If you’re mentally ill, you can’t make decisions of your own free will.

(Content Note: abuse, assault, suicide

This week, Mia Freedman clarified her position on sex workers:

“Let me lay out my position very clearly.

If you are an adult woman who is not suffering from a mental illness, addiction or sexual, physical or emotional abuse, who has not been trafficked or exploited or co-erced into sexual slavery and who is CHOOSING of her own free will to sell sex?

I respect that. I’m cool with that.”

– from MIA: No, I won’t apologies for my sex worker comments, @ mamamia.com.au

Hear that? Mia Freedman seems to believe that if you are living with a mental illness, an addiction, or have been abused, you are incapable of making your own choices.

As anyone who has, or who knows someone with a mental illness would know, mental ill-health does not automatically remove from a person the ability to consider options and consequences and then make a decision based on those considerations. Similarly, neither does addiction or a history of physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

Certainly, there are some cases where a person who has a mental illness might become temporarily unable to advocate for themselves, such as if a person is in the midst of an extreme psychotic episode or suffering from active suicidal ideation, but generally speaking, a diagnosis of depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, PTSD or any other DSM-listed mental illness or disorder does NOT carry with it a caveat that the person can no longer make their own decisions.

Similarly people with a history of abuse. There are PLENTY of people who have been physically, sexually or emotionally abused in their lifetimes who remain capable of making their own choices. Additionally, there are plenty of people out there right now being bullied or sexually harassed in their workplace who remain capable of making their own choices, and who – for reasons they may or may not choose to disclose – remain employed in their jobs despite the fact their boss shouts abuse at them or a coworker touches them inappropriately. Sex work is not unique in this regard. Yes, some sex workers have been sexually assaulted by their clients, or bullied by their coworkers or their managers. But so too have some checkout operators, some secretaries, some nurses, some teachers, some accountants, some engineers. Are these people suddenly incapable of choosing their profession because they have been assaulted?

And as for people with addictions, what would you have them do, Mia? Break into your home and steal things you worked hard to earn the money to buy in order to sell for cash to support their habit, or engage in legitimate work to earn money to support their habit?

A friend of mine pointed out in a discussion on this subject that sex work provides addicts with an honest way to support their habit. She also points out that the flexibility of sex work is important for the mentally ill as well. (This friend guards her privacy so I haven’t directly quoted her in order to respect her right to her privacy – if she wishes to be directly quoted I am happy to do so.)

This is an important point. If Mia understood anything about the nature of mental illness, she would understand that keeping a regular schedule can be harder some days than others. To borrow from the Spoon Theory, some days it can take more spoons for a person with depression (for instance) to make it out of bed and to work for a 9am start than it can on other days. Some days are easy, and some are hard. Some days you wake up and you feel good, and going to work doesn’t feel like an insurmountable challenge. Some days you’ve been awake all night, stricken with anxiety, or thinking about what would actually happen if you killed yourself, or trying to ignore the voices, and then have to get up, put clothes on, and jockey a cash register or a telephone or a computer for 8 hours.

A critical element of sex work is its flexibility. Sex work allows a person to set their own schedule, to work as much or as little as they need to or want to. It allows a person to work at whichever time of the day is convenient for them. It allows a person to set their earnings based on their own requirements.

It allows a person suffering with a mental illness to continue to pay for their housing, their food and clothing, their appointments with a mental health professional, and their medication, WITHOUT having to put themselves at risk of further mental ill-health by forcing themselves to go to a 9-5 job on days when they are simply not well enough for it.

But according to Mia Freedman, mentally ill people are not able to make their own decisions. Which is HARDLY a feminist statement.

Normally I wouldn’t spend this much effort worrying about Mia Freedman’s opinion. But Freedman is a popular writer and her website receives thousands of visitors – her opinion has the power to misinform people, and to become public opinion. Public opinion sets public policy, and mentally ill people are already demonised enough without being considered incapable of making their own choices.

Mia Freedman may call herself a feminist, but her comments this week about mentally ill women, abused women, women with addictions and sex workers do not reflect any feminism I recognise.

On Sexual Violence, Institutionalised Misogyny and Rape Culture

The following is a longer form version of my mic check to Bourke St Mall from Saturday. It was distributed amongst Occupiers of Melbourne and members of the general public. It belongs to me, and was written by me, and is reproduced here with my permission.

