Desperately seeking SlutWalk sensibility

I really want to have an opinion about SlutWalk, I really do. I want to be firm in my resolve, and to be able to argue my points convincingly to anyone who’s interested in hearing them. “Yes! Go along and march, it’s great for women” or “No! It’s wrong, the messages are wrong.”

But I’ve been reading opinion pieces for just over a week now, and each time I think, “Yes, that’s it, that’s what I really think” and then I read the next one and think, “Hang on, maybe I think this after all.” More tellingly, I’ve now got to the point of , “I like that bit, but not that bit; this bit makes sense to my flickering inner feminist, and that bit’s just hypercultural postmodern bullshit.”

And that’s the problem for me -there are too many complexities to neatly encapsulate the event, let alone the arguments for and against it. And that’s because, in my case at least, being a 40-something woman in 2011 is a complex thing. All the experience of a wasted youth, a bit of travel, some great education, interesting career choices and now the constant puzzle of parenting two boys is there to remind me that a woman’s place in the world is usually where she’s standing, catching her breath, right at that moment.

And let me say that within that great education was a fair amount of cultural theory including feminist studies, and my mum was one of the career trailblazers in the 60s and 70s yada yada, so this whole feminism concept is not entirely new to me. So the fact I feel unable to find my place in this argument worries me.

One of the niggling aspects for me is the location of the conversation. When I think of how I’ve accessed SlutWalk, it’s been through ABC online News (only yesterday!), The Drum, Q&A and Radio National; and New Matilda. I’m not saying it hasn’t been covered anywhere else, but they’re the only places I’ve had time to listen, to read – to engage, dahling, with the arguments being put by the writers.

And let me be clear on the contributors I’m referring to. It started with a porn discussion from the Sydney Writer’s Festival I heard on RN driving home on Sunday evening, then my online onslaught began with Drag0nista, Guy Rundle (why Guy, why?), Mel Campbell, Clem Bastow in The Age, SlutWalk organiser Karen Pickering, self-proclaimed radical feminist Sarah Langford, Kimberley Ramplin, then the blokes-for-a-laff got in with Ben Pobjie taking no prisoners as usual, and cartoonist (Mr Lovely) First Dog On The Moon, who was just lovely as usual.  And I can’t forget the viewing pleasure that was this week’s Q&A. Finally, this evening I read Catherine Deveny’s contribution, which I agreed with more than I expected to.

And that’s because one thing I agree with, as an underlying theme of SlutWalk, is that rape is rape, and I couldn’t help but smile at Deveny’s t-shirt, “You’re not allowed to rape sluts either.”  Now that to me is a direct message to the target audience, which comes back to the location of the arguments, raising the bigger issue at play.

To explain, let’s jump for a minute to Lindsay Tanner, talking to political journalist George Megalogenis about his new book Sideshow: Dumbing Down Democracy on Radio National’s Big Ideas on Thursday 26 May:

Out on the Internet, out in digital land, there are all kinds of fantastic new products with high quality commentary, blogs, even some stuff on pay TV – the trouble is: that is talking to the engaged, educated minority … and until you’ve actually got a mechanicam for engaging the bulk of the population in a political conversation about the major issues of the day, which we used to have and which I think is slowly diminishing, then you’ve got a problem.”

I have no immediate answer (other than a long essay about the challenges of content and communication in contemporary Australian culture and politics) but I also have no doubt that Tanner’s point will be made hard and fast, as Kimberley Ramplin points out, this weekend:  on the commercial television news we will see images of scantlily-clad frozen young things having a bit of a lark in the name of the new sisterhood, not really sure how much of it is supposed to be fun, while alongside them the sensibly dressed women (shoes or otherwise), making a point with their placards, a genuinely heartfelt and passionate point about sexual freedom, won’t get any screen time, and the female journalist sent to cover the story will be squirming in her Jimmy Choos later in the evening watching the playback on the little screen; something won’t sit quite right with her and yet she won’t be able to put her finger on what it is. But if Deveny’s t-shirt gets a few seconds onscreen, maybe that’s an achievement.

So in the end I guess it comes down to: if you walk, good for you. If you don’t, I understand. And that, unfortunately, is the best I can do. And I mean it.

[Thanks Hollaback for the image].

Radio that melts your ice cream

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve received from your professional training? It doesn’t matter what work you do, but at some stage have you ever had a manager tell you something, or read something in a manual (heaven forbid) that’s actually come back to you down the track and made you think, “ahh, that’s what they meant.”

