WAGs and Toxic Male Norms

 

Cassie Lane, former girlfriend of (I don’t really know who he is but apparently he is an important football star, who he is doesn’t really matter so just insert “Important Male Star” in here) has released a memoir detailing the reality of being the girlfriend of a football star in Australia. Nothing really that surprising in the article about the book, the usual “life as an object” in the spotlight revelations.

However, this doesn’t mean it isn’t an important story which needs to be told, and told, and told. For it doesn’t just relate to WAGs of sporting heroes. Essentially, pick any male ego-centric industry, add wife or girl friend and the tales will be similar. Women generally don’t know what they are getting into because they believe the fairytale (yes, that’s right – fairytales are not good for you!!). Furthermore, they don’t understand that men who are in some industries will generally not be able to resist the lure of the ego dominated spotlight and as a result, will not be able to resist feeding that ego with the usual stereotypical fare of alcohol, drugs and sex.

However, the problems raised by this behavior do not only relate to the women. The men in this scenario are also victims. Victims of a culture which encourages them to act in this way and refuses to make them take responsibility for their behaviour on the old “boys will be boys” refrain. Toxic masculinity is the term used to describe these social norms and both men and women are suffering at the hands of it.

Cassie Lane is telling a familiar story with a warning, one which all young girls dazzled by the spotlight should heed. However this story also contains a warning for men, men who are losing their lives because they too could not resist the pull of toxic male traditions which normalize self destructive behaviors.

http://www.theage.com.au/lifestyle/celebrity/cassie-lane-i-hated-my-glamorous-life-as-a-wag-20170627-gwzoq2.html

 

 

 

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Turnbull’s laugh

During an interview with Fran Kelly this morning on Radio National in regards to the federal budget, Malcom Turnbull did something which surprised me greatly. When Kelly pushed him on a particular issue, Turnbull uttered a very quick and subtle laugh (so subtle it could have been mistaken for a cough), promptly followed up by his measured and diplomatic response to her question.

The laugh that Turnbull emitted during his conversation with Kelly can be categorised as a form of non verbal communication. These are also known as micro aggressions. Such communications can be intentional, however for the most part they are unconscious behaviours which accompany our social interactions. Some of these behaviours are relatively benign, forming part of our social personalities. However often, such behaviours play an important role in the maintenance of social hierarchies.

There is a very subtle social art to expressing power in conversation. Some of these expressions of power can be so subtle that they can be likened to an interpersonal infusion which sets a tone for the exchange. The messages conveyed however are far from subtle, confirming each participant’s respective place in the social hierarchy. In doing so, these messages covertly maintain the systems of social inequality which have been formerly rejected.

The uttering of a laugh in response to a statement to which one does not agree, is an effective way of establishing power in the exchange. The participant then uses this non verbal communication to amplify their verbal response, the message then accompanying the statement being one of authority, condescension and derision. Anyone who has experienced this type of response will understand the force of such messages.

The reason Turnbull’s laugh surprised me is that as Australia’s Prime Minister, I would have expected that he would not need to resort to these forms of non verbal communications to win an argument. However this reflects one of the interesting features of such communications. Very often, such non verbal communications are unconscious behaviours on the part of the participants to the social exchange. Not only do the participants not intend these behaviours, quite often they are not aware of them even after they have happened.

In today’s society, where egalitarian norms are formally endorsed in all sectors of life, such forms of communication enable covert expressions of power to maintain social hierarchies in a climate where the express stating of the message would not be permitted or tolerated (expressly our Prime Minister is required to show absolute support for gender equality).

The fact that this occurs greatly undermines the work being done in promotion of express egalitarian goals. In fact many researchers believe that these communications are one reason that social equality is not being achieved for marginalised groups such as race and gender groups.

One of difficulties with this issue is that one often needs to understand the phenomenon to see it. Further, it is often only those who experience the behaviour as done to them who will notice it. This difficulty only increases the divide between the various social groups who are subject to such communications. Recent research on implicit biases and microaggressions has contributed greatly to our understanding of why and how such communications can occur without our apparent awareness. However more needs to be done in the public sphere to identify such communications when they occur. With greater awareness and understanding, we can all consider our own participation in the web of social power hierarchies.

 

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On the experience of suffering….

There is not much which is good about waking up on Good Friday without your children. However, one unexpected benefit of this pain has been without a doubt my increased empathy for people who go through extreme suffering in their lives.

Not only am I reminded daily of my privilege as a white, educated woman living in a peaceful country with benefits, but in my experience of a common human suffering, my mind and heart often turns to those who have experienced sufferings far worse than I can ever imagine.

When at times I feel my losses deeply and painfully, I cannot help but think of the families who have been torn apart by war, starvation or the brutalities of an unjust world which has, by an unfortunate roll of the dice of life fallen upon them to endure.

The pain this invokes is more brutal than I ever imagined, not simply because of my own daily pain, but rather because I now feel more connected to the pain of others. There is a part of me that can no longer hide behind my fortunate existence. Although I had awareness before and a strong sense of social justice, this concern was I have to admit, largely on the intellectual side.