______________

People of Melbourne,

On Tuesday December 6th, a terrible act of sexual violence occurred in our great city. In full public view and in broad daylight, a young woman was surrounded by a group of adults much older than her, held in place, and had her clothing brutally cut from her body using a knife. The things she was wearing were then torn away from her body and taken away from her. The people that did this left her laying on the grass in only her underwear, and they walked away with nary a glance in her direction.

The people that did this? Sworn officers of the Victoria Police, and employees of the City of Melbourne.

I’m not writing this to talk about what happened to our Occupy Melbourne sister Sara yesterday. I’m writing this because I want to talk about institutionalised sexual violence, misogyny and the rape culture we live in.

Rape culture is defined by Wikipedia as:

“a culture in which rape and sexual violence against women are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices and media condone, normalise, excuse or tolerate sexual violence against women.” 1

The rape culture we live in showed itself on Tuesday morning in the Flagstaff Gardens. The group of police and council who assaulted Sara was made up of men and women. It was a woman who cut the tent off her. Commenters around the internet have asked incredulously why the female police officers and council workers would have consented to such an operation, or why they didn’t offer Sara a coat or a blanket or something to cover herself with. The answer to that question is two words: Rape Culture.

In 2008, the Herald Sun reported that 23 percent of the Victoria Police were female.2 I’m going to let that hang in the air for a moment, so we can consider that (admittedly outdated, I couldn’t find anything more recent in the limited time I have had to write this article) statistic. In 2008, 77% of the Victoria Police were men.

For a woman in a male-dominated environment, the challenge is fitting in. Often, fitting into a male-dominated environment means having to tolerate the “old boys club” feel of the place. A woman must become less sensitive, must learn to brush off sexist jokes and jabs about her sex life, appearance, femininity. She must become “one of the boys” so that she will fit into the environment in which she finds herself.

If she finds herself in the “old boys club” because of her freely chosen line employment, the need to adjust her behaviour in order to fit in becomes doubly important. She cannot afford to lose her job and her means of living because she was too sensitive about some “good natured teasing” (read: sexually inappropriate comments) or some “harmless decorations” (read: nudie calendar).

So she desensitises herself. Things that she may have previously found objectionable she lets slide, or writes off as “boys will be boys” or ignores because “it’s not harming me directly”. But what she doesn’t understand is that every time she lets something slide, or ignores something that niggles at her, or writes something off, she contributes to and reinforces the rape culture which places every woman at a disadvantage, even in our privileged Western society.

A 2003 article in The Age on the topic of sexism on the Victoria Police quotes former police office Narell McKenna. She left the Victoria Police after winning a harassment case against the Police in 1998. Ms McKenna described the police culture as a “boy’s club” and went on to say:

“The girls have to be even more blokey than the boys to survive. Young men these days aren’t like that. But the women have to be.” 3

The article continues:

Another policewoman friend [of Ms McKenna] had recently experienced discrimination but had not complained. “She said ‘It’s not worth it.’ She said you can’t say anything or you end up, like me, without a career.” 4

So sure, one of the policewomen present on Tuesday could have spoken up. She could have gone against the grain and said that what they were doing was wrong. She could have proposed a different way of doing it. She could have said stop, or voiced her opposition. But maybe she was afraid, like Ms McKenna’s friend. Perhaps she has a large mortgage, or two kids in school, or an ailing elderly parent. Perhaps she’s a single mother and she needs her job to put food on the table.

A man could have spoken up too. He could have seen something of his mother, his wife, his sister or his daughter in Sara, and seen that what he was doing was wrong. But perhaps he needed his job too. Perhaps he felt like he was doing absolutely the wrong thing, but couldn’t speak up because he was behind on his water bill, or his daughter’s school fees.

When you are afraid you’ll lose your job, or your status, or your income because you speak out against a violent act being committed against a woman, you demonstrate how present and all-encompassing the rape culture is in our daily life.

