Should Men Be Included in Feminism?

Originally published on Lip Mag

Feminism is defined as “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities”. The broad spectrum of feminist ideologies (from radical, Marxist to liberal) have different expressions of this core belief, but they are all fighting to create an egalitarian society. Many branches of feminism also place emphasis on intersectionality, which considers how the patriarchy affects all intersections of society and the ways that multiple identities affect gender-based discrimination. Although contemporary feminism is increasingly embracing inclusiveness, there are arguments that men should be completely excluded from the movement in fear that they will dominate or overtake it.

It is important to point out that the feminist movement is not anti-men, it is anti-oppression. The key of gendered oppression is the patriarchy, which is entrenched from birth to disempower both genders. From the moment we are born, boys are indoctrinated into the rules of patriarchy and girls are carved to be submissive and inferior. While patriarchy oppresses women and places men in a position of superiority, it still perpetuates rigid identities and creates negative consequences for both genders.

The patriarchy is so tightly ingrained that many people – both female and male – are blind to it. The biggest way that most people are aware of gendered inequalities is through it’s more violent expressions. One example of this that domestic violence and sexual assault is disproportionately perpetrated by men, and one in five women experience sexual violence. On the flip side, when men are survivors of abuse or assault, it is much more difficult for them to speak up and access resources.

There are also smaller, more subtle expressions that serve to keep our gendered norms in check: clothing differences, gendered baby toys (e.g. barbies vs. firetrucks), girls being taught to be gentle and speak quietly, boys being taught to repress their emotions, catcalling and other forms of normalised harassment, women in positions of power having to prove themselves, women being called “sluts” or “frigid” to control their sexuality, men being criticised for “acting like a girl” or “being a pussy” to control their masculinity. The list goes on – simply think about any form of social differences between men and women, then question why they exist. These social differences, which we perceive as natural, are used to maintain the patriarchy and the status quo.

For men, gendered norms and oppression are also upheld through toxic masculinity. This is the idea that traditional norms of masculinity result in “harm to men, those close to them and the world we live in.” The socialisation of boys normalises violence and fosters domination, objectification of women and homophobia. These ideologies promote emotional repression and shame for showing any “feminine” characteristics. The adherence to these traditionally masculine norms promotes violent behaviours, including domestic violence and sexual assault. As a result, the concept of toxic masculinity is interwoven with female oppression. This means that although feminists are focusing on the inequalities facing women, we are simultaneously trying to disempower the same constructs that negatively affect men.

Despite the negative consequences of toxic masculinity, the patriarchy still puts cisgender men in a place of privilege. For this reason, it is impossible to deconstruct the patriarchy without many men feeling uncomfortable. It is a difficult task to check your own privilege and become aware that your normalised actions could be contributing to inequalities. It is much simpler to dismiss feminists as “man-haters” or “feminazis” than to think about your own actions that might perpetuate the experiences women speak about. In the same vein, it is easy to be sceptical when men do call themselves feminists, because this is also commonly used to stop critically reflecting on their own behaviour. The discomfort of cisgender men and other more serious consequences (such as the ramifications caused by the #metoo movement) is required for any tangible and long-lasting change in social attitudes. The reluctance of many men in understanding why these actions are necessary and overdue hinders cultural norms from truly transforming.

In turn, this reluctance has created a defensiveness in many feminist circles towards even engaging with cisgender men on topics of feminism. We are at a point where women can speak louder than ever before, and that makes it even more important that we retain an open dialogue with men who are on the side of gender equality. It takes time to understand the extent that patriarchy is ingrained and its negative consequences, no matter what your gender is. The point of the movement is to change societal norms, and a major way of doing that is by having men incorporate feminist practice in everyday life and unlearning harmful patriarchal ideas. If men are alienated from the feminist movement, it will only be harder to change the social and cultural norms that uphold the patriarchy.


Why Are Young People So Sad?

It is disillusioning to see the amount of people my age grappling with mental illness. As a 22-year-old, many of my friends seem to be struggling with depression and/or anxiety. No matter where I look or who I surround myself with, it exists. While some argue that the prevalence of mental illness is seeming to increase because youth are more comfortable talking about it than previous generations, mental illness rates have reached an alarming magnitude that indicate something much deeper is occurring. One quarter of young people aged between 16-24 are living with a mental illness and suicide rates for 15-24 year olds are at their highest level in 10 years, being the leading cause of death for young people.

