We Need More Words

qualityThe Bloke and I don’t fight often. We’ve spent the better part of twenty years happily muddling along, quietly delighting in our continued coexistence.

But every now and then — because we’re real, normal human beings — we have a bit of a barney. Generally speaking these arguments are not over anything particularly controversial (such as just how many surfboards/boogie boards/random vessels of an inflatable variety a family of four might actually require on a weekend away), but last night…well, it was a different story.

We were watching Nanette, Hannah Gadsby’s hour-long stand up show, a vertiable tour de force explaining why she is choosing to leave comedy behind. Nanette is, simply, brilliant: it is a brutally honest and unbelievably courageous piece of story telling. It is also, in parts, uncomfortable viewing — particularly if you’re a straight, white male who has just been watching Season Two of Glow, complete with its depiction of a Harvey Weinsteinesque “meeting” involving a young and vulnerable actress, and if you had also happened to top that experience off by taking a look at Andrew Denton’s Interview with Tim Winton (the one who wrote my favourite book) speaking about toxic masculinity.

Straight, white male.

Now we all know that the straight, white male segment of the population is copping a bit of a caning at the moment. With good reason, of course — and let’s be clear: in my view, there’s nothing wrong with challenging a long-established framework of white, male privilege that has been propped up by centuries of patriarchy and misogyny. And I, as a straight, white female, last night felt the need to point out that those structures were the very things that silently condoned straight, white men heckling or wolf-whistling at me when I was a schoolgirl, walking past a construction site at the top of the street I lived in. That allowed a crowded platform of commuters to stand by and ignore the straight, white man who tried to look up my skirt, and who failed to assist me when he followed me onto the train. That normalised regular pay increases for the (overwhelmingly) straight, white male professionals in several firms in which I worked and did not even bother to schedule salary reviews for the (overwhelmingly) female support staff.  That continues to impose a tax on women’s sanitary products…but let me stop there. I could, as most women could, go on and on.

Straight, white male.

These were the words that sparked our disagreement, along with the onslaught being fairly and squarely directed at that particular segment of the population.

Because The Bloke identifies as a straight, white male — and, while I can’t dispute his logic, last night I also felt the need to point out that I don’t view him through that prism at all. I felt the need to explain that if he had been the sort of straight, white male who is currently — and with good reason — being called to account, I would never even have considered dated him, let alone marrying him. That I don’t believe him to be a misogynist. That I certainly don’t perceive him to be anything like Donald Trump.

I explained to The Bloke that when I look at him, I see a successful business owner who pays his male and female staff equally. I see a husband who consistently treats me as an equal in our life partnership. I see a father who is helping to raise two daughters to be the best human beings they can be. I see a person who frequently helps with housework and does not delineate duties on the basis of gender. I see a man who is willing to draw attention to language, attitudes and behaviours towards women that are unacceptable. I see a…feminist.

Feminist?!

Initially, The Bloke wasn’t quite sure what to make of that word, either, being aware of the many and varied connotations and convictions attached to it. But — because of the man he is — The Bloke listened to me and not only heard, but also made sure he understood my point of view.

unityAnd that’s where Hannah Gadsby is absolutely right — we need more words, people.

We need a multitude of words.

We need more words to describe the men who might, quite literally, be straight, white males, but who are also men whose own language, attitudes and behaviours are helping to dismantle the architecture of straight, white, male privilege. Men who support and empower women and girls not because they are female, but because they are human beings, and who encourage other men and raise their sons to do just the same. Men who, in my life, I feel fortunate to call father, brother, mentor, friend.

We need more words to define the things that unite us and celebrate all the things we hold in common — not more labels, or pigeonholes, or tiny little compartmentalised boxes.

We need more words.

Because it matters…

Audra McDonald: Build a Bridge

Audra McDonald: Build a Bridge

Last weekend I had the inestimable privilege of hearing Audra McDonald sing with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Performing the final concert of a lengthy tour, she lit up the Sydney Opera House stage, singing celebrated Broadway tunes and other, lesser-known numbers: everything from George Gershwin’s Summertime to Kate Miller-Heidke’s Facebook Song.

