at resources and say ‘I can live indefinitely, why not have children later?”

He speaks of mind uploading: “You could potentially do this by synthetically adding on neurons while slowly letting go of old ones, so that you’re still conscious as part of the process.”

As you would expect from an accountant, Xing has a well sorted five-year plan. He is gradually building up a membership base through collaborations at Deloitte, where he tells me bio-hackers, virtual and augmented reality enthusiasts, effective altruists, technology entrepreneurs and space enthusiasts meet regularly.

On the political side of things, a party is already in the works for Transhumanist Australia. Their alliance with Science Party is to maintain influence until they have enough members to form their own party. He views the Science Party as a bridge between technological advancements and what society is ready for.

In the meantime, Xing says he is concentrating on eradicating the negative stigma that surrounds transhumanism. “We’re trying to use the word as often as we can,” he says. “To shy away from the concept is not accelerating the progress.”

Xing is planning a gradual change to give society time to adjust. “It still has its danger, like what happened with the Nazis and eugenics. But that’s when the moralities of society don’t catch up to the technology. That’s very important to address and we want to bring it to the forefront.”

“We don’t expect to win the 2020 election. 2045 is the singularity date, where technology exceeds human intelligence. We’ve got a due date probably a bit before that.”

Follow Eliza on Twitter

The Case to End Mandatory Sentencing

Published on 10/02/16

Today, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will table the annual Close the Gap report in Parliament, which charts the progress of the 10-year long campaign to match the health and life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with non-Indigenous Australians.

The report looks at key areas like life expectancy, education and health. But then there’s the incarceration gap—the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are massively overrepresented in our jails. It was a problem VICE dove into last year with our Incarceration Issue: Indigenous Australians make up around three percent of the general Australian population, but 26 percent of our prison population.

Since 2014, there have been calls for the Close the Gap campaign to set “justice targets”, aimed at tackling the incarceration gap. In December, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda advocated for these targets, calling “the shameful rates of imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples a major barrier to closing the health and life expectancy gap in this generation.” As the ABC have it, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will today join Gooda in asking the government to redouble their efforts to reduce Indigenous imprisonment rates.

If there’s one wedge holding open the incarceration gap, it’s mandatory sentencing. This refers to minimum penalties and imprisonment sentences which must be applied to certain crimes, irrespective of the severity of the offence. The scheme limits judicial discretion by prohibiting the court from considering impeding circumstances, such as mental illness, impoverishment or addiction.In 2014, the Northern Territory and Western Australiaignored calls from the United Nations to abolish the policies. Last year Amnesty International called on the federal government to override the laws. So far, no changes have been made.

The last time Australia had a serious discussion about mandatory sentencing was over fifteen years ago. On 9 February 2000, a 15-year-old Aboriginal boy named Johnno Wurramarrba was found hanging in his room at Don Dale Juvenile Centre with a bedsheet wrapped around his neck. He had committed suicide after being sentenced to 28 days imprisonment for stealing some felt tip pens, pencils, liquid paper, oil and paint worth less than $90. This petty theft was classed as a property offence, a crime serious enough to fall under mandatory sentencing laws.

Johnno was raised in Groote Eylandt, an island just off the Northern Territory mainland, known for its prosperous mines and stark socioeconomic inequality. His mother died when he was two, followed by his father when he was 11. Those who knew Johnno described him as a “lonely, neglected boy” that cycled through the local Indigenous community with no long-term home or carer. Just before his trial, Johnno’s aunt—who he called “mother”—also passed away.

Johnno told staff at Don Dale that he didn’t want to return to Groote Eylandt.

“I want to be with my grandmother,” he said. She was living in Darwin, receiving kidney dialysis treatment. This was clearly a young man grappling with mental health issues—he complained of hearing voices, powerful headaches, and even made suicidal threats. Staff also knew he was going through withdrawals from serious marijuana and petrol sniffing habits. In spite of all of this, Johnno was declared healthy, and advised to take Panadol.

Johnno did not understand why he was being detained. He asked why he wasn’t receiving a bond or community service order, to which his lawyer responded, “There’s nothing we can do about it.”

