I’ve been absent for a while again as I’ve been working through quite a few emotional matters. Apart from my earlier fall and the death of my dog, Ziggy, I also found out recently that a good friend from my early days in Australia had died a while back from cancer. I found out quite by chance and I was really upset as I had such good memories of him, my time in the student political movement and the freedom I felt to be me when I moved to Australia.
I have also been dealing with how I felt after reading a report about Adverse Child Experiences (ACE) and how these affect us physically and emotionally in our adult life. I’ve mentioned this previously and, as I said then, I felt like I’d been punched in the guts the first time I read about this as it explained a whole heap about my weight issues and also other health challenges I’ve faced such as repetitive strain injury, depression and fibromyalgia.
While I’ve written about this in earlier posts, I talked more about circumstances and emotional effects, than the physical effects. To be honest, I don’t think I could have handled this before, it’s something I’ve shoved under the carpet or down in the cellar. But I think it’s important to write about how early childhood experiences have affected me, in the hope it may be of help to others for whom my experiences resonate, particularly because there is such an upsurge in autoimmune diseases as well as fibromyalgia (which still doesn’t seem to have a particular explanation for its existence, despite various stabs at diagnoses).
As I mentioned above, I felt like I was flying when I arrived in Australia. I’d felt pretty much the same sense of freedom when I was at university, no-one was controlling me and I was running my own life pretty competently, and in both instances – particularly when I’d split up with the guy I’d travelled to Australia with – I was extremely slim. I remember when I got the letter from my parents saying they were coming out for a holiday that my first response was: “Oh, god, I can never get away from them.” When I met my mum and dad at Perth Airport, I sat there sneezing like the clappers, with my eyes and nose running like a sieve. I remember a little boy on a seat near more watching in amazement as I went through tissue after tissue. It was all emotional, of course, but I had no idea what was going on at the time.
In early 1976 I broke up with Jack, the guy with whom I’d travelled to Australia, and I was really on my own. I loved it. My weight dropped rapidly and, when I went back to the office where I used to work, no-one recognised me as I’d got so much slimmer. I do have to say that I in a sexually inappropriate way over the next couple of years – I went through men like they were going out of fashion – the best bit being that I could say good-bye and toddle off to my lovely unit all on my own. Again, this is one of the behaviours which can arise from adverse childhood experiences. All I can say is I’m damned lucky that I didn’t contract a sexually transmitted disease, someone in the world of spirit must have been looking out for me!
And then on April 16th, 1977, I went out to meet a friend for a drink and came home with my future husband. My friend had introduced us, sparks flew, we held hands as we went for a meal with mutual friends, and Bryan came home with me, moved in that night and 38 years later we are still together. We did take a while to do the married bit – we finally tied the knot in the UK in 2004 after living there for a couple of years and getting married a few days before we returned to Australia.
Bryan and I were both very independent people, and we certainly didn’t live in each other’s pockets. We both followed progressive politics as he was a union activist, shop steward and safety officer. I continued a rather lunatic student activist lifestyle, even though I say it myself, until my parents emigrated to Australia in early 1978. And my weight piled on again.
Over the years I’ve dealt with the issues I had mainly with my father. After an incident when I was about 5’ish and got a hiding from my father over a very minor issue, now I look back, he would regularly accuse me of being a liar right through childhood or tell me “I’ll put you over my knee and give you a tanning” if he thought I was misbehaving in any way. He was a real control freak. As I wrote previously, until I was around 14 and, when he pulled that trick one last time, I looked him in the eye and told him if he touched me in any way I’d walk out and they’d never see me again. It worked. I’ve repeated it because I think it’s such an important lesson I’ve learned over the years – you have to stand up to a bully or they’ll keep on hammering you if they think they’ve managed to intimidate you.
However, I really hadn’t twigged that the control issues from my childhood and teenage years actually affected my health. I had a couple of events in the early 1980s – I had acute appendicitis and bled badly during the operation, spent a few days on morphine, getting blood transfusions and now have a 13 inch scar on my lower belly. A bit later I was working for a conservation organisation where we used to print an independent environmental magazine. You had to fix a metal plate onto hooks and then wind the plate onto the cylinder. Unfortunately, one day the person the other side switched on the machine as I was putting a plate onto the cylinder, my fingers were caught on the metal hooks and then fed into the machine. I ended up with two broken and badly lacerated fingers, lost the feeling at the ends of my fingers after I’d been stitched up but, luckily, finally got feeling back a few months later.
