Excellent rant about privilege in Australia.
It is difficult for some men to address privilege and gender in any depth. Many men understand it as it applies to the women they know, but not as a structural thing that applies to our society generally.
I just read an insightful piece by Bernard Keane at Crikey.com.au about women and the IT industry, and, in particular, women and IT security and surveillance.
How much the “male gaze” of CCTV surveillance extends over into online surveillance is worth teasing out. The two areas are hardly separate, of course; rather, the surveillance state has expanded into new areas of our lives as we shift online, and in fact it has become the surveillance economy as corporations as well as governments compile ever more data on us, on even the most intimate and private aspects of our lives.
My hands are shaking so hard I can’t type properly. I don’t know whether it’s anger, fear or disappointment.
We live right near a long line of parks in a country town. I’ve just returned from walking my dog.
My dog is very familiar with the stretch, with goes all the way to the centre of town, a walk taking perhaps 15 minutes.
This morning, a neighbour walked his dogs past, off the lead (you are supposed to have them on the lead but many people let them off when they know they can control them).
I happen to know these three dogs as I have met their other owner, a nice, very clever woman who is perhaps in her 70s. Our dogs have played together off the leash in the park. The dogs are generally well behaved and friendly, as mine is.
People who own small dogs, many of whom never train them, usually just pick them up if there is any sign of ‘trouble’. Trouble is, in the owner’s eyes, by projection, anything they don’t like. The irresponsible yappy dog owners frequently anthropomorphize their dogs: “Ooh, he’s snarling because that big dog is scaring him!” Therefore, many yappy little dogs receive a very thorough lesson, via behavioural conditioning, that snapping and barking wildly at other dogs is rewarded with being picked up and whisked away from their target. This is a major win for them as they get to assert themselves however they like without being accountable – in the dog world – for their actions. They also score a bonus cuddle.
People who train their dogs properly know that an important part of this training (and indeed, ongoing dog life) is to allow them to socialise with other dogs who have learned how to play nicely. In other words, running around off-lead, barking, sniffing bums, with the occasional little warning growl if things don’t go the way they want, with other dogs is perhaps the best way to raise a dog that is not dangerous.
But those two types don’t mix. The presence of the irresponsible yappy dog owners and their dogs have made owners of other, well-trained dogs, paranoid about having their dogs off the leash, lest the yappy dog bowls in, hurling insults and aggressive challenges at the others who, although well-trained, do not put up with bullshit. Dogs don’t really see themselves in terms of size.
Bordering this park is a long creek, with its usual Australian fringe of long grass, thick, scrubby bush and trees.
Our town is also popular with European backpackers, especially heading into grape harvest season.
So this neighbour walked past my place, his dogs off-leash. I decided to seize the opportunity for some (rare) wholesome play for my dog, and followed him, expecting him to stop at the next open space, where our dogs could play. Instead, this man, weighing at least 150kg and with a big build, turns around, throws his big arms up in the air and bellows at me, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING!!!” He continues on his way, stopping pointedly every twenty metres or so, arms on hips, glaring.
At first, I thought he had been bellowing at the dogs. I couldn’t read his expression, so we kept following, with my dog off her leash, excitedly sniffing her way towards the others. Eventually, I worked it out. I stopped, let my dog play by herself, then headed home.
On the way back, I found myself about 50 metres from a man, standing in the open near a large tree, with his penis hanging out, this lower body apparently in some kind of black sling. At first, I thought it was a flasher, but then I saw his backpack, and realised he was just a tourist who, being used to busy cities, didn’t realise that people still walked about in country parks. I turned around and faced the other way, waiting for him to finish. He kept going. I had to peek a few times until he had finally finished. That close-cropped grass in the park, the carefully maintained sports ground, had not given him enough clues. There was thick bush a mere ten metres from where he stood, pissing, swinging it about, but he chose that space instead.
As I walked home, a little voice in my mind kept saying things about both of those men, like “he didn’t realise”, “it was a public space, people can do what they want, can’t they?”, “he thought he was on his own”, “men need to walk their dogs, go to the toilet just as women do”, “don’t be such a rabid feminist”, “stop over-reacting”.
I walked in my own front door, and I calmed down a little. Why? It was my space, and I felt safe. Thereafter, I just wanted to cry or go to bed. I stayed up and started writing again. I believed that part of the self-talk was correct – I was over-reacting.
Now that I have written this story down, I am sad for a different reason. I had had real symptoms of real fear and both things had happened within sight of my home. Even with a dog who was not to be messed with (a sort-of blue heeler), the social, societal right I theoretically had to walk unhindered in public spaces had been rudely and effectively negated in about five minutes. The saddest thought, the one I just can’t lose yet is, “How could I have so stupidly and blindly blundered about in my own park with my beloved dog, tripping joyously after friendship, and think I could get away with it?”
I had said something to the backpacker. I had said, “This is my space, too you know. You could always go in the bush”. And I had pointed to the path that all the school children (including my daughter) walked down when they got off the bus, 20 metres away. He was genuinely sorry, he hadn’t realised. But how could it be that we live in a world where men piss in public and it’s no big deal?
Next, I waited until the aggro neighbour came past again. Despite my fear and sadness, I walked outside my house and asked him why he bellowed at me. He was even worse, ranting and justifying it all in terms of me “coming up behind me”. In his view I deserved everything he got. I insisted he discuss his behaviour with me. He bellowed and bellowed. I said well then, if my dog isn’t allowed off the lead, his wouldn’t be either. I would call the council next time I saw them. He walked off, bellowing “I don’t care, you silly cow!” So sure of himself, even though I know where he lives, a few doors up.
