Sunday, 28 October 2012

Reclaim the Night in Australia

Tonight's  Reclaim the Night Sydney rally has sharpened focus with the recent alleged rape and murder of Jill Meagher abducted when walking home at night, and social media campaigns that have sprung up to combat rising misogyny and sexism in Australia as shown in the rants of misogynist radio broadcasters, eg Alan Jones, and confirmed by WEFs 2012 Global Gender Gap report that shows Australia has slipped 10 places since 2006, to no. 25 behind some African states.

Read Ruth Skilbeck's longer comment here: 
Reclaim the Night: breaking the silence from Ireland to Australia.

Reclaim the Night, breaking the silence from Ireland to Australia

By Ruth Skilbeck

The new awareness in Australia to end misogyny and sexism that has been sharpened by Jill Meagher’s alleged rape and murder, is coming not a moment too soon and tragically too late. Propelled by anger, and determination, we can but SPEAK OUT, take action, find strength in solidarity, and activate for change to make a safer society for women.

If silence is the cloak that conceals and allows these crimes of sexual violence to be perpetrated, if silence is the gag of shame that prevents the truth from being told, if silencing is the weapon of intimidation and assault, we have to SPEAK OUT and break the silence for good.

This year’s Reclaim the Night march in Australia has a particular urgency, and rallying point, and that is the alleged abduction, rape, and murder of Jill Meagher 29, ABC employee, who moved to Australia from Ireland with her husband three years ago. She was approached and allegedly abducted as she walked home alone in lit streets in inner Melbourne after meeting colleagues for drinks at a bar after work on September 22.

Jill Meagher’s alleged murder (as it has to be described as the accused has yet to be brought to trial) occurred just a few weeks after disgraced Sydney radio broadcaster, Alan Jones, had opined on air to his audience that women were “destroying the joint” and referring by name to women in prominent positions in society, a few weeks later Jones was recorded saying in a public meeting to young Liberals that Australia’s first female PMs father had died of shame.

Coming so soon after the shocking misogyny voiced in Jones’ mainstream media broadcasts, Jill Meagher’s killing was the catalyst to an up surging public movement mobilized through social media opposing rising misogyny and sexism in Australia, signified in increasing verbal attacks on prominent women in public position, and calling for an end to sexual violence against women. This is a call to end sexism and misogyny on all levels, as symbolic violence of verbal abuse leads to and creates a climate for physical and sexual violence, from the anti-women vitriol of misogynistic media commentators, which give the coded go-ahead green light of approval to wife bashers and rapists, in the justification that somehow women deserve to be “kept in their place” as defined by misogynists.

A couple of highly successful social media campaigns, Destroy the Joint, and Sack Alan Jones  sprang up to oppose  misogyny and sexism, and specifically targeting Alan Jones program and calling for advertisers to withdraw their sponsorship from Jones radio station 2GB. Advertisers and sponsors have withdrawn in hordes from Jones program. As previously reported on this site. Mercedes Benz was the first high profile sponsor to drive off at top speed and all his former sponsors have followed suit. This has been costing the broadcaster $80,000 per morning since then.

Last week, a Reclaim the Night rally held in Melbourne attracted 5000 marchers, and Jill Meagher’s memory was honored with speeches and tributes.

Tonight’s march in Sydney is expected to attract approximately 1000.

The renewed movements to end misogyny and sexism in Australia are calling for an end to the silence that allows sexual violence and crimes against women – domestic violence, rape, verbal violence and harassment- to go unreported or unpunished.  The kind of attitude that says a woman “deserves” to be raped and attacked and abused because of her behavior, clothes, working in a male profession etc. Calls for an end to the “blame the victim” attitudes that further violate the survivor of the attack and enable the male perpetrators to get away with and continue their violent crimes under a cover of silence and intimidation.

 Since then thanks to social media campaigns the message is being spread and taken up by wide numbers of people across Australia mobilizing in cities to make change and end the bullying and violence against women. Sack Alan Jones was started up by 22 year old student Nic Lochner, with an online change. org petition that within a week had gathered over 100,000 signatures.

"You know, this is not just about the Facebook page of Destroy The Joint or the Sack Alan Jones site, it's about ordinary Australians finally standing up to someone who's bullied them for years," said Jenna Price, UTS academic, journalist, mother of three and founder of Destroy the Joint, in interview on Radio 2GB.

Three weeks after Jill Meagher failed to return home, when the alleged killer had been found, 30,000 people filled the streets of inner Melbourne to march in solidarity and show their outrage at the murder of Jill Meagher and the threat to the safety of their city’s streets and community neighbourhoods.

Jill Meagher’s murder provoked an enormous public reaction, in the days after her disappearance as efforts escalated to find her a social media campaign sprang up on Facebook and twitter and then when her body was found, to find the killer. Police in part attributed social media, to the rapid finding of the killer, as they appealed to public to come forward with any information or sightings they had of that night, where she had been abducted outside a bridal shop, as shown on surveillance video.