This case is just one of hundreds: Another 15-year-old Aboriginal boy attempted suicide during incarceration in 2001 after being jailed for breaking a window; an 18-year-old Aboriginal man jailed for 14 days for stealing a $2.50 cigarette lighter; an 18-year-old Aboriginal man jailed 90 days for stealing 90 cents; and a homeless man was sentenced 12 months for stealing a towel from a clothes line.

Western Australia, currently treating juveniles as young as 10 without exception from the scheme, has had similar results. In 2005, a 15-year-old orphaned Indigenous boy was caught stealing an ice cream worth $2. Even though he confessed when approached by staff, and returned the ice cream uneaten, police spent $10,000 transporting him more than 1,500 kilometers from his community to Perth. He spent 12 days in detainment before being placed on a 12 month conditional release order under the “three strike” burglary minimums.

Why don’t we hear about the 13-year-old boy sentenced 12 months in juvenile detention for sneaking into unlocked hotel rooms and stealing confectionary? Or the intellectually disabled and homeless 18-year-old girl being given a $12,000 fine or equivalent jail time for breaching a move on notice?

A 2007 protest against Aboriginal deaths in detention. Photo by Flickr user Pierre Pouliquin.

Since Johnno’s death in 2001, public debate surrounding the mandatory sentencing regime has disappeared almost completely. The laws were repealed that year, only to beimplemented for violent offences in 2008 after public demand for harsher penalties. In 2013, the minimums were expanded by the Liberal Country Party to “correct the failed attempt by the former Labor Government.”

The changes were part of a “Crackdown on Crime” campaign, which ran as alternatives to jail, such as the Drug and Alcohol Court and SMART court, had their funding cut. All other Australian jurisdictions have also strengthened their mandatory laws in recent years. These changes came after reports showing the prior failure in the Northern Territory, contributing to Indigenous over-representation and lack of measurable impact on deterrence.

State governments are continuing to expand mandatory sentencing laws in the hope of gaining the populist vote. Most worrying is that decisions are based on community concerns that often evolve out of misinformed or biased media hypes. While there is a prominent public view that judges are too lenient, a 2011 parliamentary paper argues that mass media is the primary source of information regarding the justice system and when fully informed, 90 percent agree with the judge’s decisions. This misperception enables the law to become a politicised tool that violates the very notion of justice.

“Western Australia is imprisoning Aboriginal males at the world’s highest rate,” says Gerry Georgatos, a leading academic in custodial reform and a community consultant on Indigenous suicide. “One in 13 of the state’s Aboriginal adult males are in prison. It’s racialised imprisonment, an abomination – moral, political and otherwise.”

Georgatos argues that mandatory sentencing doesn’t rehabilitate perpetrators or reduce recidivism. “Mandatory sentencing viciously reduces individuals to as if they are near worthless. If they feel like this then it will be played out with dangerous behaviour,” he says. “[The law] has no intention to assist the offender but to damage them, beat and break them.”

Originally posted on VICE AU/NZ

Jessica Jones: Thanks Marvel, It’s About Time

Over the last week, I have obsessively binged on Jessica Jones, the superhero that insists she is just trying to ‘make a goddamn living in this goddamn world.’ Jones, played excellently by Krysten Ritter, is a sarcastic, hardboiled alcoholic who resists being labeled as a heroine. After a brief stint as a superhero, she crossed paths with sociopathic mind-controller, Kilgrave (David Tennant), leaving her with crippling PSTD and a past that haunts her every move.

Jones’ character is already being compared to Buffy from Buffy The Vampire Slayer: she is gifted with super-strength and has little in the way of physical limitations. Although both empowering females, this is about as far as their similarities go. Jones is self-loathing, destructive and insatiably rude.

With a female producer and show-runner, Melissa Rosenberg, Jessica Jones is a damn fine start at dispelling Marvel’s sexist trends. The production certainly proves their own CEO wrong in his claims that female superheroes are ‘unmarketable’ (not that this should have ever needed proving, anyway). After 19 filmsstaring men, Jessica Jones destroys the ungrounded excuse that female leads will make bad superhero movies, and will hopefully bring forward more long overdue cinematic representation for women.

