Category Archives: Opinion

A Lone Gunman, Racism, and Australian Pride

Monday morning started just like any other. I woke up, had some coffee, and cooked breakfast for my children. I had a headache — the remnant of the World’s Worst Hangover that I’d suffered through the day before — but I was awake and alert and happy. I sent a few emails to friends, and lurked around social media for a while.

And then, suddenly, my timeline was full of pain.

A gunman had taken up to 20 people hostage in a Sydney cafe. The news broke with the picture that was everywhere. The picture of two hostages holding a black flag with arabic script against the window of the cafe — a cafe that was, conveniently, directly across the street from the Channel 7 news room.

Sydney Seige

As I read the news, and stayed abreast of what was going on, my heart was in my mouth. I sat in front of my computer, tears streaming down my face, fear coursing through my veins. And so I did what many others were doing. I took to social media to share my thoughts and my hurt.

I’m terrified. I’m terrified for the hostages in the Martin Place siege, and for their friends and family. I’m terrified for the police responding to the siege. And, most of all, I’m terrified about the impact this attack will have on every Australian, particularly Muslim Australians, regardless of how it turns out. May this situation be resolved without loss of life, and may all Australians remember that hatred is not a cure for pain and anger, but a fan to its fire.

The day stretched on, and nothing changed. No, that’s not true. Nothing changed at the Lindt Cafe, Martin Place. But the media had a field day. The flag was identified as an ISIS flag. Then it wasn’t. Then it was an extremist terrorist flag. Then it wasn’t. The speculation about Evil Islamic Terrorists hit fever-pitch in media channels. Radio hosts claimed to be talking to people inside the siege. Police maintained that they hadn’t yet made contact with the hostage-taker. And Murdoch’s ridiculous newspaper (and I use the word “news’ in the loosest possible sense), The Daily Telegraph, released a special 2pm edition with the headline: “DEATH CULT CBD ATTACK”. All of it was conjecture. None of it was helpful. And, in my anger and frustration, I took to social media again.

Just to clarify, the fact that a crackpot plastered a flag (not, as has been reported, the Islamic State flag) on a window after taking people hostage does not actually mean that ‪#‎sydneysiege‬ is part of a religious or political war. There’s no current proof that the crackpot responsible is even Muslim. The police are still saying they don’t know who he is. But I can assure you, the moment you put an Islamic flag on a window, you guarantee yourself widespread media coverage. Regardless of the religious beliefs of the crackpot in question, he is holding people hostage. And that’s the important part.

May the siege end without bloodshed, and people remember to hold true to their values and not allow false information, assumptions, and ignorance to push them towards hatred.

Randa Abdel-Fattah wrote a great article about exactly this media frenzy here. Go and read it. (But stay away from the comments if you value your sanity.)

By mid-afternoon Monday, I was a mess. I’d been crying for hours, imagining the trauma the hostages were facing inside that cafe. Imagining the life that led the hostage-taker to the precipice he was standing on, when the idea of taking people hostage at gunpoint, knowing that he would likely end up dead and reviled at the end of it, seemed like a good idea. Thinking about the society we live in, and the world at large, and the pain that would follow this attack.

I was watching when the first three hostages escaped. I felt the same relief as the rest of the nation. But I also felt afraid. Afraid of how their escape would affect the microcosm of the cafe. Afraid of what the gunman would do now.

But, three hours later, nothing had changed. Nothing except the conversation.

The police knew the identity of the man responsible (who I refuse to name here), and posited that he was acting alone, and not a member of any extremist group. The flag had been categorically affirmed as a general statement of Islamic faith, and not an evil portent of doom. And the chat on social media was largely full of grief, pain, and support for Muslim Australians. I added my voice to the throng.

Let me take another opportunity to remind everyone that regardless of this “lone wolf” crackpot’s race, religion, or beliefs, he is not a representative of everyone of that race, religion, and belief system. He is not a representative of every man, or of every Australian, or of every member of his nationality or religion (as yet unconfirmed). Don’t let anger at his actions influence your feelings about any person other than him. Don’t let fear overcome your reason. We are stronger than that. We are Australian.