What really brought me to a grinding halt, however, was getting repetitive strain injury in my right shoulder and left arm in the mid-1980s. I ended up getting invalided out of the workforce in excruciating pain, and told I’d never work on a keyboard again. I’m going to go into the details in my next post, but it occurred to me – on reading about the ACE study – that I’d ended up tied up in knots physically as a result of being a Type A personality, tense, always doing more than I needed to, in order to be the best and get approval – the approval I never got from my father.
More on that in my next post when I’ll look at all the alternative healing methods I adopted in order to manage my health challenges.
much of it wasted on wrong turns,
back roads riddled by ruts.
I had adventures
I never would have known
if I proceeded as the crow flies.
Super highways are so sure
of where they are going:
they arrive too soon. A straight line isn’t always
the shortest distance
between two people.
Sometimes I act as though
I’m heading somewhere else
I narrow the gap between you and me.
I’m not sure I’ll ever
know the right way, but I don’t mind
getting lost now and then.
Maps don’t know everything.
As I said in a previous post, I finally managed to track down the Women’s Liberation group In Western Australia when I started working as the organiser for the Australian Union of Students in 1974 in that State. I have to admit that I jumped in the deep end and was pretty fanatical. I stopped wearing make-up and gave my poor old Mum a hard time with my liberationist views when my parents came for a holiday in 1975.
We were not, however, the hairy-legged, bra-burning, men-hating, humourless, ball-breaking Amazons depicted in the media. Yes, we were a varied lot, just as any movement was. But we wanted to improve women’s lot in society and address the very fundamental question of what it means to honour women’s qualities as terrific in themselves, not to compete to become sort of honorary man. Yes, women ARE different to men, but we need to celebrate those differences and honour them, not put down the qualities of either sex. Women’s strengths are often expressed through consensus, emotions, intuition, and co-operation. But feminine attributes aren’t as respected or accepted, not then and not now.
Why not? Bringing up children is a demanding, responsible position yet, because it’s not in the paid workforce, it’s not considered work. Yes, it’s great to see women in the top jobs like Hilary Clinton or Australia’s Julia Gillard, but they still operate on the old, male rules of combat and within the same paradigm. How different were Margaret Thatcher, Indira Ghandi, Condoleeza Rice, Golda Meir? They play the hardball politics of a patriarchal society with its winner-take-all, back-stabbing, game-playing philosophy. They wage war not peace, just as male leaders do. Consider what would be the reaction if a woman in a leadership position started approaching political work and conflict through peaceful methods instead of beating the war drums? We all know they’d be criticized, denigrated and viciously attacked. You’ve only got to see the demeaning, sexist, derogatory treatment of Australia’s first women Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, to see that women have a long way to go.
Back in the early ’70s we pored over the magazines Spare Rib (UK) and Ms (US), absorbing the contents like sponges. We inhaled the contents of books by Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Kate Millet, Susie Orbach, Germaine Greer, Shulamith Firestone, Betty Friedan and many others. We started consciousness-raising groups to learn to support each other instead of compete, and to understand how we were oppressed as women. These groups were treated with great derision by the generally hostile media and by many men, but they were great because we operated on a non-hierarchical basis as much as possible. We wanted to democratize discussion. We empowered and supported each other instead of competing. The movement started to set up women’s refuges; women’s health centres; rape crisis centres; support for women to enter parliament; access to free, safe abortion; equal pay; good, affordable childcare; provision of family planning so that abortions were minimised. We lobbied the media to stop trivializing women in sexist advertising. And much, much more, often unseen, unremarked and unreported.
Patricia Giles, who was a health union organiser, activist in women’s affairs, and helped found the Women’s Electoral Lobby, attended the first United Nations World Conference on Women in Mexico in 1975. The three main aims were:
• Full gender equality and the elimination of gender discrimination;
• The integration and full participation of women in development;
• An increased contribution by women towards strengthening world peace.
