Being a wimp

Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring and integrity, they think of you.

H. Jackson Brown, Jr

I stepped into a teaching position at school that was recovering from a horrific bullying incident. Incident doesn’t quite do justice to this life-changing event; life-changing for the instigators and their families who faced court, certainly life-changing for the victim of the attack. A group of boys thought it would be … I don’t know … fun? … to abduct and torture a classmate, a peer, a fellow human being in bush-land near the school. For hours they tortured him, pissed on him, tied him up, made him dig his own grave, psychically assaulted him … He was a vulnerable kid – skinny and small for his age. They were taller, bigger, stronger and had a lot more friends.

I have found myself thinking about this event a lot over the last week or so – particularly in relation to the ridiculous language and downright disgusting behaviour of the so-called leaders of this country.

“You don’t want a wimp running border protection, you want someone who is strong, who is decent and Scott Morrison is both strong and decent.” Prime Minister Tony Abbott (Feb 21, 2014)

It is bad enough that our Prime Minister is using such juvenile, throwaway language better suited to a “jock” in a John Hughes film than serious humanitarian issues; it is incredibly disturbing when we consider the actions of Scott Morrison and the government.

So, what does it mean when Abbott makes such childish comments? If Morrison isn’t a wimp then what exactly is a wimp? Is a wimp someone who shows compassion? Someone who is not prejudiced? Someone who helps the vulnerable? Someone who tells the truth, is honest, is kind, is empathetic …

By Abbott’s standards I would much rather be a wimp.

In Abbott and Morrison’s world, a strong and decent person is one whom persecutes those who most need protection and support and assistance. By these standards, a strong and decent person is someone who is cruel.

What does this mean in the playground? I’m not even sure the word ‘wimp’ is still part of the colourful vocabulary of school-yard bullies but let’s imagine, if you will, that it is. “Don’t be a wimp” translates to don’t defend that kid who needs your help, stick with bullies, hurt him, he deserves it, he is the minority, he is different, he doesn’t deserve friendship / kindness / help …  No one wants to be a wimp because, clearly, it takes integrity, strength of character, compassion to be a wimp. It is difficult to be a wimp.

I wish there were more wimps in the school-yard. If there had been some wimps around on that life-changing day at that school by the bush then maybe a child would not have suffered. Maybe one of those bullies would have had enough wimp in him to stop his friends hurting an innocent, vulnerable kid.

If there were more wimps running this country then maybe Reza Barati would still be alive. Maybe we wouldn’t lock up the vulnerable who have turned to us for help not persecution. Maybe we wouldn’t be creating a country that is intolerant, cruel and selfish but a place that values equality, peace and compassion.

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Choosing the Greens and losing a Facebook “friend”

If we’re honest, most of us would accept that a bad boss is a little bit like a bad father or a bad husband. Not withstanding all his or her faults, you find that he tends to do more good than harm. He might be a bad boss but at least he’s employing someone while he is in fact a boss.

Tony Abbott

This election was just awful. In the strange barren wasteland of meaningless slogans and bigotry, with tumble-weeds of sexism to break the monotony, the only glimmer of hope was the Australian Greens. The Greens were the only party with a positive message, a vision and sense of compassion and humanity. If I value these attributes in a human being surely it is not too much to ask for them in a political party? Instead, we watched the two major parties battle it out to see who could treat some of the most vulnerable people in the world with the most cruelty … and win votes for it. So it was with pride and relief that I celebrated Adam Bandt’s retention of his seat in the House of Representatives. The fact that Adam Bandt is my member of parliament, the person who represents the place I live, made me so grateful I took to Facebook with my joy (as you do).

“Very thankful for Adam Bandt right now” I wrote. (24 likes – thank you friends)

Short, to the point and positive. I didn’t want to get bogged down with name-calling. But I could have. I didn’t want to be negative. But I could have. What I didn’t expect was someone whom I hardly know to respond to my harmless status update with name-calling and negativity.

I was surprised. The last time I had seen this “Facebook friend” was in an embarrassing moment in a supermarket when he thought I was someone else. Really. He knew my name and felt he could shout it out to get my attention, which he did, and then proceed to tell me all the amazing things I had been doing. Problem was they were not my amazing things; they were a mutual friend’s amazing things. “I’m not her” I had to tell him, almost apologetically. I had felt bad for him but I barely knew him and that incident simply cemented the fact. He was a friend of a friend whom I’d met once. Based on this fleeting moment he had decided to request me as a friend on Facebook and, based on my naivety, I accepted.

I won’t be doing that again.