And so that’s what led to what happened to our sister Sara on Tuesday. The rape culture perpetrated the crime that was committed against her. The rape culture supported the police and council while they committed this crime, and the rape culture will protect them from retribution. They were just doing their jobs, after all.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can stand up and say “NO MORE!” We can stand alongside our sister Sara and support her. We can learn to recognise the rape culture that is enshrined in our way of life and we can start to fight back against it. Rape culture doesn’t only diminish and disadvantage women. It diminishes and disadvantages men too. It positions men as sexual predators, as insatiable creatures who only exist to pursue their basest desires, to leer and jeer at women on the street, as creatures who can only see women as prizes to be won. It positions the woman as the prey and the man as the hunter, and gives no consideration to anyone who is outside of the heteronormative paradigm.

Men of Melbourne, I know you are not like this. Maybe you live with a woman. Maybe you’re related to a woman. Maybe you work with a woman you respect. Maybe you make love with a woman who rocks your world. Wouldn’t you like to live in a world where you’re not seen as an insatiable predator?

We can all do this. Occupiers, non-occupiers, police, citizens, politicians, men, woman, public servants, nurses, council workers, teachers, doctors, employed, un-employed, old, young. We are all responsible for this. It’s incumbent on all of us to combat the rape culture, and we can start right now. Next time you hear someone make an off-colour rape joke, call him or her out on it. Next time you see an advertisement that treats a woman as a sex object or a man as a predator, write a complaint. And next time you see sexual violence committed in Melbourne by an institution originally formed to protect Victorian people, you’ll be able to recognise and understand the mechanisms that allow such a thing to happen.

And only through this understanding can we ALL truly find our freedom.

Written by Erin, Occupy Melbourne First Aid and Care Team.
December 7th, 2011.

_________________________________
References

Occupy Melbourne Mic Checks The Mayor

occupydownunder:

Occupy Melbourne Mic Checks The Mayor (by seanbedlam)

This is amazing. My beautiful, powerful, brave brothers and sisters ❤

This is what happened in Melbourne on October 21, 2011

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPbcAd-d-tw&feature=player_embedded

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MA9zvr4Qqz0&feature=player_embedded

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voGqc-kcnP4&feature=player_embedded

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDOHewmmV9o&feature=player_embedded

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRCu2XEsWKU&feature=player_embedded

Daniel, our “Detective of Perspective”. I hope he is OK. Click through for Herald Sun photogallery

The Age photogallery

Twitter photos from American comedian and Citizen Radio host Jamie Kilstein, who spent the morning at the Occupation after his show on Thursday night

The Age’s coverage of what happened

Herald Sun’s coverage of what happened

Blogger Mike Stuchbery’s account of what happened

Press Releases from Occupy Melbourne. These cover the legal aspect, as well as the story of Koby James, an Aboriginal man who ended up in hospital due to police heavyhandedness.

I missed all of this I was at school. I followed it all via @JamieKilstein on Twitter while in class. I am heartsick over all of it. In Sydney currently and have just visited Occupy Sydney and had a chat with some nice people there about what happened to us yesterday. They have expressed sorrow and solidarity with us, and it feels really good to know that this is a uniting event. My god, they sent in the riot police. the RIOT POLICE. For unarmed protesters. I watched all those videos this morning after my bus ride and I just wanted to cry. I have only known these people for a week, but I love them so, so much. I have no idea who is arrested and who wasn’t.

The group reconvened last evening at Trades Hall and again this morning at Federation Square, then marched through the city to Trades Hall and back again to the Treasury Gardens. We Occupy Treasury Gardens from Saturday next week, and have General Assemblies from Tuesday at the State Library. I can’t wait to meet my First Aid people again. Love to all of them.

Melbourne, we are stronger than they think we are. I hope this is our galvanising moment.

Freedom at last!

On Friday August 19th, 2011, The West Memphis 3 were released from the Arkansas Correctional System after 18 years and 78 days of wrongful imprisonment for a crime they did not commit. This is by far the most exciting news of the weekend and was the cause of much celebration in my house on Saturday night. I have been following their story since about 1998 and never thought they’d actually be released. It is not an exoneration of their previous convictions, as they have taken an Alford Plea which records a guilty conviction against them whilst allowing them to maintain their protestations of innocence, while also preventing them from seeking any further recourse in the Arkansas criminal justice system. So it’s freedom, but it’s a long way from justice. Not for Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, and certainly not for Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers or Michael Moore, whose real killer has still not been brought to justice for his or her crimes. As far as I understand it, the case has been closed, so whoever killed those three little boys will never face what he or she did, and the WM3 will forever have a conviction of first degree murder against their names, despite never having committed the crimes they are convicted of committing.