I had been doing the exact same thing he was doing, but he thought he and his dogs had a right to be there whilst I did not. It wouldn’t occur to him that he would not have bellowed at another man in that way, lest a fight break out, or to say the things he said to me, to a man. And it wouldn’t occur to him that I had made a friendship with his mother. (Now all I can do is worry about her).
When we women tell our male friends that sexism and misogyny is still part of daily life, this is what we mean.
There’s a terrific story by Sandy Plunkett on the subject of women and tech startups in The Age this week. It covers some of the issues I’ve alluded to in the previous post about startups, ‘The Startup Story and How bullshit it is’, only in much greater depth with a lot more expertise and experience.
I note that the manboys in the Startup Story have a 25% success rate – and that’s the ones that actually make it past the VC funding stage. Sandy talks about how rare it is for women to seek VC funding, but I wonder if it’s the other way around – that funders have an inherent bias towards those manboys, assuming they are more capable of handling large amounts of money without the distractions of family and so on.
I rather think it’s the reverse – women have proven themselves to be highly capable jugglers of time and resources if they can get a venture up and going without building in the concept of high growth and large investments. How many of the young men would just take their bat and ball and go home if there was no prospect of getting rich fast?
I’ve also got a serious question: could it be that women’s business ideas get filtered out much earlier in the startup development phase?
How would you react if a woman you met at a barbeque told you she was creating a babysitter app that helps parents pass on all the important emergency and practical information automatically? How much would you encourage her to work up her idea and pitch it to VCs? Would you judge her for letting her house become tip-like while she developed her idea? Would you change the subject to find out what her previous career was? How would the tech startup support world ever find out about her? How would she access the necessary expertise to get it designed and coded up?
Insert further research and reading here.
We need to talk about big money.
It is Thursday afternoon, in a parliamentary democracy. As I twatch the two major parties
thrust and parry to and fro in this afternoon’s question time, I think about how lucky we are to be able to discuss things in the open. Most peoples of the world are not allowed to speak out publicly about what they want from the governments, or be represented, or question their elites. In Australia, we can and do.
This thought leads to the next one, the thought about all the questions that aren’t being asked, and whether that’s because they don’t matter, or because they’re too hard, or because we don’t know what we don’t know.
It is liberating and fascinating when you realise just how much of your life is made up of areas that you don’t know about or don’t understand. It’s like when you find out that Amanda Vanstone can have non-partisan conversations even though she supported some dreadful immigration policies, or when you find out that the guy on ‘Giggle and Hoot’, whose name really is Jimmy, is exactly the same in real life as he is on a children’s television show mostly famous for its lobotomal (neologism) scripts.
I had this boyfriend once who was a pretty good small business man. He was also loaded. He was a generous person but deeply sexist (so not so generous after all), so we parted ways, but not before he passed on his passion for spread sheets. In between almost-daily episodes of unbelievable sex, book-ended by cooking delicious, continental foods, he showed me his numbers. Rivers of dollars eddied into billabongs of income-producing thingummies, swirling around his accounts, into one and out of another, earning more money here, discarding waste there.
Once, we were due to travel overseas. The racehorse in which he held a share was due to run at a small meeting the day before. With a packet of money in the breast pocket of his suit (think it was $1000) he met me for lunch, intending to place specific bets straight afterwards. The race turned out exactly how he wished it to, and he looked forward to spending the $7000-odd dollars on our trip.
Caught up in the romance of it all, he forgot to place the bets. So, no $7000. He was annoyed with himself for a couple of hours, vaguely disappointed for another day, and then got over it.
The point is, this guy, like so many other fat, entitled, manipulative, macho souls, was used to viewing money in the millions (household money) and billions (what he was aiming for in his business). And there are tens of thousands of other educated, middle class people who also see large numbers every day, including politicians and bureaucrats.
But single mothers, the caring people who help them, and Centrelink staff do not. To a single mother who’s been living on Parenting Payments and a casual customer service job, $100,000 is a lot of money. Most working people think the $20 million lotto jackpot is a lot of money.
How dare she, who works in the supermarket and drives a second-hand Camry, presume to even look at a politician’s budget? How can she possibly bridge the gap between her detailed expertise in running a family close to the bread line, and a government department that could perhaps waste the odd $20 million on an IT contract that didn’t work out?
And why would she anyway? This is a patriarchy characterised by masculine-style market competition for resources, with structures and customs that favour private information for people who are privileged, and which discourages public discourse about technical subjects. Experts are ridiculed, banks are bashed and economists are called self-interested liars. How can the average person ever really understand how three consecutive investment juniors at XYZ fund lost $9,000 of their super during the GFC?
The world I want to live in is one where we approach the financial literacy that Paul Keating thought was possible when he introduced compulsory superannuation, in the era when the TV news bulletins began to run stock market reports and Clem Dimsey’s race reports disappeared from the Channel 10 bulletin.
I want to live in a world where I can discuss funding allocations for Indigenous arts projects over the back fence with my neighbour, productivity at the local supermarket and defence spending at playgroup.
I want Australian women to be capable of questioning and speaking up about a $70 million black hole, seeing this mistake in NLP costings for what it is – a full 10% of the amount of money the ALP has taken away from single mums ($700 million) normally used to pay their living costs, coincidentally, a mere 50% of the amount of money the government could collect from deadbeat dads via Child Support Agency ($1.4 billion outstanding), but which the mums are third or fourth in line for after the ATO and other creditors.
I want Australian women to be capable of unpacking what I said above without having their eyes glaze over.
I am going to nag you all about it until it gets done.