It is refreshing to see a woman who is unabashedly powerful and flawed. On one hand, there is her physical strength. Jessica Jones is removed from physical assumptions normally placed on both women and men. She flips stereotypes imposed on women in our society, making her unrestricted in refreshing ways. She is able to be the lurker in shadows, alone and unafraid. She is able to stand up to men when they harass her (or her best friend) in bars. But on the other hand, she is still vulnerable, human and imperfect. The show is ultimately based on her survival after an abusive relationship, delving into many other relevant issues in the meantime. Jones has super-strength, but she is a victim of sexism, of rape, of abuse. She is fighting thingswe fight, and she overcomes them. She is a superhero all too familiar; she is a superhero of our own world.

This is consistently reinforced through six words: ‘Birch Street, Higgins Drive, Cobalt Lane.’ The repetition of the names of the streets surrounding her childhood home was recommended to Jessica by a therapist as a method of grounding herself during her PTSD panic attacks. Even when battling villains, she is also battling human issues. As Rosenberg explained in an interview: ‘Playing [the panic attack scenes]as honestly as possible was very much the objective from the beginning. The tone is meant to be very grounded and real with whatever subjects you’re dealing with. So there was no glossing over this. It was really an exploration of a survivor and her healing, to the degree that she does, in facing those demons quite literally.’

The rest of the cast are also notably female, and are similarly facing battles that are all too real. Trish (Rachael Taylor), Jessica’s best friend, is a career woman, getting self-defense lessons to ‘turn into a ninja’ and protect herself from her abusive, estranged mother. The human inferiority of Trish is, at some points, a barrier in her friendship with Jones. But Trish’s altruism, removed of superhero responsibility, brings out Jones’ own heroic heart, and the women stick together unquestionably. One thing to like about Jessica Jonesis this realistic portrayal of female friendship.

An interesting revamp is Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), a ‘no-nonsense’ corporate lawyer. Depicted as male in Alias, the original graphic novels, Marvel changed the character to a lesbian woman for the TV show. Having an affair with her assistant, Hogarth is cold and remorseless. This is another complex, atypical portrayal of a woman that – refreshingly – pays no attention to the male gaze. This warping of the heterosexual male gaze is also established through frank sex scenes, which depict ‘ALL the women within the show […] driving the more overtly sexual acts.’ For Marvel’s first graphic depiction of sex, they did an excellent job at using this to further enforce female empowerment.

While the characters are impressively diverse, they are faulted by their lack of racial variance.With the exception of Rosario Dawson, who guest-stars in a crossover from Daredevil, women of colour are otherwise absent from both the main and supporting cast. This was a huge disappointment that will hopefully be remedied in the next season.

Rosenberg has made it clear that the production made no conscious decision to be ‘an issue series,’ but was based upon exploring the workings of ‘Jessica Jones and her ensemble.’ This lets the gendered power dynamics arise naturally and subtly, becoming all the more meaningful. The first indicator of these themes is Jones’ flashback in the first episode, showing her under mind-control while sitting in a restaurant with Kilgrave. She looks nothing like herself, both in the way she is dressed and in her robotic expression. Kilgrave commands her to smile and cringingly, she does. While this instruction also appeared in Alias, the darker interpretation of this production makes it clear that Kilgrave is the embodiment of casual and intentional misogyny.

Rosenberg chose not to show any sexual assault, explaining that graphic depictions on TV are a distasteful way, often, of spicing up the storylines of male characters. Jessica Jones, in contrast to shows such as Game of Thrones, focuses on the aftermath of rape and offers commentary on issues of consent, rather than sexualising the act itself. Kilgrave attempts to redirect blame, excuse the abusive nature of their relationship and claims he is unaware of the impact of his actions. Although Jones says he ‘violated every cell in my body and every thought in my goddamn head,’ she pities him and contemplates whether he can be reformed. With the sudden sympathy towards Kilgrave, the audience is even tempted to hope he might be able to change, too.