And then, the most remarkable thing happened.

Social media exploded with the hashtag #illridewithyou.

On seeing a Muslin woman on a train sadly remove her hijab for fear of hate-fuelled “retribution”, an ordinary Australian woman  started this hashtag. The message, clear and simple. Do not be afraid to be who you are. Do not be afraid of backlash. And if you are afraid, I will ride with you.

The message was tweeted and posted and shared something like 120,000 times in the first two hours. And it’s been gathering momentum ever since.

The siege wore on. I tried to sleep, but my brain and my imagination were having none of it. I tossed and turned and tried to read and couldn’t concentrate and finally got back on the computer. Five minutes later, it was all over.

More hostages escaped from the cafe. There was a burst of gunfire. Police stormed the building. Another burst of gunfire. And then it was done.

The ‪#‎sydneyseige‬ is over with three dead, including the crazed crackpot who started all this. My heart is heavy with the knowledge that the families of these people — yes, even the gunman — will be grieving today and for many tomorrows. I feel, also, for the hostages who escaped; their lives will never be the same. May they find peace and healing. Thanks to the ‪#‎nswpolice‬and all emergency crews who brought this event to a close. Let’s remember to band together in this difficult time, to refuse to let the seeds of hatred grow in our hearts, and to continue to build such beautiful community initiatives as‪#‎illridewithyou‬.

Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson

Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson

 

Katrina Dawson was a lawyer and a mother of three. She died heroically, protecting the life of her pregnant friend.

Tori Johnson was the manager of the Lindt Cafe. He died heroically, struggling with the gunman in an attempt to disarm him while the other hostages fled.

They were real people, real people killed senselessly, real people who died bravely in the face of the kind of terror we just don’t see in Australia. They are True Blue Aussie heroes, and will forever be remembered as such. In the days that have passed since their tragic deaths, tributes have flowed in to Martin Place in their honour. They live on in the hearts of all of us. Vale, Katrina and Tori.

New Idea Magazine

The floral tributes keep growing in Martin Place as people stop to reflect and pay their respects,

In the days since the siege ended, I’ve struggled to rediscover my equilibrium. Struggled to come back to terms with the world, and to stop feeling the slow bleed of my heart. It’s not easy. It’s been a tough week. And a tougher one on the people involved. But there’s one thing that’s helped me through this time.

The solidarity shown by Australians across the country. We, as Australians of all races, religions, colours, and creeds, have come together in person and on social media to support each other, and to show solidarity with our fallen heroes. I’ve read great posts like this one, and watched #illridewithyou get global recognition. I’ve seen Australians at their best.

I’ve cried.

I’ve smiled.

I’ve found my feet again.

And I’ve been proud. We may not have it all under control — just today, an MP derided the #illridewithyou campaign as left-wing nonsense all about “hating whitey” — but we’re on the right track. We’re on the right track.

Today, I am in mourning for the lost lives of Katrina and Tori. But I’m proud, so very proud, to be Australian.

We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on Earth we come
We share a dream, and sing with one voice
I am, you are, we are Australian.

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WU UnCon: A Conference of Connection

WU UnConIt’s ten days since I arrived back in Australia after attending the Writer Unboxed UnConference in Salem. Ten long days, and I’m only now posting about it. Why? Because if I’d posted sooner, my whole post would have consisted of a disjointed list of unrelated adjectives interspersed with exclamation marks and the occasional unsubstantiated claim that the UnCon changed my life.

But now, ten days later, I feel I’m ready. I’m ready to say that it was a phenomenal, transformational, life-changing, brain-expanding, emotionally-charged hot-pot of creative energy and connection, built around a series of inspiring, enlightening, and incisive workshops.

Or something like that..

Actually, I’ve pondered long and hard about how to share the experience of Salem with you. And as I’ve pondered, I’ve consolidated the things I learned in a deeper and more meaningful way. And thus, I’m ready to share.

