Friday, August 31, 2012

Feminism and the power of social media #destroythejoint

In the past week much has been written about the trolls of social media, cowards who hide behind their keyboards spewing out hate. But yesterday we were given a startling reminder of just how hateful traditional media can be; and how social media can be a source of empowerment rather than victimisation.

It is no great surprise that the reminder came from shock jock Alan Jones, who sitting safely behind his microphone, viciously attacked Australia's Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and a string of other women in positions of political power. He not only said "women are destroying the joint" but added "There's no chaff bag big enough for these people".

It was more of the same from a man who is famous for wearing his hate, rather than his heart, on his sleeve; a man who doesn't need to hide behind a keyboard but is instead paid a fortune for his particularly ugly brand of broadcasting. And a man who is not alone. Just think Kyle Sandilands and the companies who are more than happy to attach their products to the politics of hate that they both peddle.

Rather than lie down and take it, the women of twitter rose up. With the hashtag #destroythejoint cleverly coined by Jane Caro, the fun began. Before long Jane and the hashtag were trending and #destroythejoint merchandise was on sale thanks to the fast work of @yvettevignando. In a beautiful twist funds raised from the sale of this merchandise will go to supporting refugees, another target of Jones’ hate.

Words that were meant to degrade and undermine women instead became a clarion call to action. The women of twitter became keyboard warriors of the best sort, using social media to mock (and dare I say it, destroy) one of the most arrogant and politically powerful voices of MSM.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Wait and see

"Just tell me if you see anything that is of concern," I say to my son's new teacher. "Don't try to spare my feelings. I want to know."

I sound so self-assured, reasonable, like a mother whose heart is impermeable, encased inside a bullet proof vest.

Then at school pick-up a parent makes an off-hand comment about my child, and in that comment I hear a thousand judgments wrapped up in layer upon layer of kindness and concern; and I picture a teacher contemplating whether now is the right time to approach me or if she should give it a few more weeks to settle, time to wait and see.

Before long my boy is beside me, handing over his backpack in exchange for the scooter he insists I bring with me each day at pickup time.

"Let's go," he barks. And with that we are off, racing around the park, negotiating how we will fill in the hours before it is time to collect the big kids.

At the car I call my husband, hoping he can meet us for lunch, knowing that he will let me talk for as long as it takes to work loose the hard knot of anxiety that has formed inside me. But he is out of the office and without his cell phone.

We go to lunch anyway and on the way my son draws a bird with his new markers. He is so proud of himself, declaring that with his latest drawing he is now an artist. Another cafe dweller shows him how to draw a different type of bird and my son replicates it with great precision. I beam, unable to disguise my pride.

I let my him talk me into buying a chocolate brownie. We split it in half and the overwhelming sweetness proves to be a welcome distraction.

Friday, August 17, 2012

On being 'good'

We often wish that our children would just 'be good'. And in the classroom context our children will often find themselves subject to disciplinary regimes whose goal is to produce desirable or 'good' behaviour, schemes where being 'good' is interchangeable with being obedient and compliant.

But do we really want to raise children to be 'good'? Is this compatible with raising engaged learners, critical thinkers, active citizens in a democratic state?

Last year all the teachers in my daughter's grade used a 'carrot and stick' system to reward and punish classroom behaviour. Once students acquired a certain number of tickets they could claim a small prize but if they broke a rule they lost tickets and their chance to collect a prize.

My daughter refused, point blank, to participate. In fact, she regularly tore up her tickets. She is in most respects a 'good' student, but in her own quiet and determined way she staged a one person rebellion. And while I would appreciate a little less rebellion on the home front I am proud of her resolve, her refusal to submit to a manipulative scheme that to her felt like an insult.

Today, Sister Megan Rice, an 82-year-old American nun with a long history of activism, is on trial (along with two male accomplices) for taking part in a break in at a top US nuclear weapons facility. She faces a possible 16-year prison term. And in Russia, Pussy Riot have been sentenced to two years imprisonment for refusing to just shut up and submit to an unjust regime.

Brave, fierce and free in the truest sense of the word, these are women who I will hold up to my children - and especially my daughter - as role models. They show that to be truly good means being willing to question and actively defy authority when necessary, take risks, and even give up the privileges (small and large) that we benefit from when we meekly submit to the prevailing order.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Blogging is a waste of time

"Blogging is a waste of time" said the taxi driver, as he delivered me from JFK to NYC for BlogHer12.

I laughed a little nervously, unsure how to respond. Truth be told, it is not as if I haven't had the same thought myself.

There were many sessions at BlogHer12 focusing on the nuts and bolts of blogging and maybe I will make room for some of these in my schedule next year. But this year, more than anything, I was looking to be inspired and even reassured that blogging matters, that it is about more than the statistics and brands and revenue streams; that giveaways and sponsored posts and ads are a sidenote, that they haven't taken over to such an extent that blogging is just another way for 'brands' to reach consumers. 

Attending panels such as #blogging4change and #IntActivists put any such thoughts firmly to rest. These bloggers showed how blogging can be a radical act, especially for those that belong to groups whose voices and perspectives are often ignored or marginalised.

I frantically tried to capture the words of these bloggers and send them out into my tweetstream. And over and over again, this diverse group of women conveyed a similar message:

That taxi driver, the one who informed me with great certainty that blogging is a waste of time, wanted to know if people make money blogging. I sensed that if I could show him that blogging had economic value then I may have been able to change his mind. And after the conference I could have shown him some pretty impressive numbers, the sort that bring the brands to events like BlogHer in droves, the sort that are necessary but leave me cold.

I am proud that I could have just as easily introduced him to a diverse group of women for whom blogging is about something bigger than numbers; women who challenge the rest of us to strive to make sure that our blogs actually do matter.