This manipulation by Kilgrave is a typical example of gaslighting, which is a form of abuse that makes the victim question his or her own perception of reality. The choice to base this scene in Jones’ desecrated childhood home signifies that he has destroyed the only thing that truly grounds her from his manipulation. Her momentary wavering reveals a disturbing trend in media, of minimising sexual assault and abuse because of the ‘charming rapist trope’. It is troubling to see the amount of fandom support of Kilgrave, excusing him as an abuser because he is attractive, mysterious and misguided.The scene where Jones willingly returns to the house is used to trick Kilgrave into thinking she is giving him another chance, allowing for his eventual capture. Some fans are now misinterpreting this as genuine, holding onto the idea that he would have had the potential of redemption if Jones ‘could see past her pain’. These attitudes frighteningly verge into victim blaming, making her on-screen decision to continue fighting him a fundamental moment. It represents a complex portrayal of fighting for truth and refusing to be silenced by those who have control over you. It shows that these behaviours are never justifiable, in television or real life.

From the unashamed sex scenes to the atypical characters, Jessica Jones is a show that explores the multi-faceted depths of power. The production provides sadly necessary proof that female characters can hold the same agency and depth as men, without being a marketable risk. It is the perfect example of what direction Marvel needs to follow, and reflects a wider disturbing trend in media treatment of sexual assault that desperately needs to be changed.

Originally published on Lip Mag

How Will The Australian Tax Reforms Affect You?

The Turnbull Government has made it clear that ‘all options are on the table’ when it comes to tax reform. With a constant re-assurance that fairness is the most important element, is this really achievable?

There has been recent media hype surrounding the announcement by South Australia Premier Jay Weatherill, regarding his proposal to increase the GST from 10 to 15 percent at the next leadership meeting. This would allow for revenue of around $34 billion, which, as he suggested, could be used to cut company tax and pay a remaining percentage to states.

So what does this really mean?

You are likely aware of the current debacle surrounding GST on tampons. This is only one piece of a much larger, unequal taxation system.

The GST is a regressive tax that disproportionately affects low-income workers. Those with lower incomes spend a larger amount on daily consumer items, such as food and transport. The degree of this will vary on whether the Turnbull Government chooses to impose GST on items such as fresh food, currently exempt, and whether the base is extended to cover healthcare and education.

The government is continually assuring us that this will be returned to consumers as compensation, such as increasing the dole, pensions and family benefits. But if New Zealand serves as an example, low-income earners and sole parents were most disadvantaged by these changes. And in Australia, women make up majority of both these categories. This makes the biggest impact of the GST on women already struggling with low wages and / or single parenting.

The promise to increase welfare benefits distracts from the larger unfairness of the GST, and ultimately creates disincentives towards employment. This, in turn, provides a major reason for cutting company tax, in the hope of heightening competitiveness and economic growth. The pitting of these flawed tax systems against each other appears incredibly redundant. As said eloquently by Mungo MacCullum: ‘A progressive tax will be turned into a regressive one, and compensation for the needy will not reverse what is, in essence, a switch of resources from the poor to rich. Whether Turnbull can spin that as fair is problematical.’

Why not put the Carbon Tax back on the table too? As highlighted by the International Monetary Fund, this is a means of revenue while effectively meeting environmental commitments. A Parliamentary Library analysis even showed that a carbon tax would raise ‘as much revenue as increasing the GST rate or broadening its base, while having less impact on households’. While this is a way of reducing damaging taxes, Treasurer Scott Morrison maintained that the problem is ‘Australians aren’t earning enough, not that they are not paying enough tax’. But if this were the case, why increase a tax such the GST that inherently reduces productivity?

One way Malcolm Turnbull is redeeming his claims of fairness is by proposing a reform of superannuation and abolishing super tax breaks. The current issue is that concessions are only utilised by people who ‘already have the capacity to save’. The International Business Times reports that this will help ‘in closing the gender pay gap in [superannuation] savings that is a whopping 44 percent’ and that ‘reforms will seek to boost the retirement of women by 35 per cent or more than $75,000 a year’. The reformed system is aimed towards overcoming obstacles faced by women in accumulating enough super savings for a comfortable retirement, such as wage inequality, maternity leave and caring leave. The proposal comes as part of a Senate inquiry into the economic security of women in retirement, and includes a plan to allocate payments for low-income earners that will gradually distribute earnings.

