Monday, November 19, 2012

Why I'm not interested in "What Men Want"

...not if the following list is anything to go by.

My new favourite site, Women's Agenda, published this op ed by Adam Blanch today on International Men's Day, a lament of how hardly done by men are in the feminist debate and they just want to be seen for the cuddly benign things they really are. Not those horrible rapey, slavering men that feminists rail about.

Before I get started, let me clarify - I don't hate men. I love men. I love them a lot. I love the one I'm married to, I love most of the ones I'm related to, and I love the little boy I'm raising to be a good man, hopefully, one day.

But the unacknowledged privilege in the article was enough to have me slavering like the worst feminazi with anti-Y-chromosome ranting, the whole day long. So settle in, this is going to take a while.

To set the scene, let's look at the politely expressed outrage that a publication had a whole page dedicated to women's issues and what they want.
A whole page!
Today, Monday November 19, is International Men's Day, a day to recognise and celebrate men. However, the day will probably pass without much media fanfare. Yesterday, one of the weekend's magazines published an edition that was entirely devoted to 'what women want'. In response to that, I would like to share with you what I believe men want.
Perhaps he will be mollified by the fact that in all the major indicators of worldly success - income, wealth, political representation, property ownership, leadership positions across the board, representation in mainstream media, respect in the sporting world - every day is International Men's Day, across Australia and indeed most of the planet.
Mostly men just want a break: We want to be judged by the content of our character, not the shape of our chromosomes. We want to be seen for who we actually are, not lumped in with a small percentage of the male (and female) population who are pathologically violent. We want recognition and appreciation for our lives of goodness, contribution and loving service to our families and communities.
Mr Blanch, there's a phrase my mother used to use: don't teach your grandmother how to suck eggs. We (being women) know all about being judged for our gender. In the case of women, we are judged lacking and are denied full participation due to how our characters are judged. Do I need to repeat my mantra about the major indicators of worldly success? The judgement on your gender doesn't appear to be holding men back, as a rule. 
From the women's space: We want the conversation being promoted about our gender to stop being sexist, prejudicial and derogatory towards us.
Let me suggest that Mr Blanch is erecting a rather flimsy straw man. It's not "judging a man's character" to assert the frightening statistic of violence against women, by men. Of normalised sexual assault. Of casual, unthinking sexism from dirty jokes in the workplace through to the use of diminutive nicknames to women who are strangers or moaning about being "friend zoned". Of unexamined male privilege. Oh, Mr Blanch, definitely that last one.

If he isn't participating in those activities, Mr Blanch would do well to focus his ire on the very many men who are, rather than being angry at women for being justifiably outraged about normalised violence against women, indeed the fetishisation of violence against women by mainstream media. Being a nice guy doesn't stop these things happening to women. Nice guys have to start saying to their not-so-nice mates and relatives: stop raping and beating women. It's not on.

It would be nice to think that most men aren't actually like the horrible rapey cave men that we know are responsible for the horrible violence against women. But given that "in 48 population-based surveys fromaround the world, between 10 per centand 69 per cent of women report beingphysically assaulted by a male intimatepartner at some point in their lives" that's a lot of men. Around 34% of Australian women have experienced sexual assualt in their lifetime. It's kind of hard to sheet that home to an abnormal minority. You might even begin to think that it is some kind of systemic attitudinal problem, maybe something that you could give a name like, oh I don't know, patriarchy?
We would like the opportunity to participate in that conversation, to have a seat at the table, to no longer be the silent sex whose opinions are automatically disqualified if we disagree with the feminist polemic. 
The silent sex? Really? At this point I began to wonder if Mr Blanch was engaging in satire. Women are not heard in the media, are minimised and scorned in politics, are grossly underepresented in politics at all levels, The oft-reviled Catherine Deveny was attacked for interrupting Cardinal George Pell on a recent episode of Q & A. A shrewd analysis of the episode found no such thing - we are just so unused to hearing women assert equal ground that it shocks us and offends us.
We want the right to construct our own identities around our own values -- not to have them handed to us as outdated social stereotypes, or by hostile women's groups.
Men have been constructing their own identities - and those of women - see media links, ad nauseam - for millennia. If men aren't happy with their identity, they ought to alter it, not get upset because women are unhappy with the status quo. Don't shoot the messenger, victim blaming, blah blah blah.
From the media: We want a voice: the opportunity to talk about how we experience gender, to challenge the story that vilifies our gender as some sort of 'evil empire'. We want more column inches given to men's issues, men's experience and men's opinions. We want to put gender back on the agenda, not just women's 'gender' issues. We want to be participants in the story that is told about us.
Oh, my.
From government: We want protection of our basic human rights: We want the presumption of innocence before the law, and fair access to our children. 
You know, I hate to harp on the violence thing but the right to life is the most basic of human rights, and not only are women disproportionately denied this right by men, laws invented to assist women who have been driven to desperation have been coopted by some men to keep on perpetrating that violence.