I could tell you about the amazing workshops I did — particularly Lisa Cron’s “Wired for Story”, Donald Maass’s “Writing 21st Century Fiction” and John Vorhaus’s “The Comic Toolbox” — and the ways those workshops have improved my writing and expanded my thinking.

But I won’t.

UnCon Group 2I could tell you about the deep connection I felt with the other writers I met there, many of whom I knew as icons and names online, and the long-lasting bonds that formed during those five days.

But I won’t.

I could tell you about the dinner we had as a memorial to Lisa Threadgill, my dear, dear friend who passed away earlier this year, and how laughing and crying with other people who felt her loss so keenly reopened old wounds and yet helped them heal so much cleaner.

But I won’t.

I could tell you about hanging out in a bar at 1:00am on the first evening with a group of people I’d only just met, drinking picklebacks (the most revolting shot I’ve ever tried), and then asking the bartender for his shirt.

But I won’t.

I could tell you about the Poker Cabin, and how it felt to be playing poker of an evening after a long day of brain-expanding workshops and conversation, and the surreal feeling of sitting next to an inspirational (and possibly super-human) NY literary agent as I confidently bluffed my way to a winning hand.

But I won’t.

UnCon GroupI could tell you about sitting at dinner on Friday night, after the UnCon was technically over, and collaboratively building a back-story for our surly waitress using all the techniques we’d learned from Don Maass during the full-day workshop we’d just attended.

But I won’t.

I could tell you about Bob Stewart.

And I will.

Before the UnCon, I knew WriterBob Stewart as a name and an icon on the Writer Unboxed FB page. We interacted once or twice, in an oblique way, and I admired his dedication and persistence, but I didn’t know much about him. As the time for the UnCon grew closer, I learned more about him. He was much older (75, I later learned), and had some health issues. He was an accomplished playwright, journalist, and novelist. And, above all that, he was funny and kind and a good and genuine human being.

WriterBobOn the Saturday before the UnCon was due to start, he was bitten by his cat. Due to other health complications, the bite got infected, and he ended up in hospital. The first thing he did was message Therese Walsh to find out if it was okay if he arrived at the UnCon a little late. Which, of course, it was. He checked himself out of hospital early, and flew to Salem, and arrived on Tuesday afternoon.

I spoke to Bob briefly. Just enough to say hello, and I was glad he could make it. But he was there — real, and solid, and not just an icon and a name. He participated in groups, and stayed for evening sessions. And Wednesday evening, after everything was winding down, he complained about feeling a little funny, returned to his room, and passed away.

We found out on Thursday.

I wasn’t having a great day on Thursday. I finished the day with an amazing session that hit me like a brick wall and made me question the validity of everything I’d ever written in my life. Then, mired in self-doubt, I found myself flicking through the memorial book that had been created for Lisa Threadgill. A book that was full of my words. A book that brought all the grief and pain I’d felt at her passing back to the surface. And so there I was, weeping in the lobby of the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, when Therese approached and told me about Bob.

WriterBob Stewart. A man who spent his last days exactly where he wanted to be — with a community of writers he’d only known online, in a beautiful little hotel in Salem.

And so I found myself, on that Thursday evening, telling the other attendees that our evening plan had changed. That instead of a discussion of craft, we would be sharing a toast for Bob, and hearing some of the pages from his latest work. And as I told them, I found myself breaking the news of his passing over and over and over.

Some people cried. Others told me stories. One person looked like she was going to faint. Another told me that he’d lost a number of family members recently, and then excused himself to find somewhere private to sit and reflect. And through it all, I hugged and comforted and listened and was present.

UnCon Group 3But once the toast was said, once the memorial was underway, I couldn’t be present any longer. To coin my own phrase, my heart was a new helium balloon floating through a cactus forest. The slightest brush — skin against skin, mind against mind — would break me. I had too much grief, too much emotion, coursing through my body. I had to escape. And so I fled the room. Quietly. Hoping not to be noticed.

But I was.