Interestingly, an opinion piece by Helen Hodgson  and Marie Coleman proposes that superannuation reform could be used to help women participate in the economy, rather than lowering income taxes. This would be accomplished by redirecting remaining savings into services such as paid parental leave and child-care. As data shows, the current workforce participation rate is significant, being 12 percent lower than the male rate. This reform would encourage growth and economic prosperity, while also working towards gender fairness.

As a new report highlights that our budget deficit could worsen by $38 billion dollars over the next four years, it is clear that reforms need to be made. These changes hold the opportunity to increase gender and social equality. It is vital that this path is taken and that those already facing hardship are not further disadvantaged.

Originally published on Lip Mag

Melbourne Writers Festival 2015: Keeping Up Appearances

In 2007, Channel Nine made Jessica Rowe redundant while she was on maternity leave. This was following an incident the previous year when the editor-in-chief, Eddie McGuire, was caught saying he wanted to ‘bone’ her. Rowe has made headlines with her recent book Is This My Beautiful Life?, which bravely explores her public scrutiny, sexual harassment and post-natal depression. Now, Rowe is a familiar face on Australian television, fronting the morning program at Channel Ten with Ita Buttrose.

Like Rowe, Buttrose has faced tough days in the industry, but still dubs it a ‘world of discovery.’ Her time in the field was groundbreaking for women. After deciding she wanted to be a journalist at age 15, she eventually became Editor-In-Chief of Cleo, which was the first publication to have a full frontal male-nude photo and open discussion of sexuality. Not to mention, she was also Australian of the Year in 2013 for her extensive charitable work. With a discerning face and witty one-liners, her strength of character is radiating (and slightly intimidating).

I jumped at the chance to see this dynamic duo speak as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival. Facilitated by Renata Singer, an author who specialises in feminism, I had little doubt that this would be a very interesting discussion. The conversation was refreshingly frank, revolving around physical expectations in the media, the need for women to start respecting each other and how we are going to change gendered norms.

Media is a tough industry for women. While now outnumbering men in the field, there have been very minor changes since the late 1990s. According to The Conversation, women make up 55.5% of Australian journalists, but only 7.4% are senior managers or editors-in-chief. On top of this, their appearance, personality and mannerisms are under constant scrutiny. Buttrose recounted moments when reviewers said she ‘shouldn’t wear leather pants’ or asked why ‘she has to wear so much makeup’. As for Rowe, who has had a particularly harsh time under the spotlight, she has received comments comparing her to an ‘overly friendly raptor’ and countless criticism towards her hair and laugh. Particularly cringe-worthy was when she recited an article by The Age, which compared her to competitor Melissa Doyle, ‘Rowe has the long limbs and angular face of a model; she is childless and loud.’

‘It does hurt,’ Buttrose commented, ‘Men get away with so much more.’

‘There is still very much a double standard between blokes and women. When women are appointed to these shows, we’re expected to be overnight successes.’

Research shows that the typical female journalist is younger, in their mid-career and generally has less than 12 years experience in the industry. This makes the obstacles facing young professionals entering the workplace a major concern.

‘Nobody dares telling us now what we can and can’t do.’ Both ladies explained that after years of experience, they can now ‘stand their ground’ in the industry. But for a long time, they were trialed by these pressures. ‘One of my bosses once told me to stop laughing so much. That really made me second-guess myself. My laugh is part of who I am,’ Rowe said.

‘You have to be true to yourself, you have to always behave with integrity and courage.’ She expressed that having confidence in your own abilities is vital in getting through these hurdles.

‘It all comes down to how you see yourself.’ Rowe revealed that she was recovering from Botox she received the previous week. ‘I don’t do it because I feel the pressure; I do it because I’m vain. It makes me feel better.’ She considers honesty crucial to becoming comfortable in your own skin.

‘More often, criticism of our appearance comes from other women. We are not gentle enough on other woman…That’s where we have to support each other.’ Her brand of feminism is respecting the choices that others make even if they may be unlike your own. The solution to this, she said, is acknowledging that everyone has different vices and virtues.

When asked how we can change these expectations, Buttrose answered that it needs to come from the ‘top down’.