And at a Federal political level, the election of the Whitlam Labor government saw the appointment of a Women’s Advisor, Elizabeth Reid, to give impetus towards women’s equality in Australia. In 1975 a Women in Politics conference was organised in Canberra and I was lucky enough to attend.One of the prime movers for this conference in the WA region was, as well as Pat Giles, Irene Greenwood, a really remarkable worker for women’s rights. When I knew her she was in her senior years but she had an enthusiasm for women’s rights and an infectious passion which was truly brilliant.
It was inspirational to meet so many women activists in Australia at the conference in Canberra. We came into contact with truly brilliant women activists from overseas who had some wonderful ideas which we absorbed like women who’d just crawled through a desert to the edge of a pool in an oasis.
The attitude towards women in those days was pretty awful. The Canberra Times rubbished the conference. The idea of women’s liberation was treated with contempt. The Abortion Law Reform Association in Western Australia, led by Denise White, fought an uphill battle for a woman’s right to choose whether she had a child or not, and for abortion reform.
I know I was incensed when I’d been at one demonstration for civil liberties and found that, in the front bar of a city hotel, I wasn’t allowed to buy myself or others a drink, particularly as drinks in that front bar were much cheaper than the lounge areas and women generally earned less money than their male counterparts. Only men could buy drinks in the front bar. We organised sit-ins, got publicity and eventually the laws were changed to remove discrimination.
I could go on and on about what women faced in those days and the challenges of working for change. But it was our collective, not individual, stand that made the difference. I’ve seen women say: “Change your thoughts, and you change your reality. You don’t need feminism or women’s liberation.” All I can say to that is: “Bollocks, sister”. Because women on their own, divided from other sisters and played off against one another, got nowhere. It’s unity that’s counted in advancing women’s rights.
I said at the beginning, and it remains true, that nothing was ever handed to us women on a plate. And it’s never remained with us as a right, we’ve had to hang on grimly with our fingertips.
So now we still see the same old, same old: violence against women in India, Pakistan, Africa, Western nations; rape as a weapon of war; attacks on women’s right to abortion and free, safe contraception; calls for abortion providers to be murdered; undermining of equal pay; women activists getting abusive, trolling, threatening comments and tweets; women still being called “chicks”, “girls”, “ho’s”, when we are WOMEN; women being conned that it’s okay to join the guys in watching women being exploited as strippers or pole dancers or lap dancers; young girls still decked out in pink and expected to play with dolls or fake kitchen equipment; women terrorized into the “thin” straitjacket if they look womanly in any way; very young girls exploited in beauty pageants; perky cheerleaders in skimpy gear; women being conned that sexual freedom means it’s okay to have free sex when the guys still regard you as the town bike; talented women singers believing they have to show up in skimpy, tarty, demeaning gear; pornography stealthily being legitimized when it’s main function is the exploitation and denigration of women.
The Republican leader, John Boehner gets teary when he becomes House leader (you’ll pardon my cynicism if I say it’s my belief it’s tears of gratitude because he’s got his greedy paws on the spoils of office) and that’s considered okay and normal. Hillary Clinton gets teary during the Presidential campaign and she’s a wet/manipulative/cynical/typical female, and so on. Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard chokes up over the human losses in the Queensland floods of 2010-11 and analysis focuses on whether she’s real/cynical/manipulative (common for all women in office, obviously). And because she hasn’t had children, Ms Gillard gets assailed for being unfeminine, barren, unable to understand the needs of “real families”. And please, don’t get me started on the public , venal chatter about the dress sense of women leaders and politicians. Appalling stuff.
Nowadays there’s discussion about feminism – whether it’s okay to be a feminist, or is this a phrase with a use-by date. But here’s something which occurs to me whenever I see that phrase: “feminism”. I hate women’s liberation being nice-ified into “feminism”. How did the bright, sparkling rocket take-off of Women’s Liberation in the ‘sixties somehow morph back to earth as a damp squib? Heck – where’s the passion in this sanitized version of Women’s Liberation? It’s unchallenging, safe, respectable, accepted by the system because it’s non-threatening. And looking back, I somehow see the vitality of the ‘sixties and ‘seventies and our history is gradually being airbrushed out of existence and gentrified.