It is the touching of this experience that we fail so often to truly teach or communicate. This is why stories are the most powerful method of linking us with this part of human experience,  forging an empathy, care and concern for our fellow humans. For it is often not until we experience ourselves the brutality of the fall of the dice, that our gaze then turns to others.

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You caught me when I fell…

On this day, I recognise the absolute and unwavering love and support I have received from all the women in my life who have pulled me through.

This is a day for remembering all those women in the world who need our protection, advocacy and support. But also, for remembering that behind it all, there is a mother, sister, and friend who will hold you when you fall. It is to these women that I think of today. You caught me when I fell. Thank you.

You caught me when I fell,

with your words of support,

and whispers of shared tales which

connect, to the pain that I felt.

You caught me when I fell,

with your gentle pauses,

your knowing gaze and steady presence.

You gave me space to be,

as time came to pass.

You caught me as I fell,

you wrapped around me,

like a nest to contain my sorrow.

You taught me that life has more to give,

when we are stripped to the bone.

You caught me when I fell.

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Invasions

Today, 26 January, is known by those who are historically descended from the first people of Australia as Invasion Day. The day that the land that those first peoples had always inhabited, was brutally invaded by white settlers with little thought or concern about the people who were here first. This fact exists as a historical wound to many Australians which continues to bleed each time insensitivity and disregard is shown to the existence of that fact.

Wounds occur and what is done is done. Nothing can change that. But what can occur and mitigate the damage is the process of repair, recognition, grievance. All the things which allow past hurts to slowly heal. There is no forgetting. There will possibly be never any forgiveness. But such wounds need to be recognised and respected for the damage they have done.

A day is just a day. The sun rises and sets, people are born and people die.These facts do not change. It is in how we choose to live that we can give what occurs a different meaning.

I choose to give this day a different meaning. As an individual, I choose to make this day different. To be one less participant in continuing the hurt.

 

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Billboards and Bullies

australia-day-billboard

The above billboard in Melbourne advertising details of an RACV sponsored Australia Day event became controversial over the last few days as a result of extensive social media criticism regarding the featuring of two muslim women in the advertisement. Yesterday it was removed in response to threats made to the company behind it.

A key theme in the criticisms was the issue of “inclusion”, with many contesting the selection and focus on a minority group of Australian citizens, rather than the use of imagery which included representatives of all Australian people. Another concern was the idea that the Billboard represented a move away from the traditional Australian cultural narratives, such as the beach, BBQs and in one tweet, “thongs” (the type you wear on your feet).

Common to the concerns expressed was a strong reluctance to be directed to a new form of cultural identity, especially one which not simply welcomed other cultures, but rather placed such cultures as symbols of Australia and Australian life. Australians it seems, like to be multicultural only if multiculturalism comes as sideshow to the main attraction. New cultures are welcome as long as they conform, respect and keep quiet. Be who you are, but don’t show your face.

This attitude does not of course belong to all Australians. As the continuing outrage in social media shows there are plenty who think otherwise. At least enough to raise $30,000 in a crowd funding campaign now being run to erect a new Australia Day advertisment featuring girls in hijabs.

Despite displaying what at times might seem like shocking beliefs, the airing of the various opinions surrounding the controversial Billboard is not however the key problem in this situation. Far from it. It is a key principle of our democratic society that opinions be able to be aired and confronted, in the hope that genuine and reflective moral progress in social values might be allowed to occur. In fact, the response of the population in such situations enables the identification of areas of concern which need to be addressed to promote social cohesion and respect. That some people have concerns is something to be addressed respectfully and with consideration.

The real issues here concern the actions of those who bullied the company involved into removing the Billboard and the response of the company in removing the Billboard. To empower those that threaten harm to others in order to maintain their own view of the world is akin to allowing the school bully to control the classroom. It encourages a climate of fear against those who seek to challenge the status quo. This in turn reduces our chances of achieving a peaceful and respectful community.

Threats are bullying behaviours. They should be reported to the police and dealt with as unacceptable behaviours, rather than being accomodated by the community.  To do otherwise ensures that it is the bully’s voice, which will be heard the loudest.

 

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What if this were it?

Powerful words in the right context.

I am lucky enough to have just begun a research career and am experiencing the wonderful stage of ‘flow’, what psychologists term a feeling of “energised focus, full enjoyment and focus on a particular activity”. It is not that I have never had this feeling before, but this is probably the first time I have experienced it in a work context.

This is probably why Piers J. Sellers explanation of his decision to keep researching after receiving a stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis reasonated so strongly with me. (You can read his story Here)

To love what you do is an incredible privilege and nothing reveals that the passion more, than making the decision to continue your life endeavour when you know that your days are numbered.

Would I do the same? It is a question I have posed to myself since reading Sellers’ article. Probably, is the conclusion I have come up with. That realisation has offered me an unmeasurable amount of comfort that I have found my path. “What if this was it?” is now a question I can face, knowing I am no longer searching. To have that is the greatest privilege of all.

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