It may well be the impacts of social media that are cutting through the “myths” that have dogged sexual assault cases and prejudiced against women:

“There are many powerful myths about women and their sexuality which may influence the views of players in the court room – namely the judge, lawyers and jurors as well as the community. Acceptance of these myths may mean that jurors have strong expectations about how a ‘real’ victim would behave before, during and after an alleged sexual assault.” p. 1
From Hot Topics: Legal Issues in Plain Language, 56, 2007. Published by the Legal Information Access Centre.

 Amongst those who came forward were several women media professionals like Jill Meagher who said that in the past months they had been approached by a male who had acted threateningly towards them, one was almost knocked off her bicycle.

After the murderer was found, police had to call for a Facebook page to be closed down lest the postings of hatred interfere with the running of the legal case and render evidence against him invalid.

The marches around Australia, and the big rally planned in Sydney’s Hyde Park, will be focusing on this tragic murder of a young woman doing what many young women across the country and the world, have felt safe to do walk home alone from their local pub at night, and then found that they were not safe. The march is for making the streets and the night safe for women around the world, to end  violence against women. The first Reclaim the Night march took place in Belgium in 1976, and in Australia in 1978.  

This tragic case highlights the danger and ignites a fear of dangerous strangers – the rapist and aggressor as an assailant, unknown to the victim.

However, government figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, show that in most sexual assault cases the assailant is known to the woman who is assaulted, and in the majority of cases, the attacker is in the same family as the woman who is attacked, and can be husband, or other relative.

" Indigenous women reported three times as many incidents of sexual violence in the previous 12 months as non-Indigenous women in the Australian component of the International Violence Against Women Survey.” (2007, p 3)    ref

“Much of the current data available on sexual assault in Australia comes from the Women’s Safety Australia Survey, conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in 19953. Information was collected from approximately 6300 women aged 18 and over about their safety at home and in the community. In particular, information was collected about women’s experiences of physical and sexual violence, the nature of the violence, the actions women took after experiencing violence and the effect on their life.

The ABS Women’s Safety Survey found that:
> one in six adult women had experienced sexual assault since the age of 15 years;
> sexual assaults after the age of 15 years were most commonly committed by a man known to the victim and usually occurred in a home;
> one in ten women who had ever been in an intimate relationship disclosed an incident of sexual violence by an intimate partner;
> most women were sexually assaulted by someone they knew – the most common relationships were boyfriend/date (27.8%) and ex-partner (22.8%);
> only one in ten women had reported the sexual assault;
> only about one in five of these women had sought professional help. "

From Hot Topics: Legal Issues in Plain Language, 56, 2007. Published by the Legal Information Access Centre.

According to the just released  2012 results of the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report, the gender gap in Australia has increased by ten places since the first report in 2006 and Australia has dropped to 25th place in the world, behind Mozambique and Burundi.
In Ireland however it is the reverse. Ireland is now at fifth place, and the gender gap in Ireland has closed since 2006.

The new awareness in Australia to end misogyny and sexism that has been sharpened by Jill Meagher’s tragic death, is coming not a moment too soon then and tragically too late. Propelled by anger, and determination, women and men must now speak out, take action, find strength in solidarity, and activate for change to make a safer society for women, and everyone, to put an end to rape and sexual violence, and ensure that streets and workplaces, educational institutions, and homes are all safe places for women.

©Copyright Ruth Skilbeck 

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Cultural Policy in Australia needs to Support Artists and “Junior” Academics

By Ruth Skilbeck

 Damning figures just released into return on investment in higher education degrees in Australia, in terms of graduate incomes, shows that the return for graduates of Art and performing arts is still less than zero for most Art graduates who have to actually subsidise their careers as artists. “Junior” academic-writer-intellectuals (post-PhD) are in a similar position of having to produce research and write many publications before they are eligible for livable research grants- or full term employment.

“Artists’ work involves high hidden costs, including unremunerated research and development costs.”  Artist Careers: do you really expect to get paid? Australia Council of the Arts report.

One thing that seems to happen is that often once academics move into full time university positions they stop talking about these realities, as they do not want to say things that they fear may jeopardise their own positions. This is how power reproduces itself, and the marginalised workers (casual academics, part timers, those on time based contracts etc.) are never mentioned the policy discussion and decisions. (The syndrome whereby "old Marxists" morph into neoliberal apologists or centrists- protecting their own interests).  So if those marginalised academics are also producing publications- which as an academic post PhD one has to do in order to have a chance of gaining a more permanent position or research grant (post doc - DECRA etc.)- this means that all the enormous amount of research and writing work that goes into this will be unpaid. In effect, if not primary intention, this is a way that the universities/government are able to extract an enormous amount of unpaid labour from "junior" academics (of all ages)- approx. 10 publications are needed before an academic is eligible to apply for a DECRA or other post doc research grant that will pay a livable salary. ("Junior" in academic terms refers to "age" after PhD graduation, so academics in their 50s can be thereby  considered junior).

