Sticks

AUTHORS:

I believe that women have the fate of the Earth in the palm of their hands. Some 53 per cent of us are women and we really are pretty wimpish. We don’t step up to the plate — and it’s time we took over. I think men have had their turn and we’re in a profound mess.

 –Helen Caldicott, Australian paediatrician who was named by the Smithsonian Institute as one of the most influential women in the world.

Welcome to the first edition of Kindred. I hope you love the new name and new look as much as we do! Lots of our readers have contacted us asking why we needed to change byronchild’s name and our response has been simply, ‘because the magazine is more than child and more than Byron’.

The word kindred means community, family and the recognition that we are of the same substance. It recognises that we all, each one of us, exist as equals, and deserve love, respect and the right to thrive. It suggests that we work together for those ends. Kindred, in a sense, is a noun, an adjective and a verb. It implies who we are but also the means by which we can remain so — together as one, expressing as one, for the sake of the one.

In many ways, the name heralds a new phase of the magazine — one of greater clarity and perhaps even, thanks to the years of byronchild beforehand, of greater wisdom and maturity. But in some ways, nothing has changed — what compels each of us who work in Kindred remains the same: a deep respect and love for humanity and for the earth that sustains us. So, I hope that in spite of the new look and the new name, you still feel like you are home and that you belong.

I’d like to thank in particular four amazing people who have made this edition of Kindred possible. Firstly, to my mother Peta. She flew all the way from Wales where she lives to be with my children and myself as I wrangled with the creation of the magazine at deadline time. She washed our laundry, made us dinner, kept the house clean, took the kids to the bus stop and kept me laughing. My husband Alok, who is a major part of Kindred, does everything, including the beautiful layout and keeps his head around the advertising and distribution. But most importantly, he keeps me sane and grounded. And to my children Arun and Sahaja — who are an inspiration every moment, and who compel me to become a better parent, a better person and to make this world a better place.

It’s been an amazing few weeks leading up to the publishing of Kindred. And as with so many editorials, this one began to write itself as events shaped themselves over the weeks. This time it has been inspired by the airing of the October 22nd edition of 60 Minutes with a feature called ‘Being There’. ‘Being There’ was a 60 Minutes version of smear journalism on Attachment Parenting (see video part I and II on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yv8itNc7cb4). In brief, the feature made a mockery of natural parenting, the producers bending over backwards to sell ridicule for ratings. Every scenario was tilted towards the fringe and the ludicrous. The summary: should you be unusually responsive to your child’s emotional and physical needs for her optimal wellbeing, you are a freak.

In the end, breastfeeding, bonding and co-sleeping was vilified and anyone practising it, shamed. This, to me, is serious business.

It was a heartbreaking example of cheap media, and an indication of where most of our journalism is headed. The death of intellectual diversity and watchdog media will be attended by the likes of programs such as 60 Minutes, all the while keeping the public mind numbingly entertained so that we won’t notice.

60 Minutes’ Tara Brown could barely hide her contempt as she questioned breastfeeding mothers. Her silky groomed presenter’s voice outlined her interpretation of attachment theory, which was something like: ‘you can’t work or have friends, you can’t have a sex life, you can’t send your kids to school and you definitely can’t put nappies on your babies.’ Give me a break. What is interesting to note is that some months previous to the feature, the producers contacted me wanting to know if I ‘knew any mothers who were still breastfeeding their children at five years old or older and would be willing to show it on camera’. Naively, I at first thought this might be an opportunity to promote breastfeeding, and that in spite of their obvious tactics for ratings, it might be able to be turned around to something positive. A short conversation with the production assistant warned me away from the situation. But others less fortunate appeared on the show, probably thinking they too could use the opportunity to get out the message of natural parenting.

We emailed our Australian subscribers about the feature after it aired and suggested everyone write letters to the producers. We received copies of many letters (some of which we feature in the letters section this edition). It was an inspiration to experience the response and to know there are so many out there willing to add their voices to the outcry.

Yet one letter I received interested me very much. Instead of writing to 60 Minutes it was directed to me and suggested that programs such as 60 Minutes were only trash media anyway. I was told I shouldn’t get ‘stuck into such media’ because they were not worth the fuss. Hmmm. It’s a point, but…

While it’s true such programming is barely worth the air it transmits on, let alone the time and effort to respond to it, response to 60 Minutes is not for 60 Minutes’ sake. Our response is for all of those who are affected and will be affected by such programming. Yes, many who read this magazine would probably not watch 60 Minutes, though many do. But that is not the point. The point is that television, radio and newspapers shape culture. And trash programs, too, shape culture. [Independent publications like Kindred become even more important in the light of the direction our mainstream media is going. The ABC, formerly a bastion of honest journalism, is no longer able to challenge government programs so that really leaves Kindred as one of the few sources of real information on childrearing nationally.]

Every day hundreds of thousands of people are tuning in to one of those ‘not worth the time’ programs. And every day, opinions are shaped, culture is formed. These opinions go on to forge our public policy, and dictate the tolerance, or lack thereof, for how children are parented, educated, cared for. It shapes how our relatives and family respond to us when they see us parenting, and how our children’s teachers respond to our children. This is why we must respond, engage with that with which we disagree.

What struck me the most about ‘Being There’ was the shaming. All that was innately feminine — breastfeeding, nurturing, birth and responsiveness — was shamed. Never mind how long someone chooses to breastfeed, or that they choose to homeschool, the act of nurturing was shamed. This is misogyny at its most insidious. And I don’t feel I’m being dramatic by saying this. Let’s call a spade, a spade — we are a misogynous culture.