John Vorhaus*  — a man equally funny and wise — saw me going and followed me out. He rejected my claims that I was ‘fine, just fine’, and he sat with me, and we talked. We talked about loss and grief and self-doubt and pain and all manner of things. We talked until my skin no longer felt electrified, until I no longer felt I was going to explode, until I felt grounded again. And during that talk, during that conversation, he said a phrase that resonated with me both then and now, and defines the UnCon experience for me.

“Cherish your emotions’.

When JV said it, he was referring to the grief and shock I was feeling — that we were all feeling — in the wake of Bob’s death. But it means so much more to me.

he entire UnCon for me.

Cherish your emotions.

Think about it for a minute. How often do we truly cherish our emotions? Conversely, how often do we feel shame or guilt about our emotions? How often do we attempt to hide them/ To wall them away, or move on from them, or pretend they’re not there? What would happen if we truly cherished our emotions — accepted them, not as being bad or good but just as being. How would that feel?

UnCon Group 4How would that inform our writing?

How would that inform our lives?

Cherish your emotions.

It ties in to what Lisa Cron said about specificity and back-story. It mirrors Donald Maass’s talk of finding emotional resonance between our lives and our character’s experiences. It touches on Meg Rosoff’s discussions of voice. But, more than that, it is a model, a mantra, for life.

And so when I think about Salem, and about WriterBob and Lisa Threadgill, and about the close connections I forged, and the games of poker I played, and the fun and hi-jinks I was part of, and the way I got lost every freaking time I walked out of that hotel building, I think of that phrase.

Cherish your emotions.

And when it all gets too much for me, when the homesickness for an event that lasted only five days and yet a lifetime threatens to overwhelm me, I take a deep breath and cherish my emotions. And then I write.

* JV has a new book coming out. I’ve read it. It’s brilliant. And you should totally go and buy it right now. Tell him Jo sent you.

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Depression, Poetry, and Guilt

All my good intentions fell apart after my last blog post, and I was MIA for a couple of weeks. It’s not that I don’t care. It’s just…. Life.

I’ve mentioned before that I have Bipolar II and a general anxiety disorder. Both are only minor in the overall scheme of things. In that I can manage them with lifestyle options such as exercise, food choices, meditation/prayer, and avoiding high-anxiety situations. However, “managing” isn’t the same as “curing”, and over the last couple of weeks I’ve found myself on a down — which is to say, I’ve been depressed.

Living with depression is something I’m accustomed to. Since I was eight years old I’ve been through three or four periods of depression every year. Then I’d “magically” snap out of it, and everything would be fine. (I was only diagnosed with Bipolar II a couple of years ago, and suddenly my whole life made sense.) So I know how to cope. I know the warning signs to look for, so I know when I’m not coping, and when to seek help. I know how to minimise the worst of it through exercise and food. I know to treat myself gently, and not try to “push through it” — which includes not pushing myself to write when I don’t have the energy. I know how to cope.

But once my anxiety disorder kicks in, it’s a whole other kettle of crazy.

Over the last few weeks, my life has felt like it’s spiralling out of control. Circumstances outside of my control have left me in a situation that has been thoroughly dependent on friends for my everyday necessities. I don’t want to get into the details here, but trust me when I say that I am eternally grateful to have friends willing to sacrifice their own time and plans to help me in my hour of need. But gratitude only gets you so far, and on Thursday night I found myself having a major panic attack — the first in eleven months.

And around and around in my head went the thoughts.

Other people have it much worse… You have no reason to feel like this… You’re just being silly… Stop being so melodramatic… Somewhere in Africa, children are dying.

And so I grabbed a pen and paper, and I poured my pain and anxiety and guilt on to the paper. This is what I wrote.