‘Men need to be part of the process’, affirmed Rowe. Even small things, like having ‘male CEO’s leaving the office early to pick up the kids’, would set an example and take the pressure off women.

‘I think it’s changed a lot.’ Buttrose recalled that in the 1970s, she was required to wear stockings and a black frock.

‘It is going to work, blokes are changing,’ stressed Rowe. ‘People can be so cruel, but then there is also an incredible generosity of spirit by other people.’

‘We need to have a level playing field,’ Buttrose said, ‘I do feel like we’ve stopped for the moment. I don’t think representation is as good as it should be…There is a lack of women in Parliament. We only have two women in the Federal Cabinet.’ The key to fixing this, Buttrose says, is to ‘be a leader’ and to speak up when you see that there is no gender diversity at your workplace.

As a young woman entering the media industry myself, the confidence that both Buttrose and Rowe have is inspiring. Despite their experiences of gender bias and misogynistic attitudes, they remain optimistic that these pressures are eroding. Most importantly, they stress that supporting other women is paramount to creating pathways for change. While installing hope for female professionals, this also speaks to a wider cultural shift in the direction of equality.

The Melbourne Writers Festival is on until 30th August 2015. You can view the program and buy tickets here.

Originally posted on Lip Mag

You Are Not Alone, and You Are Okay: Interview with Jenny Jaffe

With a recent survey revealing that one in thirteen teenagers have contemplated suicide, it is clear that humanising mental illness is more important than ever. This is the goal of Project UROK (you-are-okay), which uses personal testimonials to normalise these struggles and offer support. Public figures, such as Wil Wheaton and Bobby Long, are among many who have shared their experiences and stirred much needed conversation.

Jenny Jaffe, CEO, inspiringly created the campaign after a long battle with OCD, anxiety and depression. Jaffe speaks to us about overcoming obstacles, the benefits of escapism and the future of Project UROK.

What was your main inspiration for starting Project UROK?

I first conceived of Project UROK after writing an article for xoJane about my experience in exposure therapy for OCD. So many people reached out to me after that article came out to tell me that they had never heard anyone they know talk openly about these issues before. There were also an alarming number of teen suicides in my hometown that happened around the same time. It seemed like starting Project UROK was something I could do to help.

Do you feel that Project UROK has successfully reached out to minority groups and represented diversity?

I don’t think there will ever be a point where I can say, ‘we’ve done it, we’ve represented diversity!’ It’s an ongoing process and conversation, and there will always be a new, important voice to be heard. We are diverse as an organisation, and we seek to provide a platform for the diversity of experiences with mental illness. My greatest hope is that everyone who visits our site feels as though their experience is being reflected and respected.

How is Project UROK influenced by comedy, and why have you chosen this approach?

My background is in comedy writing, and it’s one of the key ways I’ve coped with my mental illness throughout the years, so it seemed like a natural fit. Most of my friends are comedians, so a lot of our videos feature comedians for that reason and because of how many people get into comedy as a way of dealing with the world around them. Stephen Colbert once said, ‘When you’re laughing, I defy you to be afraid.’ That quote has always deeply resonated with me.

You’ve said that joining a Star Trek community helped support you when you were struggling with your own mental health. Tell us about the value of tapping into geek culture and fandoms.

As with comedy, geek culture — especially sci-fi and fantasy — can provide much needed escape from the difficulties of day-to-day living with a mental illness. Certainly for me it was often easier to get wrapped up in a space adventure than it was to think about what I was going through at the time. So, not only is it important for us to tap into the fandom community because of how big that potential audience is, it’s also important because I think there are a lot of people in those communities with whom our mission will resonate. Also, fandoms get stuff done. They get shows resurrected after years of being off the air. They raise money for causes they care about. They support each other. We are trying to become an extension of the support communities that already exist online.

What do you consider your greatest achievement so far, either personally or professionally?

Starting Project UROK may be the answer to that, though I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had a lot of very cool personal and professional experiences… Frankly, making it through high school may have been the achievement that actually took the most effort!

What has been most challenging about this venture? How have you found adjusting from comedy writing into business management?