So that’s why I remain a Women’s Libber. I refuse to get co-opted into that nice, safe word “feminism” because I don’t want to be seen as nice or safe. I am in my crone years and enjoying – finally – being a misfit, a rebel, a revolutionista, a purple-wearing arty-farty drama queen, and a sacred warrior for fearlessness, feistiness and mad, mighty mojo. I remain passionate about true women’s liberation – freedom for every woman to be who she is without being stuffed into some prototypical image of what a woman should be.
Just to explain a bit further, I recently saw an article about how four ordinary-looking women could look great if they had more money to beautify themselves. For my part, the four women looked pretty terrific, and the end product was awful and depressing. All the women looked like clones – long blonde hair with extensions; similar make-up; squeezed into similar dresses. God help us, a prime example of The Stepford Wives, and what was frightening was that the producers thought they were doing the women a favour instead of working with their real, inner beauty and individual looks.
I sincerely hope young women also choose to be passionate, step outside the Good Girl cage and punch the air as they enjoy the freedom to be whoever they are, whatever they choose to do, listen to their heart and souls, and stay true to themselves in all their glory. Me? I remain an unreconstructed Women’s Libber!
Jack and I arrived in Australia in 1972 a month or so before the Whitlam government was elected. This was the government of the Australian Labor Party and its ascent to power came after the Liberal-Country Party coalition had been in office since 1949. We knew stuff-all about Australian politics but, nevertheless, when we listened to the L-CP advertisements on radio with their “reds under the beds” theme, it was like leaping back a few decades. We’d look at each other and mutter “Blimey, they’re a paranoid bunch” when these crazy-sounds ads for the L-CP came on without understanding that the L-CP had relied on the “reds under the bed” them to stay in office in the decades since 1949.
When the Whitlam government came into office, we really had no idea of the upheaval such a government would unleash. It undertook quite revolutionary action which left the conservative Establishment beside itself with rage and determined to restore what the L-CP believed was its right to rule which had, in the 1972 election, been usurped by a bunch of upstarts.
If you’re wondering why I’m commenting on this, it’s because, once we decided to stay in Australia, I got caught up in the excitement of the early Whitlam years when great social change took place, particularly to the benefit of women and Aboriginal people.
Those who may have read that the Whitlam years were ones of complete chaos may be a bit surprised to read anything good about the return of the ALP to office in Australia. But history, as they say, is written by the victors and the conservative forces in Australia have done their best to portray the years of Whitlam rule as chaotic, unhinged and run by a bunch of ignorant nutters. In the process, they’ve carefully played down the way in the conservative Establishment in Australia set out to undermine and, ultimately, knock off what seemed at the time a quite revolutionary Labor government. In this the forces of reaction were helped by the fact that the Senate was controlled by the L-CP which did its best to obstruct legislative measures by the Labor-controlled Federal Parliament and eventually refused to pass supply bills which provided for government expenditure..
To give you some idea of the upheaval in the very staid, stiff upper-lip approach of former conservative governments, here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia which shows a little of the gusto with which the new government started out in office:
“On 5 December, once Labor’s win was secure, Whitlam had the Governor-General, Sir Paul Hasluck, swear him in as Prime Minister and Labor’s deputy leader, Lance Bernard, as deputy prime minister. The two men held 27 portfolios during the two weeks before a full cabinet could be determined.
During the two weeks the so-called “duumvirate” held office, Whitlam sought to fulfill those campaign promises that did not require legislation. Whitlam ordered negotiations to establish full relations with the People’s Republic of China, and broke those with Taiwan. Legislation allowed the Minister for Defence to grant exemptions from conscription. Barnard held this office, and exempted everyone. Seven men were at that time incarcerated for refusing conscription; Whitlam arranged for their freedom. The Whitlam government in its first days re-opened the equal pay case pending before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, and appointed a woman, Elizabeth Evatt, to the commission. Whitlam and Barnard eliminated sales tax on contraceptive pills, announced major grants for the arts, and appointed an interim schools commission. The duumvirate barred racially discriminatory sport teams from Australia, and instructed the Australian delegation at the United Nations to vote in favour of sanctions on apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). It also ordered home all remaining Australian troops in Vietnam, though most (including all conscripts) had been withdrawn by McMahon.”
