Feminist Mona Eltahawy is nothing but brave. She is one of my heroes. I look up to her so much and try to model my own feminism on her fearlessness. Nevertheless, despite her bravery (which really is next level) she found herself avoiding talking about the topic of abortion and her own abortions until late last year. Her examination of why this was so difficult makes for compelling reading, even more so given Roe v Wade was overturned only a few days ago in the US. Read the essay here and don’t forget to sign up to Mona’s newsletter.
This is part two in a series of videos on how to provide support and hold space for someone who is going through a rough time, whether that is trauma after abuse, grief or loss, or something else. You can watch the first video in this series here (you might like to do that before you watch this one). I think that even more than ever, in the wake of the Depp vs Heard trial that has retraumatised so many women and so many victim-survivors of domestic abuse, we must reach out to and support and listen to one another. I hope that these videos help you to do that, if you feel awkward reaching out, or don’t know what to say. Thank you as always for your support for my blog and YouTube channel and for listening to and holding space for the expression of my trauma. You are appreciated.
I came across this little gem today and had to share it with you. There’s a certain way of thinking that’s popular these days which insists everything that happens to us happens for a reason, and that we can learn something from it. This is dangerous thinking akin to toxic positivity, and pressures people into believing they must turn damaging and undeserved experiences into something positive. Abuse is not a blessing. Trauma is not a blessing. Sure, you can learn things from such experiences, and you probably will if you have any level of introspection at all, but are abuse and trauma necessary pathways to some kind of enlightenment? I think not. It’s quite dangerous and offensive to those of us who’ve been hit with the random car crash that is abuse to constantly hear from others that our abuse must have happened to us because there’s something we need to learn. It’s also victim blaming and utter bullshit. Thanks to Dr Jen Wolkin for the fabulous graphic. I wouldn’t wish abuse or trauma on my worst enemy and it certainly isn’t necessary to be traumatised to be a fully actualised, mentally healthy human being.
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Wife of the above
But who was she
Known as Flo
Daughter of the above
But who was she
Husband of the above
And father to Flo
But who was he
“Emma Love” is a comment on the supporting roles women play in patriarchal society and how women are often referred to by the relationships they have to others and the services they can provide, rather than being allowed to exist as fully autonomous individuals in their own right. This headstone at the Melbourne Cemetery is interesting however. Clearly, Edward Roberts died first, and was referred to on the headstone by his wife Emma Love as “my dear husband”, so his relationship to her is clearly stated, though there is nothing more about him, other than places and dates of his birth and death. Note the difference in names. I wonder if “Love” was Emma’s middle name? Records show her full name as Emma Love Perriman Roberts. In any case, Emma is assumed to be a Roberts, probably by virtue of being the wife of Edward, though this goes unmentioned. Once again, a woman was considered an extension of her husband and these naming conventions (and the omission of her other names) reflect that understanding. Emma and Edward’s daughter, also buried here and also called Emma, was known as Flo, and is referred to as “daughter of the above”. I’m pleasantly surprised to see all three people in this burial plot referred to equally in relationship to one another. Both “wife of the above” and “daughter of the above” do have a certain clinical coldness to them however, and don’t really compare to the warmer phrase “In loving memory of my dear husband” above Edward’s name. With all three who lie in this plot, I wonder about who they were, and especially who they were alone, as individuals, not only in relationship to one another. Also, the first two lines of Emma’s inscription is a rhyming micropoem in itself, and I couldn’t resist writing my own poem based on this. I’ve called it “Emma Love” and chose to make Emma central to the poem as a way of redressing some of the gender imbalances detailed above. Edward is positioned last in my poem (instead of first on the headstone) in his role as husband and father, as an attempt to balance out these hierarchical imbalances further.
As a woman incapable
On cruciform sanitary pad
Of my irrelevance
I bleed internally
From excess womb
Evidenced by bloated belly
Looks ripe but is empty
No red cross protects me
From enemy fire
I haemorrhage with ease
And lose credibility
This poem was originally published in 2018 after I experienced a miscarriage. This Sunday it is Mother’s Day in Australia. Every year I have two poems I post in order to draw awareness to the concepts surrounding motherhood and gender roles and the valorised, socially sanctioned, often unquestioned, myth of the ever-nurturing mother. Miscarriage is a devastating event. Being unable to mother when one wants to is also devastating. Being considered less-than by society for being unable to mother or for choosing not to mother, is blatantly wrong. Mother’s Day is about my miscarriage and about the lack of respect that women who do not mother are subjected to in patriarchal society. In the patriarchy, women are generally only valued in relation to others and what they can do for others, rather than for their own abilities and merits as autonomous individuals. My poem aims to address some of these themes and provides food for thought on a day when so many women feel lonely, less-than, or defective.
And so on this most feel-good of tributary days, on the day of the deification of The Mother and all that is maternal, loving, warm, caring, nurturing, selfless, giving and kind, I wish you a Happy Mother’s Day.
To those who were unmothered, who were ignored, abandoned, abused, subsumed, repressed, oppressed, used, treated as a friend, or a play-thing or a no-thing.
To those who grew up without role models, so that a mother means mean and selfish and distracted and childish and foolish and unpredictable and explosive.
To those who mothered and continue to mother themselves, though without the guidance of role models do an imperfect job, alternately indulging the self ‘s every whim and punishing it with endless barrages of internal criticism.