The Guilt of Africa

 

Anxiety strikes like a copperhead snake
My vision is blurry, my hands start to shake
Too many weights pressing down on my mind
The burdens are boundless, I’m not doing fine

My problems are first world, my life is a mess
My heart won’t stop racing, I’m tight ‘cross the chest
My children are calling, I want them to stop
I need to curl up in the dark now and sob

My thoughts are a spiralling circle of pain
Why can’t I be normal? My head feels insane
My breathing’s too fast, my head is too light
I’ve lost all my hearing and most of my sight

And somewhere in Africa, children are dying
Putin is marching and oceans are rising
And my well-fed children have pain in their eyes
While their mother just cries and cries and cries

Is this all I am? A heartbeat? A tear?
A mess of emotional, overwhelmed fear?
My fingers are tingling, my toes have gone numb
I’m not even worthy to wear the name ‘Mum’

It’s dark now and cold and I’m sitting so still
If I move, then I’m worried that I’ll break the spell
Of peace, just a little, of paper and pen
And words spilling out like the Duke of York’s men

I have vodka and cigarettes, stars and the moon,
Two children who love me, friends and a spoon,
And a tub full of yoghurt in the door of the fridge
I wish I could eat, but my stomach is sick

And somewhere in Africa, children are dying
ISIS is killing, Ebola is rising
And here I am safe in a home of my own
Strung out, defenseless, completely alone

 

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Filed under Opinion, Poems

On Sex, Defining Normality, and the Wonders of Technology

I was wandering around the interwebs a few weeks ago, and came across this interesting, and rather disturbing, TED talk from Cindy Gallop. Now, it’s not new — it’s four years old — but I believe it’s at least as relevant now as it was in 2010.

Note: This video is NSFW and includes graphic sexual language. If you’re not up to listening to it, I’ll recap below.

For those who didn’t watch, what Gallop is basically saying is that young men and women (in their mid-twenties and younger) are growing up believing hard-core porn to be an accurate depiction of sex. And so young women pretend to like things that they don’t actually like (because it’s “normal”) and young men behave like… well, like male porn stars.

But let’s face it, we all know that real sex — sex based on mutual love and respect — is very rarely, if ever, like a hard-core porn film. At least, I assume it isn’t for everyone else. And if it is, then I would like to think that it’s still based on mutual enjoyment and respect.

Another point Gallop raised is the idea that parents don’t talk to children about some of the most important aspects of sex — from consent, to mutual pleasure, even to respect. She blames this on being a puritanical society, which may well be true. But I wonder if her parents talked to her about those things. Mine certainly didn’t.  And so if nothing’s changed, why has everything changed?

And that brings me to my next point.

In the same week that I saw this TED talk, I read about some other worrying situations. Children as young as 12 engaging in sexual acts far outside what any reasonable person would consider “youthful experimentation”. Twelve and thirteen year olds addicted to hard-core porn. Children as young as 10 being charged with sexual assault. Playground antics that are anything but innocent.

I’d link to some articles but, honestly, I don’t want to read them again.

Whenever these situations occur, there is one overriding response from the general public.

fault

Where were their parents?

  • What have their parents been teaching them?
  • What have their parents been letting them watch?
  • Why didn’t their parents know what they were doing?

Valid questions, certainly. But before casting judgement, I’d like to share a little story.

When I was ten years old, school was full of children giggling about new words and concepts they’d learned from older brothers, sisters, and TV shows. The word ‘sex’ had everyone blushing and giggling, even though none of us really knew what it was. Words like “penis” and “vagina” had us in paroxysms of hilarity. Lunch-times had us giggling about the idea of being *heeheehee* naked with someone else.

So one lunch time, we snuck back into the classroom and — wait for it — got out a… dictionary.

dictionary“Look up *giggle* sex,” said one girl.

And so we did.

(In case you’ve never done it, the dictionary definition of ‘sex’ is profoundly unsexy.)

And then we looked up penis. And vagina. And intercourse. And tampon. (Because clearly someone had been remiss in delineating certain facts about puberty.)

And when we’d finished, we put the dictionary away and went on our way, proudly able to tell the boys in the class that we knew all about sex. Because, you know, dictionary.

If our parents and teachers had known what we were up to, would they have demanded they remove dictionaries from the school room? Probably not. They probably did the same thing when they were children.