When I first began working with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in the early 2000s I was fortunate to be part of some rare nationwide training with a visiting US radio guru.  Radio was new to me so I took it all in, and one of the things I remember her saying was, “interested is interesting.”

In other words, during an interview, if you’re interested in the topic of your guest, you will make your interview more interesting for the listener. And being interested is more than just being interested; it also depends on your research, preparation and listening skills, among other things. That bit of advice has always stayed with me – and not just in radio. I’ve found it applies equally to study, and conversations in general.

Equally memorable is a line that an ABC manager told me in the early days – maybe originally from the guru, maybe one of his own originals – that good radio “keeps you in the car when you’ve pulled into the driveway after shopping and you’re prepared to let your tub of ice cream melt so you can hear the end of the story or interview.”

I’ve had that experience three times in the last year, twice recently, and all on ABC Radio National programs.  They were figurative melts – no real ice cream was harmed during the listening of these programs – but twice I drove around the block a few times and took a detour to prolong pulling into the driveway, and once I sat in the car park at uni bawling a little longer than usually acceptable when students sit bawling in their cars for whatever reason.

These are the three stories:

A Prairie Home Companion – 8 Jan 2011 – ‘The News from Lake Wobegon’.

I’m a late convert to Garrison Keillor’s whimsical program which has been on air, on and off, since 1974 and was made visual through the late great Robert Altman’s swan song movie of the same name. In it, I believe Meryl and Lily are great – you might remember their Oscars set piece the year it was released – but I haven’t seen the movie, and being an Altman fan that’s a bit disgraceful really, but I digress…

APHC is a live radio show recorded weekly from the Fitzgerald Theatre in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and it contains a mix of music, comedy, drama, and guests – all tied together by the urbane and lilting voice of Keillor as host and writer. He’s an acquired taste, to be sure, but once your appetite is whet, you just want to consume more.

A regular segment of the program is the ‘News from Lake Wobegon’, where Keillor updates us on the goings on of the residents of his fictional town, loosely based on the locations and people of his American Midwest upbringing. One of the regular characters is the Lutheran Pastor Liz, and in this episode so much of her character is revealed so beautifully and compassionately.  Boy, can he write – and deliver. Enjoy. [Let the music finish; about 93:45]

This American Life – broadcast on 13 Feb 2011 – ‘Valentine’s Day 98’

It’s no accident that the two programs above occupy/ied the 7pm slot on a Sunday night on RN, which is the time I’ve been driving home from weekend shifts at the ABC.  There’s a nice little ‘circle of life’ about that, isn’t there.  Anyway, Garrison got bumped from his slot by This American Life on 30 January this year so I’ve had no choice but to jump from APHC to TAL, and so far I ain’t complaining.

My first exposure to the delights of this weekly program produced by Chicago Public Radio was the day before Valentine’s Day. Being only the third scheduled TAL broadcast on RN, the programmers, in their wisdom, went back to 1998 for a love-themed program. But not with the usual stories of true love or love across the miles, but rather:

Stories about couples that all take place decades after that moment their eyes first meet.

Having been married nearly 16 years and well and truly living whatever love is in the second decade of marriage, this angle appealed to me. I was, after all, a captive audience in the car for my hour’s drive home. Well. These stories – all three of them – had me gripped.  And it proves ‘interested is interesting’ at its best. The amount of preparation and production to make these so powerful cannot be underestimated – and, of course, the talent and passion of the story tellers. Enjoy.

360 documentaries – May 2010 / Jan 2011 – ‘Lonely Funeral’

I can’t explain this any better than the blurb from the 360 Documentaries site; that this is simply a story about an unlikely friendship between two men who make such a difference to the dignity of the recent (unidentified) departed.  The comments posted by listeners echo my thoughts on this wondrous half hour of radio. Litres and litres of ice cream would have melted if they’d been in the boot; instead, this was the uni one.  Enjoy.

I’d love to hear if you’ve had similar experiences.

The (milk) glass is still half empty

“We don’t want to do it because we’re the good guys in this, and we want farmers to like us, but we have to because – sorry, folks – that’s competition.”

From ABC news online:

Woolworths says its ongoing milk price war with rival supermarket Coles is unsustainable and will inevitably hurt Australian dairy farmers.

