Racial and Gender Justice for Aboriginal Women in Prison

A room full of majority women watch a mix of Aboriginal and non-Indigenous women panellists at the Sydney Law School

On Thursday 23 May 2019, I attended at the Sydney University Law School Beyond Punishment Seminar Series: Aboriginal Women in the Criminal Justice Network. The speakers discussed data on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison, and programs to support them in the state of New South Wales (NSW). ‘Aboriginal’ women in the context of the talks and the discussion below also encompasses Torres Strait Islander women.*

Before I tell you more about the talks, I’ll set the scene, looking solely at the adult prison context affecting Aboriginal women being targeted by the criminal justice system.

Over-incarceration is an issue best examined through a lens of intersectionality, a term originally exploring the limitations of dominant definitions of discrimination under industrial law (Crenshaw 1989: 150). Legal outcomes of Aboriginal women are simultaneously impacted by race, gender, class and other systemic inequalities. Lack of legal resources available to Aboriginal women to navigate the legal system is born of concurrent racial justice and gender inequalities. Economic disadvantage, poor access to therapeutic and other health services, and housing insecurity are preconditions of offending; these are class and racial justice issues. Sexual violence and poverty of Aboriginal mothers are typical of imprisoned women’s backgrounds at a rate that is much higher than male prisoners (Stathopoulos and Quadara 2014). Again, these are both racial and gendered issues, which are interconnected with colonial violence and intergenerational trauma.

I am writing on 26 May; National Sorry Day. This day commemorates the truth-telling of the Bringing Them Home report, the documentation of the Stolen Generations. Around 100,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were forcibly taken from their families under our racist social policy. The first institution built to ‘civilise’ Aboriginal children through the use of violence was in Parramatta, New South Wales (Marlow 2016). From 1910 to 1970, across the nation, Aboriginal children were forced to forget their culture, language and spirituality. They were placed into neglect by Christian-run missions and into White foster care (AHRC 1997). Today, the state continues to forcibly remove Aboriginal children from their families at four times the rate as non-Indigenous kids (Zevallos 2017). New forced adoption laws in New South Wales mean children placed in care will be forcibly adopted (Zevallos 2019). For Aboriginal women in prison, this will almost certainly mean losing legal rights to see their children. Fracturing families through the imprisonment of mothers is another way in which colonial violence continues in the present-day.

Forced removal of Aboriginal children leads to cultural disconnection, exposure to child abuse, an increased likelihood of entering the criminal justice system, and trauma for mothers. These are gender, race and class dynamics unique to Aboriginal women, their families and communities. Continue reading Racial and Gender Justice for Aboriginal Women in Prison

Spanish Film Festival 2019, Part 2: The Good Girls, Ana by Day, Carmen y Lola, The Chambermaid, The Longest Night

Jump in for part 2 of my film reviews for this year’s Spanish Film Festival! All of these films are centred on women and issues of class, as directed by non-Indigenous, non-Black women. But there are other themes of intersectionality that I will draw out.

We start with The Good Girls, a much-celebrated tale about greed and White femininity during the 1982 financial crisis in Mexico. Ana by Day starts from an interesting premise – a White woman comes home to find someone else already in her home: her doppelganger. What to do? We move through risque escapism, as envisioned from a place of class privilege. Two of the strongest films of the festivals follow. For the most thoughtful exploration of patriarchy, sexuality and race I’ve ever seen on film, Carmen y Lola is unsurpassed. It was an engrossing story of a young, lesbian Gitana minority woman in Spain, falling in love in a context where ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ and its complex ties to culture and family are unpacked. Another highlight is a methodical and complex look at the lives of Brown Mexican women who service hotels. If you think that sounds mundane, The Chambermaid will floor you with its poignant study of a woman who has always made herself small to survive. She finds subtle ways to subvert servitude. Finally, with its weighty ideals and harrowing topic of human trafficking, The Longest Night is superb filmmaking but utterly horrific for anyone committed to women’s rights. Let’s find out why.