Wow, let that one settle in a while.

It started me thinking about how misogyny plays out in other aspects of Australian life. And yet the absence of outcry is deafening. The absence of women’s outcry is even more deafening.

Take for example the ongoing trickle of reports about gang rapes implicating professional Australian sport. More than 20 rugby league and Australian rules football players have been accused in connection with at least eight incidents of rape and sexual assault since 2004. Now, this just really gets my goat. There’s the newscaster, announcing yet another Bulldog’s violent sexual exploit, and then when the sport is on, we see a stadium full of cheering women. ‘Go Bulldogs!’, they shout! Hello!?

And you’ll even find it in the tourism trade. I live near Byron Bay, where the tourists stream in non-stop all year round. Many come in shoddy rented vans from a company called Wicked Camper Vans. You’d know these vans if you saw them — spray-painted for effect, they come in groovy colours and have a kind of retro urban-hippie look. Young tourists like the rental price, and the fact that they can drive them all around the country, and, I guess, look cool at the music festivals. The only problem is that many of them feature sexually exploitive language aimed at women and their body parts. You almost can’t believe such language can be seen driving around the Woolies car park, there for everyone (including my seven-year-old daughter) to read. Driving past, I see a young girl in the van’s passenger seat. Her eyes are vague, but hey, she’s cute. ‘Girl, what are you doing in there?’ I want to ask.

So, where’s the outcry? Why is it so quiet? Where’s the rage and the letters to the editors? Why aren’t those vans seen in a mangled blazing pile in the centre of town for all to see? Forget bra burning — how about van burning! And why aren’t those stadiums empty? Why haven’t we spray-painted vans with ball-players’ names to let everyone know what they did?

I have a story to tell you. Many years ago, after the ‘Green Revolution’ made its way to India, the introduction of GMOs soon followed in the nineties (see ). It was good business for the agri-corporations because not only could they sell their patented seed to the desperate farmers, but they could sell them the toxic pesticides and fertilisers as well. After some time, and some decent yields, the crops began to diminish. The farmers also became ill from the chemical exposure to the pesticides and fertilisers. In addition, these farmers owed money to the companies and their situation became desperate. It is estimated that over twenty-five thousand Indian farmers committed suicide since 1997 as a result. Some estimate much more.

In response, two friends of mine started a company called Organic India. They approached about five hundred farmers in the village of Azamgarh and offered to pay them well for their produce if they would farm it organically. Certifying so many farms under one company was cost prohibitive, so Organic India negotiated what was called a ‘group certification’ — one certification for many farms. However, under group certification, if one farmer deviated from the program, say by planting GM seeds or spraying their crop, then they ruined the certification for all of the farmers and the entire company. The farmers agreed to the program and the partnership, and they began to see their lives turn around. Their work had been returned to the earth, to a right relationship to it and as a result, they were beginning to thrive again.

But the corporations caught wind of this and sent their men into the village to bribe one of the farmers to sabotage the program. He sprayed his crops with DDT, and thus ruined the certification for every other farmer. The farmers’ lives had been stolen. 

The farmers went to my friends and pleaded for help. Surely there was something they could do. But my friends did not have a solution for them, so the Indian farmers decided to handle things in their own way for themselves. So when the corporate men came to the village again, they were met at the end of the road by a mob of villagers with sticks and stones, and told that if they entered the village, they would not come out again. That was the beginning of the end of corporate agriculture’s stronghold in India.

Now Organic India has over ten thousand organic farms all over India. The transformation has been immense and at the same time simple, because the farmers have seen for themselves the gains for their stewardship of the earth.

I tell you this story, because I am struck by the image of the villagers meeting those suited men with their sticks — taking a stand for their lives.

We today have a few suited men at our village entrance. They come in the form of Tara Brown, Wicked Vans, the media, public policy and globalisation. They come in the form of shaming relatives, and most importantly, in the form of our own collective denial and complacency. We need to meet them at the road, with our proverbial sticks and shout, ‘No! Leave from here!’

We could probably do with a healthy dose of stick-raising anger at the moment — anger at what has become so all-pervading that we no longer even see it any more: the hatred for and fear of the feminine. Because misogyny is not something that should be tolerated. And remember, misogyny doesn’t stop with women — it is reflected in how we treat the planet and children. And how we treat ourselves, man or woman, when we are vulnerable.

And every time a van drives through town with spray-painted references to a vagina, or a footballer violates another woman only to be cheered on later that day, or a news show shames breastfeeding — we are collectively saying, ‘it’s OK that the planet is exploited and that mothering is violated’. And every time a woman remains quiet about it, the message is even louder.

Watch out for the spiritual misogyny that will attempt to talk you out of your anger and stick-waving — implying that such responses are unevolved, unnecessary, or worse, ineffective. Perhaps instead, tap into that feral nature that instinctually knows what is happening to our world and to our society is dangerous for babies, children and mothers. And then, speak up. Every voice is important, no — essential. Because if we don’t speak up for ourselves, who will? And if we don’t speak up now, when will we? When the last ice cap melts?

Beware when they come looking for you. When they discover you ‘don’t spank’ they’ll tie you up in the village square, ridicule you and burn you at the stake.

And when they come, will we meet them at the road with our sticks?

 

Categories: Environmental Justice,Social Justice,Thinking Global

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