I think there has to be some sort of criteria for Facebook friendship. Maybe it could look like this … You can be my Facebook friend if;

1. We have met more than once, or

2. We have spent more than 2 minutes chatting and conversation included more than just ‘hello’ and ‘how do you know **insert mutual friend’s name here**?’ or

3. You know who I am if I happen to bump into you in the real world (e.g. the supermarket) or

4. We would actually be friends in real life (I like to think that even though Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t meet criteria 1 through to 3 he would definitely meet number 4)

This Facebook friend did not meet any of the above criteria, so you can imagine my surprise when he felt he had the right to write the following –

Fuck the Greens. Should be renamed Weeds!

Hmmmm …OK …  I wondered why on earth he would say such I thing. Again, my naivety got the better of me. Here was his reason:

Because they sided with Labor last time to have influence and fucked the country. They are anything but the organic organisation they claim to be.

There were many, many holes in this argument … The truth is this man was simply spouting the slogans of the campaign and right-wing shock-jocks. There was neither evidence nor truth to what he was saying. There was also no need for him to say it. The election had been called and Tony Abbott’s Liberal Party had won … Why did I need to hear this rubbish (all of which had been all over the Murdoch press) again? Why did it need to be written on my wall? Why couldn’t I just have my moment of happiness for Adam Bandt?

So, I explained why I voted for the Greens …

I really don’t appreciate the hijacking of my positive status for this Andrew-Bolt-esque rhetoric … I am proud to support a party which has vision, compassion and a strong sense of social justice. I am proud to support a party which holds big polluters and mining companies accountable. I am proud to support a party which believes in climate change and the importance of renewable energy. I am proud to support a party which believes in marriage equality and quality education for all and the rights asylum seekers. I am very proud to be represented by Adam Bandt … Thankfully we live in a country which really isn’t all that ‘fucked’ (despite what you think the Greens have done to it) so you are more than entitled to voice your opinion – I simply ask that you are respectful of mine and refrain from posting this rubbish on my wall.

(4 likes – thank you very much)

In return I got this:

What you call hijacking I call the right to post an opinion in an open forum Katy. If you want an open meadow where everyone eats grass contentedly with your opinion then do one of two things … a/ don’t post or b/ expect opposition. You have undoubtedly been drawn along on a quasi organic wave that posits so-called “equality” regarding climate change and education and human rights but in the real wash-up is a just a soapy Labor puppet. Don’t rubbish my ‘opinion’ unless you have more than rhetoric from a campaign brochure.

(for the record, the above got ZERO likes)

That was then I decided this Facebook relationship was OVER.

Done.

I didn’t feel the need to explain to this man that:

  • I read about every political party which was running for a seat in the upper and lower houses (this includes the minor, minor parties like ‘Bullet Train for Australia’ and ‘Stable Population’ to name but two)
  • I made a very informed decision about supporting the Greens based on my reading of their policies and comparison with the policies of the Liberal and Labor Parties
  • I actually have a real interest in politics which goes far beyond ‘campaign brochures’
  • I enrolled to vote before I turned 18 because I was actually that excited
  • there is no “so-called equality” in the Greens’ policies … It simply is Equality
  • the Greens do not pretend to be an organic party – they are a political party so of course there is hierarchy and procedure … That is part of being a political organisation
  • nothing in my post was actually taken from the Greens’ ‘campaign brochure’ (but your rantings were clearly lifted from the Murdoch press)
  • I don’t think everyone should eat grass but if people want to eat grass and stand in meadows then power to them
  • I don’t know what an organic wave is, quasi or otherwise, but I am very confident I have never been ‘drawn along’ one
  • Facebook is not an open forum … I choose who I am friends with and who can see my posts and who can post to my wall and so on
  • I don’t need to prove myself nor my understanding of Australian politics to you … but I do need to write about it on my blog …

As I thought about my reply I suddenly realised; I don’t have to enter into this. I don’t have to waste time and energy on this man I hardly know … Why would I? So I didn’t. I de-friended and, moments later, got this private message:

You’re better than that. Counter my argument or reliant but don’t be pathetic and stop the dialogue.

Charming … Why, yes, of course I will reignite the ‘dialogue’ when you ask me so nicely you charmer you. No thank you – I would prefer to be pathetic and stop the dialogue. (Besides, when he wrote ‘you are better than that’ I couldn’t help but wonder if he actually meant me or our mutual friend … She may be better than that – I have just proven I am not. Whatever that means.)

I am friends with enough Liberal Party voters (at last count I know about 4 of them … I am sure there are more, they just don’t want to admit it and I don’t blame them) to know that you cannot change someone’s political views. It is something you need to discover for yourself. You can be coaxed, sure, and encouraged, definitely, but in the end there is nothing I could write on my Facebook page to make this man turn around and apologise and understand why I voted the way I voted.