So there is a long way to go yet, but on Friday Damien Echols walked out of solitary confinement and off death row. Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley walked away from life sentences. The right thing has been done, even if it’s been done in a pretty wrong-headed way.

And that is why I am happy. I saw a lot of myself in those boys when I first heard their story – they had long hair, wore a lot of black, liked to read about the occult and listen to heavy metal music. I was a similar sort of teenager and in different circumstances it could have been me hauled across the coals like that, all in the name of “Satanic Panic”.

 

Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin on the day they were arrested – June 3, 1993.

 

Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin, half a lifetime later, on the day of their release, August 19, 2011.

I have faced it, a life wasted.
I’m never going back again.
I escaped it, a life wasted.
I’m never going back again.
Having tasted, a life wasted.
I’m never going back again.
– Pearl Jam, Life Wasted

Shame – Australia Says Yes To Live Export.

Barbaric practices exposed in Turkish abbatoir (content warning for distressing images and descriptions of animal cruelty).

Today, the Australian federal parliament voted against a proposed ban on the live export of food animals.

Footage of Australian sheep tethered by a leg and flailing before their throats were cut and others left alive staggering with knife wounds in Turkish abattoirs has been aired by activists.

Animals Australia filmed cows, in an abattoir where Australian cattle are slaughtered, strung up by a leg, writhing, with their throats only partially slit.

Lyn White recorded the images in one of Turkey’s largest cities in late July and earlier this month and released footage at parliament house this morning.

How much more evidence does the Australian government need? This cruelty goes on day after day and it is relentless. Each individual sheep or cow we send for slaughter crammed nose to arse on these boats and carried off to a painful death (if they don’t die on the ship on the way) is no different than my darling cats, or your dogs, or your hamster or whatever other pet you keep. They feel pain, they feel fear, they feel happiness and love. They may not speak in any language we understand, but they can certainly express all these emotions and sensations.

Wiliam Wilberforce was a British politician between 1780 and 1825, and one who worked tirelessly for the abolition of another seafaring trade of living beings – the trade of slaves. Those who opposed his proposal for the abolition of the slave trade cited economic reasons for continuing, and partook in parliamentary time wasting, denial, hostility and even overt distraction techniques, but Wilberforce never faltered. He famously said “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”

And that was what Greens MP Adam Bandt and Independent MP Andrew Wilkie took with them to Parliament today for the vote on live animal export. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Gillard did not allow a conscience vote, instead forcing MP’s to vote along party lines.

As a great fictional wizard once said “Soon, we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” Today, the Australian Federal Parliament faced the choice between what was right, and what was easy, and made the easy choice.

For shame, Australia.

Today in Misogyny

We know that the best protection for those girls is that they get themselves into a secure relationship with a loving husband and I want that to happen for them.
Barnaby Joyce speaking about his four daughters on National (Straight) Marriage Day at Parliament House today, August 16, 2011.

Thanks for suggesting your four daughters are fragile little flowers with no ability to take care of themselves. I am sure they must be thrilled with the lack of faith you have in their ability to live independently. Mr Joyce, 1945 called, it wants it’s sexism back.

Misogyny Monday: Mark Latham

“To choose a career ahead of the opportunity of having children? I think having children is the great loving experience of any lifetime and by definition, you haven’t got as much love in your life if you make that particular choice,”

– Mark Latham on Julia Gillard, April 4th 2011

Yep, that JUST happened. This morning, speaking to Fran Kelly on ABC’s Radio National, Mark Latham renewed his attack on PM Julia Gillard’s personal life and character. He questioned her ability to empathise and experience true lovebecause she doesn’t have children.

Mark, 1952 called, it wants is misogyny back.

He’s clearly STILL butthurt that he never got to be the Prime Minister and instead of putting on his big boy pants and getting over it, he’s decided that the best way to make himself feel better about it is suggest that that the woman who achieved that feat (and by expansion, all women who have chosen not to have kids) can’t know true love because she has chosen not to reproduce.