At the end of the show, the vast majority of audience members rose to their feet and gave McDonald the standing ovation she richly deserved. And she rewarded us with not one, but two encores, the second being Somewhere Over The Rainbow, which she prefaced by explaining that she is a passionate advocate of equality — and particularly of Marriage Equality.

And that’s when it hit me: that Sydney, the city I live in and the city I love, is one of the few places Audra McDonald would have visited on her extensive tour where Marriage Equality does not exist.

And it bugged me. It rankled.

Now, as anyone who follows the Blue Jai Blog with any regularity will tell you, when something bothers me this is where I come to make sense of it. And they would also tell you that I’m not usually one to use this blog to talk about anything particularly controversial (like politics or religion, for example), and there’s a good reason for that: what you believe is your business, and what I believe is mine. It’s that simple — really.

To be clear, the lack of Marriage Equality in Australia is not something I am directly affected by: I’m a heterosexual female who is married to a heterosexual male. We had lived together for years before we tied the knot, we owned real property together, we even had joint custody of a cat (a British Blue; thanks for asking, catlovers). For various reasons — most of which revolve around me being far too stubborn and sassy for my own good — it took The Bloke and me the better part of a decade to set up a joint bank account (you know, a regular transaction account that allows you both to see exactly where the money is being spent, right down to the last bookshop and cafe dollar), but we got there in the end.

But here’s the thing: in days past — probably more recently than we’d like to admit — cohabitation prior to marriage was frowned upon. Female ownership of property was unlawful. With the exception of caring for a small furry domestic animal, pretty much all that The Bloke and I did prior to getting married was, at one point or another, either socially unacceptable or legally prohibited. And while my inner cynic may suspect that Ann Patchett was onto something when she observed that opening a joint bank account is “a moment of trust and commitment the likes of which most wedding vows couldn’t touch”, the fact remains that nearly ten years ago, The Bloke and I were able to stand up in front of our family and friends and make a public promise to love each other and to try to do the right thing by each other for the rest of our lives.

We got married. And it mattered.

Discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identification? To me, it just doesn't add up...

Discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identification? To me, it just doesn’t add up…

Now, I’m not about to wade into the troubled waters that swirl around the various arguments for or against Marriage Equality, because I don’t find political wrangling or religious rhetoric particularly appealing. (Ever.)

But what I will share are my musings about why I suspect achieving Marriage Equality in Australia would be a good thing — not specifically for me (an already married mother of two), but for our society.

First of all, I want to live in a society that does not discriminate on the basis of sex, gender, race, religion, political persuasion, eye colour or even the length of your armpit hair (let alone whether you choose to wax it, shave it, or dye it green). I believe we all have a right to live in such a society, and to participate in the democratic processes that protect that right.

Thinking

Yes, yes — I know we’re not discussing war or the end of the world, but in my opinion the Twelfth Doctor makes a powerful argument for social evolution: “Thinking…it’s just a fancy word for changing your mind”.

I want to live in a society that is evolutionary, that adapts and responds to change instead of saying, “but we’ve always done it this way”. Social evolution has enabled me, a woman, to own property. To vote. To receive (supposedly) equal pay for equal work. As Charles Darwin said, “It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one that is most responsive to change.” And, to my mind, Marriage Equality is not the only issue challenging our society to adapt — combating global warming, closing the wealth gap, ending family violence would all go on that list too. But our responses need to reflect our society as it is today. Why? Well, as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said recently: “Because it’s 2015”.

I want to live in a society where, if either one of my children comes home one day and says, “I’ve met the most incredible human being, and I love them and want to spend the rest of my life with them — I want to marry them,” they can do so. Legally. No matter who the other person is.

Love is precious. Love is valuable. Love is magnificent, it is mighty, it is miraculous. Love transcends sex and gender, politics and religion, culture and race, and it’s definitely got it all over joint bank accounts.

So if two people — any two people — love each other so much that they are prepared to stand up, publicly, and make a lifelong commitment to each other? Well, after all these musings, I know I’d like to live in a society where they can get married.

Not just because it’s 2015.

Because it matters.