This reflects the situation of artists in the community who also work unpaid whilst they are attempting to build up their careers and outputs as artists- to reach a stage where they may make some return from their art.

Yet at the same time, in Sydney, costs for all the basics, housing, food, utilities etc., continue to escalate. This is making it impossible for junior/casual academics, and artists to live here and continue to work as 'productively' and creatively as they could be. We need a cultural policy that addresses all of these issues, to strengthen the arts and cultural life in Australia and support all those who create culture and art.  A good start would be subsidies for accommodation and all other basics. Many universities are now investing huge amounts of money in building student accommodation that they are renting out to students at high prices. At the very least they should be offering genuinely subsidised and low cost housing to casual academics and part time staff- so that they can continue to afford to work at the universities? Many academics working in Sydney universities cannot even afford to live in Sydney and have to somehow fund ways of staying in Sydney whilst they teach. All casual/contract academics should be assisted by universities providing free or very lost cost accommodation for the teachers of the courses that after all bring in the bulk of the income for the universities.

©Copyright  Ruth Skilbeck

Artist careers.
Do you really expect to get paid?
An economic study of professional artists in Australia

What’s your other job?
A census analysis of arts employment in Australia

2009/2010 (research period).

GradStats 2012

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Julia Gillard, Role Model in Sexual Politics

By Ruth Skilbeck

No matter if her party politics policies may be accused of centrism when it comes to sexual politics Julia Gillard Australia’s first female prime minister, has unequivocally spoken up and spoken out for women worldwide, in a rousing speech she gave this week, hitting back at the persecution and sexist abuse she has experienced since she took on the role of PM in 2010.  In standing up against sexism and misogyny in the workplace – which for her is the Australian parliament, Gillard declared she was “representing the women of Australia” and her words were heard and applauded around the world by a global audience.   

Sydney Morning Herald Transcript of Julia Gillard's Speech:


Friday, 12 October 2012

Seminar: Writing in an Expanded Field- Ruth Skilbeck, David McKnight, Bem Le Hunte

Next week, I will be presenting my writing and publishing research, and speaking, with colleagues David McKnight and Bem le Hunte each talking from our own experiences on the theme of  'Writing in an Expanded Field: how 'disruptive' writer-intellectuals are creating new forms of writing and reading' in a seminar  hosted by the Journalism and Media Research Centre, in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, at the University of New South Wales.

Writing in an Expanded Field -  Ruth Skilbeck, David McKnight, Bem Le Hunte

  • When:18th October
  • Time:3:00pm - 5:00pm
  • Location:Room 327, Robert Webster Building
From writing for publics to writing for scholars: how ‘disruptive’ writer-intellectuals are creating new forms of writing and reading.
University-based writers, who have come into universities from media communications and creative practice face, and have to find their own ways around very specific challenges, of authorial and self identity, when they make the transition to publishing as writer (journalist; novelist) and scholarly researcher.
How do writers who have identities in creative media, journalism, media and communications who have taken PhDs find their own authentic ways of moving from publishing as practitioners to publishing as scholars and researchers, based in universities – yet reaching out to wider audiences in both scholarly publishing and general educated readership?
What changes does this process and search bring about in identity as authors, and selves, how does this affect writers’ writing?
In what ways is this relatively new phenomenon in Australia creating new texts, new forms of authorship and new audiences? And new ways of reading?
Ruth Skilbeck, David McKnight and Bem Le Hunte, three writers at different stages, post PhD, talk about their own individual experiences, raise questions and discuss the challenges and discoveries of publishing (as more than ‘one’ authorial voice), in their own, fluid, nuanced voices, and identities– as polyphonic author/creative artist/journalism intellectuals, in the changing scholarly and commercial global publishing landscapes.
Dr David McKnight is a Senior Research Fellow at the Journalism and Media Research Centre at the University of NSW. He is the author of three books on topics diverse as contemporary politics, recent Australian history and international espionage. David also contributes regularly to the opinion pages of Australian newspapers.
Dr Bem le Hunte is a lecturer in the Journalism and Media Research Centre as well as a best-selling author, currently writing her fourth novel. She has worked for over twenty-three years as a creative director and written for over 500 clients across all media – from print and film to radio and digital. She recently gained her doctorate in creative writing from the University of Sydney.
Dr Ruth Skilbeck, is a lecturer in the Journalism and Media Research Centre as well as a widely published arts writer and journalist in Ireland, the UK, and Australia – where she started up an international media business specializing in arts feature writing. Since gaining her MA in Writing and PhD in 2007, from UTS, she has published 12 research articles in peer reviewed, scholarly journals and books.

“From polysemy to polyphony, from writing for publics to writing for scholars, to moving the goal posts. Three different writers with varied perspectives talk about their experiences of writing in an expanded field in the new age of digital media communication, when traditional forms of journalism are dissolving and morphing into social media polyphony, and creative writing is expanding into multi modal art, how is authentic meaning voiced and communicated- by writers in the process of adapting to these changes? ”  Ruth Skilbeck