Executives from Woolworths and Coles have held talks with the National Farmers Federation about the potential impact of the price reductions on dairy farmers.

Coles recently slashed its milk prices to just $1 per litre and Woolworths community relations manager Simon Berger says the supermarket has been forced to cut its prices to compete.

“That’s the nature of a competitive industry,” he said.

“But we are very forthright in saying that this is not a price war we would have started … and it’s a price war we do have some concerns about.

“We do prefer to work with farmers, rather than against them.”

Mr Berger says a good relationship with farmers is essential to delivering quality produce, and says Woolworths is siding with farmers on the issue.

“We told them that we share some of their concerns about this particular price war,” he said.

“Coming after the floods, which have devastated the dairy industry after a decade of drought, also gives them very real concerns about the future viability of the dairy industry.”

It’s all a bit hard to swallow, isn’t it.

Update: milk price flow-on effects

I am feeling flush full of people power today, as if I have been personally responsible for developments in the milk price war in Western Australia.

Last week I posted the contents of my email to Coles Customer Service which outlined my discomfort with the price war.  I was pleased to receive the following reply, which not only answered some questions but provided extra background:

Good Afternoon

Thank you for your email regarding the recent price reduction of our Coles brand Milk.

Coles have an ongoing commitment to provide our customers with a great range of quality food that costs less. The recent price reduction of our Coles brand 2 and 3 litre milk is just one of the many ways that we are delivering on this commitment.

We hear and understand concerns that price reductions may adversely affect Australian farmers, however, we believe that there is no foundation to these concerns. Coles buys its milk from major dairy processing companies, not directly from dairy farmers. Coles have made the decision to absorb the costs of this price reduction and has not sought any reduced prices from the processors we buy from. In turn, our processors should not need to seek price reductions from the dairy farmers.

Additionally, the farm gate price of milk is set by dairy farmer cooperatives and dairy processors, not retailers.  The farm gate price is largely influenced by the international price of milk products.   Australia exports about half of its annual milk production and is one of the biggest dairy exporters in the world.  To put this in perspective, Coles milk sales represent less than 5% of Australia’s annual dairy production.

Coles is committed to maintaining lower milk prices for our customers, however, if there are genuine cost pressures coming through the milk supply chain, Coles has and will, continue to review them with our dairy suppliers.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to contact us. We do hope the above information has helped alleviate your concerns.

Yours sincerely

Lucinda Moses
Coles Customer Care

It’s fair to say that this reply did, in fact, alleviate some of my concerns, and I thanked Lucinda in a return email.

Imagine my surprise this morning then when I heard on ABC news Coles to pay farmers affected by ‘milk wars’. In the story, Coles says it will pay a five cents a litre price increase to the WA milk processor Brownes Dairy to ensure farmers are not affected by recent cuts to its retail milk prices:

Coles spokesman Jim Cooper says the higher price will be fairer to Western Australian dairy farmers.

“The processors there didn’t get a substantial price rise in the last round of contact negotiations,” he said.

“We felt given some of the competition that’s been happening, that extra payment was only appropriate and bring them more into line with other states.”

“We believe that this price rise should be passed through to them and should further alleviate any concerns they might have,” he said.

The Dairy Farmers Milk Co-operative chairman Ian Zandstra says Coles appears to be acknowledging the error of its ways.

“We hope this is the first step in them admitting they’ve got it wrong,” he said.

“Clearly they want to get some farmers support after the somewhat arrogant statements that surrounded their announcement of their retailer behaviour.

“Equally it’s telling us that they acknowledge they they do influence regional milk prices and the prices paid by processors for the supplies on the domestic shelf.”

It’s times like these that I feel for the Customer Service and Communications Managers whose job it is to turn last week’s message on its head and rewrite the new strategy into something that consumers will buy – literally and figuratively. And yes, that’s their job, but I’m probably more sympathetic than most because I’ve had to do it myself.

But the end result? Cheaper milk for consumers, more income for primary producers, and a clawing back of reputational damage for Coles’ owner, the still-newish-retail-kid-on-the-block: Wesfarmers.

Now I’m off to have a celebratory, extra milky, latte.

[Thank you Little Thoughts for the image.]