I won't deal with the dross of the men's rights movement rubbish about access to children. (And I'm sure lots of women want a lot of men to pay child support, too. Is that a gender based failing, Mr Blanch? Or is it just people of both genders being, you know, arseholes?)
We want equal access to government resources, research funding and support for our health and wellbeing. 
I'm not sure but this sounds like the resentment against the success of the breast cancer awareness networks. I'm sure there's room for men's health issues to be lobbied for effectively if men wish to do it, such as the commendable Movember campaign. Mr Blanch might take some comfort however from the knowledge that when women turn up in emergency rooms with cardiac symptoms, they are less likely to be treated appropriately. Yay, swings and roundabouts!
We want the epidemic of male addiction, depression and suicide to be addressed. 
As do most women, the ones who love the men who are struggling. These maladies are not to be laid at the feet of women who are upset with patriarchy, however. Haven't you head? Patriarchy hurts men too.
We want our experience of family violence victimisation recognised and validated. 
In Victoria, male intimate partner violence is found to be the leading contributor to death, disability and illness for women aged 15 to 44 years (VicHealth 2004). 
We want Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner to also pay attention to the disadvantages we experience because of our gender.
Which disadvantages? Wealth and income? Leadership? Social status? See above.
From the workplace: We want our wellbeing to be more important than profits. We want to be able to take time off work to bring our children into the world, to be a part of their lives, to be the role models and fathers that they need us to be. We want to be protected from injury, to be paid for our overtime, to have work life balance, to no longer have to sacrifice our wellbeing and our family life for our family's survival.
Strangely, these are the things that women have also been fighting for, form a much lower base. Hint: it isn't women who are imposing these pressures on men.
From women: We want collaboration. We want to work with you to create a future in which our children our safe, supported and empowered. We want to co-create a society in which we all enjoy freedom from violence, prejudice and disadvantage. In essence, we want the exact same things as women do.
Mr Blanch and men like him can expect collaboration as your unequivocal right when they accepts the power differential that has been for millennia and remains firmly on their side. When they acknowledge that crucial fact and want to change it also, then they can claim they want the same things feminist women do. Until then, they should exercise some unaccustomed humility, shut up, and listen.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A "dooring" is not an accident

When I was able to struggle up from the road surface after being knocked off my bike, the first words that came out of my mouth were worthy of any cycling nut: “Is my bike okay?”

It was – startlingly okay, actually. I fared much worse than the machine. I have stretched tendons and ligaments and bruised bones and atrophied muscles, all of which require considerable sessions of physiotherapy. But ultimately, like my bike, I’ll be okay, unlike James Cross , who was also the victim of an inattentive driver.

I was pleased that there was, coincidental to my accident, a spate of publicity about “doorings.”* I was less pleased at the message of the publicity – that cyclists and motorists shared an equal responsibility to prevent these “accidents”.

Let’s get one thing straight. A “dooring” is not an accident. It is a failure of vigilance, a case of negligence, a lapse of concentration… but not an accident. 
Drivers are required under the law to ensure they do not present a hazard to other road users, and whether drivers like it or not, this includes cyclists.

Furthermore, regardless of how defensively a cyclist rides, the laws of physics do not allow them to avoid a hastily flung door, especially when tram tracks or cars driving too close block the cyclist’s ability to veer right.

Separating cyclists to a cycle lane on the passenger side of parked cars is no answer. These lanes are debris strewn and prone to pedestrians wondering across without consciousness that it is a transit zone. Passengers alighting from vehicles are even less likely to be vigilant for oncoming cycle traffic.

This is first and foremost an issue of driver education and law enforcement.

Drivers make decisions every time they open their door in order to avoid the consequences of being a hazard. Are they on a busy road where their door might be ripped off by a passing tram? Are they on a freeway where a speeding car could throw them to the verge? Is their car parked securely? Drivers need to be educated to make the decision to check not just their rear view mirror but over their shoulder and to ask the question: “Is there a cyclist coming?” When they fail to make this decision, they need the compelling persuasion of a ticket, or charges when an injury occurs.

There is currently insufficient emphasis on the rights of cyclists during driver education. Furthermore, there is little energy invested by police in pursuing people who do not make cyclists’ safety a high priority. After my own incident, a police officer explained to me unapologetically that they would not be pursuing even a failure to give way fine had I not been injured badly enough to attend hospital.

My incident was caused by a driver who turned left in front of me, to park. Although he stopped and was very kind and solicitous, he had no comprehension that he was breaking the law by failing to give way and cutting across another vehicle (me). He had his indicator on, he reasoned, so therefore he had the right of way. In this last week I narrowly missed being collected by another driver who was just about to make the same decision and who clearly had no idea that he was doing the wrong thing, despite me giving him a very asserting stop gesture and shaking my head. The comments sections of newspapers which have given this issue publicity have been replete with people who clearly either don’t know or don’t care that the law is firmly on the side of the cyclists.

Of course it is advisable for all cyclists to ride as sensibly and defensively as possible, and always within the law. Cyclists will continue to be injured and killed, however, until the Police and driving educators place a higher emphasis on driver awareness and accountability.

I was not in fact “doored” – ironically, a near dooring seconds earlier slowed my progress so that the left-turning driver hit me at far less velocity than would otherwise have been the case.