I shouldn’t be in the least bit surprised that this is coming from Mark Latham because this is exactly the sort of old-fashioned, patriarchal, “woman in her place” bullshit that he’s known for. But you know what? I AM surprised. I’m not surprised he thinks that – because I bet there are millions of other people who think that too. What I am surprised about is that he actually said it. Most people who are this misogynistic – at least in Australia – have the good sense to keep their bigoted mouths shut.

But I am glad he said it, because we can now all see him for the slimy worm he is.

Meantime, I’ll be busy not experiencing true love with my two boyfriends, two cats and wonderful friends.

I See No Criminals, I See Before Me Political Prisoners

Julian Assange has been arrested. The Wikileaks founder was taken into custody today, December 7th by United Kingdom police after attending a London police station by appointment.

From here, his legal team will be fighting his extradition to Sweden on allegations of rape, from where they fear he will be handed over to the United States.

From political commentators and staff calling for Assange’s assassination, to the Australian government effectively hanging him out to dry, the last week or so has not been a good one for Mr Assange, or for his incendiary website, WikiLeaks, which has been shuffled from server to server, from domain name provider to domain name provider, and which has been dropped by both Amazon and PayPal.

Most troubling of all this is not the rather flimsy allegations of rape, but the fact that the Australian government (the nation of which Assange holds a passport and remains a citizen), remains convinced he has committed a crime, although PM Julia Gillard is unable to describe what that crime is.

If Julian Assange is extradited to the United States from Sweden to answer treason or espionage charges (charges that would make no sense given he is not a US citizen and therefore cannot commit treason against her, and given that he is not working for any kind of government and therefore cannot be committing espionage), he will no longer be a political activist and journalist, but a political prisoner held by one of the most powerful nations on earth.

This is no longer about whether or not it is right that he published diplomatic cables leaked to him by an American with a top level security clearance, but about the United States of America holding a citizen of an ally nation without charge.

If Julian Assange is taken by America we cannot expect him to be treated any differently than America treated David Hicks, another Australian citizen arrested in a foreign land and then spirited away to an offshore prison. The only difference between the two is that David Hicks was an actual criminal and Julian Assange is not, as yet, any kind of criminal. Though I am sure we can rely on the US to change their laws to MAKE him a criminal. They are, after all, exceptionally good at that.

Australia must immediately and decisively move to secure Mr Assange’s rights as an Australian citizen and strongly advise the United States that we will not tolerate threats of violence being made against his person. We must also advise the United States that holding him as a political prisoner is untenable to our diplomatic relationship.

This is not about Cablegate anymore. This is about right of media to do as they wish with information they are given, the transparency of government and the democracy they so desperately espouse as being the only way to live.

Holding Julian Assange as a political prisoner is no kind of democracy that I know.

What I Missed – 24th June to 8th July

Sex therapist and clinical psychologist Bettina Arndt takes us back to the 1940’s as she suggests that women in defacto relationships are wasting precious breeding time, and that Julia Gillard, our nation’s most senior unmarried, childless woman may inspire other young women to live in defacto relationships and miss out on having children. Despite, of course, the fact that Ms Gillard does not currently live with her partner.

There is not much more that I can say about the article that the internet hasn’t already said, so I will leave it to Catherine Deveny to reply to Arndt’s frankly puritanical article here. Twitter hashtag #wastingpreciousbreedingtime has proven a tongue in cheek response to the article.

Facebook have clamped down on nudity, removing pictures of a naked porcelain doll from the fan page of Sydney-based jewellery designer Victoria Buckley. When Buckley set up a protest group against this decision, also on Facebook, it was shut down too.

New South Wales Greens have called for the decriminalistion of abortion in that state as a national poll of some 800 Australians over 18 confirms that 61% of respondents believe abortion should be lawful without question in the first trimester, and that 26% believed it should be lawful with good reason.

New PM Julia Gillard stands behind Labour’s Internet filter, saying that the proposed filter is an effort to control the “dark side” of telecommunications technology. Quick, somebody register www.thedarksideoftheinternet.com.au!

Oh, and we are currently up to Day 79 of the Gulf Of Mexico oil crisis, with still no end in sight.