But you know what? None of my real friends who also happen to be Facebook friends who also happen to be conservatives felt the need to abuse me for my status. Maybe it was because they won. Maybe it was because they believe that there should be a range of voices in government representing a range of concerns and interests. Maybe it was because they are respectful. Maybe it was because I didn’t say anything to ‘rubbish’ their political views. Maybe it because they can see why I voted Greens because, well, they actually know me … Maybe they know they cannot change my mind just like I cannot change theirs.

I could explain how Australia is in very good economic shape, that a price on carbon is needed, that a mining tax is brilliant, that seeking asylum is a human right, that Denticare is an excellent incentive … I could go on explaining so many policies and positive changes but I know it would be for nothing. I know it would be countered with an empty slogan, a catch-phrase, a sound-bite heard on the radio …  or what they believe is best for them, or the country, or both … So I will continue to post what I believe and hope they click on the link and start to read more widely and more wisely and make up their own minds. But I will not shout and argue and name-call because that is one way not to get votes.

I will have to live with a Liberal Government for the next three years (at least) but I do not have to live with rude Facebook friends. I value positivity, vision and sense of compassion and humanity. If I value these attributes in a friend surely it is not too much to ask for them in a Facebook friend? And, for the record, even Tony Abbott on the day of the election suggested that someone, who had just laid out her concerns for the country, would be better off voting for the Greens … Just sayin’

 

Punch them in the face (not literally); or, why I wish Fiona Scott had said something …

I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons

Tony Abbott

I watched Fiona Scott laugh, the broad smile firmly plastered to her face, as Tony Abbott, the man who wants to be the next Prime Minister of Australia, spoke of her “sex appeal”. I watched as her office fended off questions about the sex appeal comment with “No Comment.” I watched as others loudly provided their own opinion on her level of sex appeal. I watched as Abbott didn’t apologise for his comment (it was a “dad moment”) but provided instead this supposed compliment wrapped in a cliché – “…she ain’t just a pretty face.”

I wondered why she didn’t speak up. I wondered why she didn’t punch Abbott in the face. I wondered why she didn’t come back with some witty remark to render Mark Latham speechless (now that would be something). I wondered why she didn’t stand up and make an eloquent speech about the misogyny that is so embedded in Australian politics. I wondered and wondered until I remembered …

I have been Fiona Scott; minus the conservative political beliefs and MBA and opposition to marriage equality. I am sure many of us have been her – laughing half-heartedly at the sexist, inappropriate comments of our male colleagues and bosses because … Why? So as not to make a scene? So as not to look like you can’t take a joke? So as to keep the job? So, so, so ….

I had done it.

I smiled and laughed politely at the grossly inappropriate comments from male customers when I worked on checkouts at Kmart (my first job whilst studying at university). After-all, they were the customer, right? And they were always right, right? And “you do smile a lot so you’re kinda asking for that sort of thing,” said the supervisor. “Plus, you wear make-up.” Right?

I didn’t tell anyone about the so-called compliments my manager at the local video store (another job through university) would give me even though they made me feel very uncomfortable and unsafe. He went on to create a fake entry for the in-store video search computer; he made up this pornographic film with my name in the title, starring me including an explicit blurb as to what I would do and with whom in this “film”. It was just a joke. It was just hilarious. He brought his friends in to read his literary genius when I was working. When I didn’t laugh I was a stuck up bitch. When I complained I was too sensitive – “he just likes you, that’s all” the owner said.

I smiled politely when my head of department told me he had given me the job because I was blonde. I smiled politely when I was told I only got a job because I was attractive. I laughed off the groping hands and sloppy kisses and lurid stares of older men who should have known better.

I wish I hadn’t.

I wish I had said something.

But back then I didn’t feel I had the words. I didn’t punch anyone in the face or snap back with biting repartee or make an eloquent speech. Then, as I saw Fiona Scott’s reaction to Tony Abbott’s completely unacceptable comment, I was taken back to those moments when I too I just smiled and laughed and made “no comment”; when I should have said something but, instead, felt utterly foolish and silly and uncomfortable and overly sensitive.

As in my situation, it is not her fault. Here she is trying to deal with a sexist boss – in many ways just like that awful manager at the local video store. Describing your candidate as having “sex appeal” or telling your employee she looks like she would “give good head” – these are not compliments, not in these scenarios (I don’t know where the would be … but maybe for some). No. A compliment would be, in Scott’s case, something to do with her ability in politics and, in my case circa 1999, something to do with my excellent shelving of the videos both alphabetically AND by genre. Instead these are belittling statements that reduce women to nothing. I should have said something. Scott should have said something.

And then she did. She finally spoke up. Scott called Abbott’s “sex appeal” comment “a charming complaint” and I realised, in that moment, no, I have actually never, ever been Fiona Scott.

But I cannot blame her.

We had a political leader who stood up and said something and look where that got her. Australian politics prefer the women who laugh and smile and make “no comment”. Sadly it looks like the voters do too.