Learning how to manage a business is an ongoing process, and I’m really lucky to know some amazing business people who have been helping to guide me through. I think the hardest thing for me is the concrete, day-to-day aspect of it. I’m very clear on the mission, and what our creative output should look like, but I’m not great at, say, figuring out the steps that have to happen in order to rent our film equipment for an upcoming shoot. This is one of many reasons I’m so lucky to have Sarah Hartshorne as my second in command. She’s unbelievable. She’s great at knowing what needs to happen and when, and then she’s great at making it happen.

The inclusive approach of Project UROK has really worked to reduce stigma and create healthy discussion. What plans do you have for the future to continue breaking down barriers?

Thank you so much for saying so! Inclusivity is paramount to me, so I’m really glad that is coming across. It is my sincere hope that we can continue to provide a platform for marginalized voices on the subject of mental illness. This fall we’re launching a campaign with the Harry Potter Alliance to raise awareness of the difficulty of getting mental healthcare for people living below the poverty line.

Lastly, do you have any advice for our readers who are currently struggling with their own mental illness?

I know how hard it is. Trust me, I know. I was sure I was going to kill myself before high school graduation. I am so glad every day that I am here — even on the days when it’s still a struggle. Mental illness is a chronic illness, and it’s rough, but with time and treatment it does get easier. Help is out there, and there are so many people who care about you and want to help you. I’m one of them. Take it one moment at a time. Pick silly things to live for, like the next episode of a favourite TV show airing, and then when that time passes, pick another. Remember that you don’t know what the future holds. You don’t know how much better things can get. You and your story are important. You are not alone, and you are okay.

If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental illness, you can seek help atBeyond Blue (1300 22 4636) or LifeLine Australia (13 11 14). These are free, 24/7 services.

If you live outside Australia, you can find a suicide prevention servicehere.

Originally posted on Lip Mag

Is Taiwan About To Have It’s First Female President?

The 2016 presidential election is looming in Taiwan. With both major parties being led by women,Hung Hsiu-chu and Tsai Ing-wen, the country seemed poised to make history with their first female president. Now, with James Soong joining the race for presidency, this is no longer so certain. A competing factor is the distinct political opposition that both leading women hold: unify with China, or break away and achieve independence. For the past month, media headlines have been swarming with the impact that this election will have on Taiwanese relations with the China, even out-shadowing publicity surrounding the historical first of having a female leader. Soong is offering a middle ground, which can ‘bridge Taiwan’s bitter political divide.’

A poll commissioned by the Taiwan Competitiveness Forum shows that Tsai Ing-wen, leader of the Democratic Party (DDP), is taking the lead at 36% support. Majority of the respondents (96.6%) stated that Tsai’s victory has only become more likely now that Soong has joined the election. This is proving true as some polls are placing Soong above Hung, while both parties are still trailing far behind the DDP.

As the country has developed ‘free speech, free press and democratic elections’, most people are opposing the idea of joining Communist China and instead siding with the Tsai’s stance towards independence. One drawback to DDP’s support is the instability of their last ruling. When they were in power ten years ago, the government called for a referendum of statehood which ended up with China pointing 1,200 missiles at Taiwan and creating a law that authorised ‘”non peaceful” means to prevent their independence. This makes the public weary of DDP ruling, bringing over voters to Soong and favoring the middle ground approach. Perhaps due to Beijing’s assertion of force, Tsai’s policies focus on cross-state dialogue and domestic matters. This softened and subtle approach indicates that if the party gets in again, stable relations will continue.

Taiwan has experienced periods of both gender progressiveness and extreme authoritarianism. Peng Wan-ru, who acted as Director for the DDP, was a leading figure for Taiwanese feminism. In 1996, she was found raped and murdered outside a warehouse. Similarly, politician Annette Lu, who is considered a founder of the feminist movement, faced an assassination attempt in 2004. Niu Tse-hsun, an advertising professor at Chinese Culture University, expresses that democracy and feminism run parallel, stating ‘Taiwan is escaping the traditional gender equality in Chinese culture and could reverse its patriarchal reputation.’

Taiwan’s relationship with China has dominated social regulations, and heavy pressure still exists to appease traditional roles. The Guardian asserts that China is going backwards in gender rights, particularly with a new law introduced this year that no longer splits properties in divorce, awarding it instead to the individual listed on the deed. A female president would be an international demonstration of independence from China, not only reflecting equality, but also boosting the standing and morale of the country itself.