The biggest difference between my generation and my parents is the emergence of the digital age. Although technology has many significant benefits, we need to critically think about our constant use of digital media and its influence over our lives. There are numerous studies that indicate seeing the world through technology can encourage a narrow sense of self, reflected by narcissistic traits rising as quickly as obesity. This is particularly worrying when most children know how to use tablets by the age of two and are getting smartphones by the age of seven. As a 2015 study points out, more than one in two teenagers (57%) aged 13-17 find it hard to sleep or relax after looking at social media and 60% feel brain ‘burnout’ from being constantly connected. Although frequent social media users are three times more likely to develop a mental illness, over half of teens connect with social media 5+ times a day and 25% constantly connect.

The massive propensity of youth struggling with mental illness indicates a generational level of situational depression, also exacerbating the severity of predisposed mental disorders. We need to be critical of dynamics within modern-age society, asking ourselves why this is happening. As suggested by a study in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, our social isolation and dissatisfaction is caused by constant comparison of the idealised lives people present through social media, making us unable to be happy with ourselves or what we are doing. We become so obsessed with “Fear of Missing Out” that we are anxiously addicted to our social platforms, ironically missing out on forming real meaningful connections with those already around us. This social deprivation and disintegration of local community takes a big hit on our emotional identity. When we do try to be present in reality, the lingering presence of our work and social obligations becomes an incessant source of anxiety. The real world makes us feel depressed and lonely, because while we are so connected, we are more disconnected than ever.


Our culture has become deeply self-monitored and risk-averse, having a major impact on our resilience. In this unbearably competitive environment, our measurement of success is based on external ideas of what our life is like, tossing aside our real identity and esteem. We are not coping with this unsustainable pressure, as shown by university students being five times more likely to experience mental illness. This is unsurprising, with youth employment rates hitting record high rates, property costs increasing exponentially and older people working for longer, making it necessary to pursue further study and accumulate $50K+ worth of debt before even entering our chosen fields. In a time when we are forming our identities and deciding who we want to be, this immense competition makes us feel like we don’t have the luxury of making mistakes or deliberating over our careers. Instead of using hard experiences as growth and positive change, we catastrophise and struggle to pick ourselves up. We compare ourselves to our peers, who front themselves as being exactly the opposite (together, well rounded, happy content) through the deceptive means of social media.

On top of this, with over 44% of young people identifying as Greens-voters, our wants and needs are being ignored. Each day there seems to be a new, but sadly unsurprising, natural disaster, while we are caught up in a system that appears to be the only option because our Government is being dictated by older (and more right-wing) generations. We don’t have the idealism of the 60’s or 70’s anymore. We have Donald Trump, Brexit, and a looming climate disaster. The future does not look happy, it does not look bright – it looks as though we are powerless to the same old stupidity that got us in this mess, with no chance of change. It is no wonder that, despite feeling more anxious after using digital technology, we continue in the cycle for validation and a sense of community in a world that otherwise leaves us feeling dissatisfied and unheard.

Of the 3.1 million young people in Australia, 775,000 are now classed as mentally ill. This is to our own economic detriment, with mental illness reducing life expectancy by 14 years and lowering productivity, currently costing the economy approximately $20 billion annually. As pointed out by the Huffington Post, Australian universities and schools currently have little consistency in mental health policy. The Turnbull Government is also “quietly dismantling” Headspace and moving central control to Primary Health Networks (PHNs). Chris Tanti, former CEO of Headspace, argues that this will remove funding towards early intervention programs and remove oversight of clinical standards. We desperately need the Government to develop broad, consistent mental health policy, with a focus on face-to-face early intervention programs at both provincial and national levels. We need society to see these prevailing mental illness rates as a critical reflection of an increasingly dysfunctional society. Most importantly, we need to feel like our voices are being heard, because we are screaming out for change.

If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental illness, you can seek help at Beyond 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 service here.


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

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