But the question is moot. Because our teachers and parents didn’t know. And why would they? We were at school. Using school resources. In a safe, school-based environment. Sure, we were giggling a lot, but we weren’t smuggling in magazines, or reading erotica. We were looking up information in a state-sanctioned, parent-purchased educational resource.

Fast forward to today.

Most kids don’t use dictionaries anymore.

Many children wouldn’t even know how to use one.

When they want to know what a word means, they refer to the state-sanctioned, parent-purchased educational resource that sits on their desk at school or at home.

computers

Do me a favour. Go type the word ‘sex’ into Google and see what happens.

And then tell me again how important it is for children to have access to their own laptops, tablets, and phones.

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I Still Aten’t Dead

*tumbleweed rolls*

So, hi. *waves*

It’s been so long since I blogged, it took me fifteen minutes of trial and error to remember my password. To all the people still hanging around to read this: Thank you! If you’ll excuse me, I’ll just put down this oversized cardboard sign…

I aten't dead

It’s been a busy full months full of busyness. Between parenting, writing, and learning how to cope with the changing seasons in a largely outdoor living arrangement, there’s been little enough time for life. But I’m back, and I shall endeavour to remain back for the foreseeable future.

So, how are things going? Funny you should ask. (I’m going to assume someone asks, and I’m not just shouting into the void.)

I’ve been busily writing-writing-writing, and loving it.

I’ve almost finished the final round of revisions on Clock Struck Twelve. (Stay tuned, I’ll be posting about my writing process for that manuscript over the next few days.) It’s been a long journey, and every time I think I’m finished, I come up with something new to add. But this time — this time — I’m sure I’m about done and ready to start querying.

I also started a Facebook group dedicated to writing short stories. Ray Bradbury famously said:

Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.

And so, the group Bradbury’s 52 was formed. Each week we have a series of prompts (a character, a location, an item), and members write a short story based on those prompts. We’re up to the 11th challenge this week, and it’s a lot of fun. If you’re interested in stretching your short story writing muscles, come along and join us.

Once uponFinally, I’ve started writing a new story. I estimate it will be about 75,000 words when completed, and I”m at the 4000 word mark at the moment. Early days, but my characters have taken on a life of their own, and I’m excited to see where they end up.

In other, non-writing-related news, my children are growing.

That is all.

Okay, that’s not all.

Sometimes I turn around and wonder how it is that the little baby I held in my arms, who locked his beautiful dark eyes with mine and grabbed hold of my heart in both hands, could possibly be seven years old — and looking me right in the eye while he argues that he really, really and truly, really needs a new Lego set, and he’s got a whole list of ones he’s wishing for, and if I don’t let him buy one with his pocket money right now — right now! — then I am officially the worst mother in the whole entire universe.

And when his little brother, a respectable three-year-old looks me in the eye while actively choosing to ignore every word that comes out of my mouth, I fondly remember the days when he couldn’t actually move at faster than a crawl, and I could make him smile with little more than a cuddle.

And then Master Three walks up to me out of the blue, puts his beautiful (and probably dirty) hand on my cheek and tells me he loves me. And Master Seven gives me an earnest smile and says, “It’s okay, Mummy, I’ll make us lunch today. You can keep writing your story.” And I realise that growing up is a beautiful and wonderful thing.

And it would be even more beautiful and wonderful if they could do it without arguing every freaking five minutes.

*deep breath*

All is well in my little corner of the world. The sun and the wind and the rain challenge me, and the stars look down on me at night. And all ahead of me is vast open fields of happiness ready to be explored.

So, what’s been going on in your life?

Five points to Gryffindor* if you can name the book the title of this post comes from.

*Or the House of your choosing if Gryffindor** isn’t to your liking.

** Gryffindor forever!

 

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The Myth of the Helpless Female

Barbie WorldOne of my neighbours, a 60-something country guy named Paul, came over recently to say hi and offer me some firewood. During the course of our conversation, I mentioned that I’d been fixing my lawnmower.