To those who mother others, but not necessarily themselves. To those who had the mother-child role reversed, and learned to play carer, nurturer, listener, genie-in-a-bottle-granter-of-wishes, not just to their own mothers, who couldn’t mother them, but to everyone, stranger or friend, who needed a mother, at any time of day, or night, in any place, or any space, appropriate or not.
To those women who cannot or will not have children, you are not less of a woman for it.
To those of you who find today hard because of any or all of these things. To those who feel left out.
I wish you all a Happy Mother’s Day.
I feel the weight of my past and the hopelessness of my future like a pile of heavy rocks pinning my body down. I am tired of it and I want to change. I visualise having the strength to stand up and as I do so I see the rocks fall away, scattering around me. Big, brown, spiky rocks. Heavy rocks. They roll away with little resistance. It is not too hard. I emerge naked, lighter, freer. But not completely. I need to tell my story, or else I risk being buried alive again.
This was the very first thing I posted on my blog on January 22, 2018. I’m stunned to discover I’ve written 947 posts in a little over four years. I’m also stunned to realise how relevant this post remains, and how it so clearly frames the entire purpose of this blog, which is all about self expression and disclosure, and which was inspired by the MeToo uprising at the end of 2017.
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It’s ten years today since you left, yet it’s longer than that since I last saw you. The last time was when we danced in the nursing home together, remember? First, jiving arm in arm down the hall, big band bellowing from the communal TV. Then, whirling and twirling to Bach fugues and laughing and clapping and singing while Glenn Gould’s fingers flew on the keyboard so fast that they blurred while yours snapped in the air and then I kissed you through joy and tears and said I love you Dad and thank you and goodbye. But you didn’t leave then, well, not quite, though you were already gone.
You always wanted to hear me sing and I always felt too shy, like you’d see my innards, witness my most treasured secrets, take away my soul. But now I know you just wanted it to sing. I didn’t have a voice, but you wanted one to emerge. Last night I sang along with the Miserere by Allegri and I hit the high C. I have no idea how but my body remembered and as it soared it unlocked me and the me that died when you did. The music in me died back then because I thought all along I was doing it for you. My music was my gift to you, an offering to the father god who placed his girl-child on a pedestal and never took her down. It was a tricky place for me to be, but was strangely without condition and more about your belief in me than exaltation, so let’s just call it love, shall we? Yes, I’d like that.
Lord knows I need some balance but I didn’t know it was there all along. Sometimes it takes a different way of looking, a way of reaching for the light like a hungry plant, to see that the darkness can be avoided if only you choose life. All I needed to do was peer in the mirror: my face like yours, my eyes your eyes, my voice yours but higher, my music a cultured, trained expression of your own raw talent. Your love constant, your belief in me stable. Never pushing, only encouraging. Steady. Known. Bedrock.
That time you followed along on the footpath while I marched on International Women’s Day 1996 through the centre of town. It was so taboo then, so dirty to be a feminist, yet you clapped, cheered and smiled from the sidelines, raised your fist in solidarity with your daughter cautiously being herself, quietly finding her voice among familiars. I smile thinking about it. My belly feels warm.
And I’m glad, Dad, that there are things you’ve missed. Like my struggle through the aftermath of you going. I’m glad you never saw me this way. I’m glad you missed the fracture of the family that came undone with your leaving. You do know you held it and me together? Like psychic glue, I wonder more and more about the power of you. You missed the ascendance of idiots in positions of power both home and abroad, and senseless attacks on citizens by terror-inducing maniacs, escalating fear and fiscal folly, increasingly wasteful consumption and the election of a fraudulent orange-hued strange-haired man to the highest office on the planet. You would have been aghast, yet curious. And I’m glad you missed the smart phone, and social media’s spiralling rise and its co-opting and ruining of human relationships and language, and I’m glad you missed the music, which got much, much worse and much more boring and much less live and oh how you would have hated it. Especially after growing up through rock ’n’ roll and The Beatles and singing in opera choruses and musicals and of course in the shower too.
And I’m sad, Dad, that there are things you’ve missed. Like the orange cat who is my constant companion. She is pretty special and full of spunk and chirrups and I reckon she would have let you pat her. And the farm with the sheep and the million yellow flowers and the snakes and the mice and the tiny town nearby that looks like it’s itching for a gun fight. But I’m not sad that you missed the disease, this dreaded thing that’s forced us into our homes, into a great disconnect that feels like death while living while we wait and occupy space, while we all hold our breath. Placeholders we are, waiting to spring into action and hug and dance and sing again, once the invisible threat is vanquished. You, as always, would have been fascinated by it, but I’m glad you aren’t here for it. It might have killed you if you weren’t already dead.
I imagine you doing your crazy dance in the loungeroom, making us laugh, knees bent, twisting inwards-and-outwards while your feet pivoted, head jerking emphatically, clicking fingers, always embarrassing us. You were such a dag, Dad, and you didn’t care. Such abandon and freedom in the body that betrayed you too soon in the end. Such wit and spark in a sharp mind that became so cruelly muddled and confused. The purity of those final days, sitting in the sun on a bench outside with you, cuddling and smiling at one other. You had no words and love needs none.
Love needs no posturing for it is felt.
This piece was originally published on medium.com in April 2020.