Even with Soong in the running, gender is still playing little part this election. The polls show that Hung’s policies, leaning towards tradition, are less desirable to the Taiwanese public. The KMT government has maintained peaceful relations with China for the past eight years, but even so, Taiwan is ready to move towards a completely independent stand, branching away from China and making their mark on the global sphere as a gender progressive society. If a female president is elected, this will be a wider representation of political freedom, moving forward from a history of authoritarianism and state repression.

Originally published on Lip Mag

Perpetrators walk free as more than 70,000 rape kits remain untested

*Trigger Warning: Discussion of Rape*

New findings show more than 70,000 rape kits remain untested in the US, leaving victims with no justice or resolution. These kits, which collect forensic evidence from sexual assault, are vital for successful persecution and stopping serial rapists from offending again.

In 2001, RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) launched a campaign that drew attention towards the backlog of rape kits, instigating the Congress to implement the Debbie Smith Act, which has been labeled one of the most important anti-rape legislations of all time. The Act, named after a victim of rape who waited six years for her kit to be tested, provides grants to states for DNA analyses and managing backlogs, allocating $41 million worth of funding per fiscal year. While originally expiring in 2014, the funding has been reauthorised and will come back into action next year. Scott Berkowitz, president of RAINN, has stated that only around 51% of funding has gone towards casework and DNA testing. While Congress passed the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Reporting (SAFER) Act in 2013, which regulates a portion of the funding towards rape kits, the subsidies have instead been made towards ‘general DNA testing, administration or unrelated purposes.’After a CBS News investigation, it has been shown that despite financial support, little improvement has been made and perpetrators are still walking free.

One such case is Valerie Neumann, who was raped on her 21st birthday. Despite the assault occurring three years ago, her rape kit still remains unopened. Valerie stated that authorities told her they did not have the funds to test her kit, costing at least $1,500. As said by CBS, prosecutors argued that they did not proceed with testing because they felt her case was ‘unwinnable’. In response, Neumann has stated, ‘they didn’t do their job to protect me and to protect everyone else.’

This backlog, despite authorities now receiving substantial funding, shows a lack of understanding towards the value of rape kits. End the Backlog has argued that authorities do not prioritise sexual assault, frequently disbelieving the victim or not seeing any technical value in testing unless the perpetrator was a stranger. Trent Crump, Sergeant of the Phoenix Police Department, which has over 1,700 untested kits, has stated that they have ‘no evidentiary value’, meaning that they have either already determined who the suspect is or that no crime actually occurred. However in Detroit, where 1,600 backlogged kits have been tested, 456 suspected serial rapists have been discovered. This highlights the value of the kits in reaching the truth. According to Dr. David Lasik, 71% of attackers are serial offenders, and without DNA evidence, these crimes are very difficult to convict.

There is no formal system to log or track rape kits, and these findings were discovered at only 1,000 of the 18,000 enforcement agencies. This shows that the number of untested rape kits may even be much larger, more likely in the hundreds of thousands. Mai Fernadez, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, has claimed that leaving testing to individual discretion is a major downfall. End The Backlog has argued that there should be a criteria applied for testing the kits, with an emphasis on timeliness between police storage and crime lab testing.

While having vital importance to the case itself and finding the perpetrator, the testing of rape kits also have personal value. It provides some source of intermittent resolution, reassurance that everything is being done to find the perpetrator and hope that the ordeal may finally come to an end. The collection of these kits is often a re-traumatising and frightening process, taking up to six hours of swabbing, photographing and examining the victim’s entire body. The continual dismissal of these findings is not only un-empathetic, but also deters the rape survivor from believing there will be any point in undergoing such a strenuous process. This is not only false, but also detrimental to the case.

The number of untested rape kits demonstrates a major gap in the justice system, indicating that sexual assault is still not deemed a priority and that victim blaming continues to occur. While progress is being made, with many states implementing new policies to resolve this issue, these findings show that utilising rape kits more often will only occur when underlying attitudes within the justice system are fully addressed.

Originally posted on Lip Magazine