“You need any help?” he asked.

“Nah. I just had to replace the starter cord. I’m putting it back together now.”

“Huh,” he said, looking impressed. “You’re not one of the usual useless females, are you?”

I muttered something along the lines of: “I can usually figure out how to do things… I don’t like useless people…” But I was flabbergasted as to how I was supposed to respond to his comment.

I’m pretty sure — no, I’m positive — that he meant it as a compliment. But it doesn’t feel right to say thank you for being essentially told that I’m not like most women, because I’m not “useless”.

This is not the first conversation I’ve had with someone about repairing the lawnmower (which, incidentally, is not actually mine — it’s one I borrowed from a friend). My other neighbour, an almost-deaf man in his late 60s with a heart of gold and the gender-bias of someone from the 1950s, laughed when he saw me working on the mower. The conversation went something like this:

Him: What are you doing?

Me: Fixing the mower.

Him: *laughs* You?

Me: Yes…

Him: *smiling patronisingly* What’s wrong with it?

Me: The starter cord broke. I was just replacing it.

Him: Well, what you’ve got to do is–

Me: It’s alright. I’ve done it.

Him: You?

Me: Yes.

Him: …. Maybe you should have a look at my car. *laughs and walks off*

Which leads me to believe, of course, that fixing a lawnmower is somehow related to having a penis.

Either that, or there is a large subset of the community that believes that to be the case.

Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to go on a lovely bushwalk through a mountain-top rainforest with a close friend and her three children. Halfway through the walk, her six-year-old daughter started limping and pretending her foot was sore. “She’s copying her book,” my friend explained.

So, it turns out that there’s this book — it may or may not be part of the Barbie franchise of sparkly pink merchandise — and the story invokves a group of girls going for a bushwalk. One of them goes off on her own and wanders into a cave. But don’t worry — she doesn’t get lost. She sprains her ankle and has to be rescued.

Yes, she sprains her ankle.

Honestly, I thought we were past the days of helpless female victims spraining their ankles and having to be rescued. But apparently not. Apparently, this is still what we’re teaching our girl-children.

Girls have weak ankles. Girls need to be rescued. Girls can’t look after themselves.

I had a conversation with a friend of a friend last week, actually. An incredibly talented, creative, intelligent woman who pretended not to understand cell phone plans, because it’s easier to appear stupid and helpless than to argue with her husband — and that way, she gets what she wants, and he feels happy and superior, and everyone wins.

Well, everyone wins assuming she’s happy for her husband to believe she’s helpless.

It strikes me that it’s a self-perpetuating cycle of women pretending to be helpless, which makes men treat women like they’re helpless, and so women pretend to be helpless… So much so that it’s seen as somehow aberrant for a woman to fix her own lawnmower. Or understand a cell phone plan. Or go exploring on her own and discover a rare type of fungi before being found, sprain-free, by her friends.

In fact, some of the “best” relationship advice I was ever given was about how to keep the man in my life happy. “Sometimes,” I was told, “you just have to let them open the olive jar.”

The idea being that in order for a man to feel happy in a relationship, the woman needs to ask him to help her do “manly” jobs, even though she’s perfectly capable of doing them for herself. You know, things like fixing broken things, and mowing the lawn, and lifting anything heavier than a saucepan…

I tried it. It worked. But eventually, I found myself asking:

What kind of relationship is this?

Is this the kind of relationship I want?

What am I teaching my children?

I have no interest in perpetuating the Myth of the Helpless Female.

And so when Paul, my always-helpful neighbour, told me I wasn’t like the “usual useless female”, I didn’t quite know how to respond. Should I be flattered? Angry? Grateful? Before I’d really worked out my emotions, he said, “My wife, God rest her, I loved her. But she was useless. She couldn’t do anything.”

And I felt sad. Because chances are, he never got to see the real her. He never got to see how useful and capable and intelligent she was, because she was too busy spraining her ankles and handing him jars of olives.

Just like she was taught.

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