My Top 10 lists

You either love ’em or you hate ’em, but Top 10 lists are popular these days, so here are my top 1o lists:

  1. The shopping list – an eternal favourite, never quite complete, which you never quite know until you get home without the milk/lentils/Vegemite/castor sugar. However, disappointment and frustration can somewhat be mitigated by using just gorgeous shopping list stationery. Two of my favourites – Remo’s fridge magnet and pad with helpful memory prompter (right), and, from the 1980s, Sandra Boynton’s clever little ‘Chopin Liszt’ (couldn’t find an image anywhere!)
  2. The Christmas present list – begun in earnest about September, edited and reviewed about November 30, and then scribbled and rewritten frantically on 23 December, just to make sure. Try not to add a $ column; I used to, but have now abandoned it as I just get depressesd.
  3. The Christmas card list – this one’s just come back into vogue as a reaction to the separation of church and state good ol’ fashioned card writing from the online social media circus that allows us to say “Merry Christmas”- and in only 15 characters too, enough left over to tweet a link to my blog with the remaining 125 and upload a pic of the Christmas tree on Facebook and did you see The Digital Story of the Nativity on YouTube it was really cool and Tumblr’s the one to watch — where was I?? Oh yes, getting out my pen and writing cards to the special people on this list who may only hear from me once a year, but it’s Christmas,  goddammit, and we’re all full of love and my thoughts are with them; that is, if I have their address, and extra time after the present shopping. So don’t take it personally if you haven’t received a card, it’s early days in a Back to the Future kinda way.
  4. The dreaded ‘To Do’ list – oh, my notebooks are full of them. It’s a subset of its own: there’s the renovation to-do list, the cleaning to-do list, and the work to-do lists (blog post lists, chargeable hours lists, tax document lists); even the gardening to-do list, which seems a bit silly as you’re not going to have your notebook outside to check items off the list with mulch-encrusted gloves.  But this is a real one from a clean-up a few years ago – and notice the diagonal line, a healthy sign of list completion!
  5. The New Year’s resolutions list – the last one seen was as recently as 2009.  Most of it is still waiting to be achieved. Achieving my new year’s resolutions is going to be one of my new year’s resolutions … next year.
  6. The calendar list – this is a fairly new arrival on the scene, for all those busy parents who now not only have the option of individual columns for each family member, but can also make lists within the columns with nifty little stickers that say things like, “Piano,” “Dentist” and “Play date”. They never seem to have stickers for “Euphonium,” “Gynaecologist” or “Big night out” so you can see who they’re pitching at. I received one of these as a present this year (although I confess I’ve been buying them for the past couple of years) and, by coincidence, it’s a Boyton calendar. With stickers. And a fifth column, which I like to call ‘Other’.
  7. The holiday list – now divided into four columns to ensure all parties of the household are accounted for, although the kids pretty much need the same things which wastes a column, unless you use that now-vacant column to put in all the things that are for the whole family – like iPods and toilet paper.
  8. The ‘just in case’ list. This is not a favourite of mine.  This is the list you make when you have to remember details just in case they a) are needed for future medical purposes, b) are needed for future insurance purposes or c) are needed for future legal purposes, possibly as a result of the outcomes of a) or b).  I have one of these too, from a particularly nasty time in 2009 that involved four hospitals, three ambulances, an RFDS flight and a great potential for the unintentional spread of misinformation. So I recorded everything according to who was affected and treated over a 30-day period. Don’t call me OCD – but at the time I would have answered to “that anxious, stressed-out and exhausted mum over there”.
  9. The wish list! This is a real thing in our house now, thanks to my friend Julie. How many times throughout the year do you see or hear about something and think “I’d love that for Christmas”, or your child/spouse/ significant employer says “I’ve always wanted one of those”.  Well, when you/they do, nip over to the printout you’ve stuck on the fridge/filing cabinet with the handy table courtesy of MS Word and write it on the wish list! Then, come little or big Johnny’s birthday six months later, or at Christmas, you nip back to the list and see that he wanted a Star Wars: the Force Unleashed DS game, or Bluetooth, or hopefully something under $200. Problem solved!
  10. Rounding out the top 10 list is this top 10 list because, frankly, I didn’t think I’d be able to find 10 lists I use and can demonstrate. But I have. And that’s a bit revealing.  Hmm, there’s an idea for a list: top 10 things I’ve revealed about myself on this blog …

[And I’ve just thought of two more: the Santa List for True Believers, coming soon on Brownie Talk; and the, ahem, To All The Men I’ve Loved Before list, Julio Iglesias style.  I’m not the only one, right?]

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