The Whitlam government appointed a women’s advisor, established universal health care, eliminated military conscription and criminal excusion, set up fee-free university education, implemented legal aid programmes, gave legal recognition to de facto relationships, and recognised Aboriginal land rights. Other measures were introduced but just these few gives you some idea of the sweeping changes implemented by Whitlam’s government. Those were heady days!
I have to be honest and say that in our early days in Australa a lot of this went over my head as we simply enjoyed our hedonistic holiday in Australia, with work and good pay, a fantastic climate, partying and making new friends. In 1973 we intended to book a cruise home to the UK and resume our normal lives. But in that year, as we were sorting out what cruise line to use to return home, my mother wrote and told us to stay in Australia for the time being. She said that there were strikes, a 3-day working week, power cuts and very few job vacancies. She told me years later that it was one of the hardest letters she ever wrote but, ironically, it was the decision to extend our stay which saw us loosen our ties with the UK and settle down in our new country.
In the days of the “Ten pound Poms”, people could pay £10 for travel to Australia, but they had to stay for two years. In those two years, your ties with friends back in the UK tended to die away because there was no internet, no e-mail and no Skype. You’d start making friends in the new country and get more settled. Which is exactly what happened to me and to Jack.
We got to know people, made friends and developed a social life. I enjoyed my work but, as time wore on, I became restless, particularly as we were staying longer than expected. I’ve always been the same. As soon as I’ve mastered a job, I get bored and want another challenge. I tried to move to being a storekeeper at the engineering company I worked for, but was passed over for someone who, truth be told, had more qualifications than I ever would have.
And finally I threw in the towel after a dust-up with one of the salesmen. He had written a draft letter which I automatically translated into better, grammatical language. He was beside himself at the changes and ordered me to type his original letter. I refused and told him it was load of old cobblers. Eventually, the acting boss at the time backed the salesman, although someone else did type the letter, but I knew my time there was limited. And I remember the acting boss saying to me: “You’ll leave now, won’t you?” And I nodded. He said: “I’m sorry, I had no choice, but in any case you’re too intelligent to stay here for long.”
I ended up applying for two positions, a secretarial job with a petroleum exploration company and one as an organiser for Western Australia with the Australian Union of Students. The secretarial job was the safe, predictable and conventional job. It also had higher pay. The AUS job was unconventional and meant a pay cut. Jack didn’t go too much on the pay cut but, for the first time, I struck out on my own and stood firm. My intuition was working overtime (although I didn’t know anything about intuition in those days), so I took a punt and went for the AUS job. It was a big unknown, working as the union organiser in Western Australia. I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do. All I knew was that it looked incredibly interesting and it seemed to call to me. I did actually get the secretarial job and turned it down. They begged me to take the position but I refused. It was a big risk as I hadn’t actually got the AUS job. But somehow I knew that I couldn’t take conventional work any more. The excitement and exhilaration of the Whitlam changes had infected me too and I was eager to head in new directions.
I got the job and it was a turning point for me. While I may have had illusions that I was the best candidate, I found out later that I’d been picked because the only other person in the running was a member of the Communist Party. So I was the lesser of two evils, if I can put it like that. As I said, I actually had no idea whatsoever what a union organiser was supposed to do. I faked it big-time at the interview. The final question asked by the interviewing committee was to summarise why I was the best candidate. I knew what the question was going to be because I’d eavesdropped on the previous candidate. I told them that now they’d interviewed me, they knew I was the best of the lot. It caused a laugh but actually I gave that response because I had no idea what else to say and it worked quite successfully as a diversion from my absolute ignorance about the work involved.
And so I quit my job at the engineering office and jumped feet first into my new work as the organiser in Western Australia for the Australian Union of Students. I felt like I’d come alive and I really came out of the closet once I started this work! I had somehow always felt drawn to the path of service, but not in a family setting. For me, work outside the home had always been the priority and the work with AUS was right up my alley although I had never realised it before. I loved the political atmosphere and, at the time, I felt that politics was the way to serve.