(Read Spanish Film Festival 2019, Part 1)  Trigger warning: discussion of depicted sexual violence, family violence. Continue reading Spanish Film Festival 2019, Part 2: The Good Girls, Ana by Day, Carmen y Lola, The Chambermaid, The Longest Night

Whiteness, Racism and Power

Here’s a typical example of how White people exercise and maintain racism. Kerri-Anne Kennerly flies into a rage about Saturday’s protests, led by Aboriginal people, seeking to change the date of Australia Day and establish systemic reform that includes a Voice to Parliament and Makarrata (treaty). Kennerly taps the table angrily, ‘Has anyone of them been out to the Outback where children, babies, 5 year olds are being raped. Their mothers are being raped. Their sisters are being raped. They get no education. What have you done? Zippo.’

Here, Kennerly evokes the same strawman argument that politicises rape and child abuse that has been used since colonisation to deny Aboriginal people rights. She could be referring to the Northern Territory Intervention, where the army went into remote regions to justify removals of Aboriginal children. The Intervention was NOT based on evidence – that’s already been proven. It has been catastrophic for communities. Continue reading Whiteness, Racism and Power

Roma: Film Review

 

Roma is a beautiful film that covers issues of gender, race, class and violence in Mexico. Dedicated to, and based on, writer/ director Alfonso Cuarón’s childhood nanny and housekeeper “Libo” (Liboria Rodríguez), the film follows Cleo (the sublime Yalitza Aparicio), a young Mixtec woman employed by an affulent Mexican family. She has lived with them since the children’s birth, herself perhaps still in her 20s. She is beloved by the children, but is still treated like a servant.

Her woman employer, Sofia, also tells Cleo she loves her at a pivotal point in the film, even as we see how she flies into rage, diminishes Cleo and blames her for insignificant details. Sofia’s mother also lives in the household, mostly indifferent to Cleo, until tragedy strikes. At one stage, having been on her feet all day working, Cleo sits on the ground, holding the children’s hands, as the rest of the family sits comfortably on the couch watching TV. Sofia then directs Cleo to get her husband a drink after Cleo is settled.

These are women separated by race and class, but who are bound together by the men in their lives who neglect and mistreat them. The men are a wreck. Everyone, including Sofia, call the philandering husband ‘The Doctor,’ his status, vanity and whims disrupting everything around him. Continue reading Roma: Film Review

Heterosexism in a Scientific Study of Lesbian Attraction

a White woman, shot only from the upper torso, holds candles arranged in the colours of the LGBTQIA or pride flag

An evolutionary psychology study that gained much media attention in May 2017 claims to show women’s sexual attraction to other women is the outcome of evolution, specifically for the pleasure of heterosexual men. The study was reported widely as ‘homosexual women evolved for men’s pleasure.’ Journalists have not read the study nor linked to it. The study is published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. The study is led by Associate Professor Menelaos Apostolou. The team is based at the University of Nicosia, with apparently only one woman co-author.

Here, I show why the study is flawed and why the conclusions are premised on dangerous heterosexism. Heterosexism is the prejudiced belief that heterosexuality is ‘natural’ and ‘normal,’ and that heterosexuality uniformly structures all aspects of social life.  Heterosexism also presumes that gender is a binary (there are only two groups, men or women), and excludes the lived experiences of transgender people. Heterosexism brings to light the social construction of sexuality, and in this case, the values and social dynamics that impact on what is taken-for-granted about heterosexuality.

I focus my discussion on cisgender heterosexual and homosexual people as the authors of the study have presumed men and women can either be homosexual or heterosexual, to the exclusion of other gender and sexual identities. They have done this without explicitly saying so (it is a facet of heterosexism to reinforce binaries, because variations of sexuality disrupt the idea that heterosexuality is natural and normal). Experiences for transgender lesbians would vary, however, the authors presume a gender binary in thinking about lesbian desire.

With these cautions in mind, let’s dive into the study.

Continue reading Heterosexism in a Scientific Study of Lesbian Attraction

Indigenous Women’s Leadership

This past week, Australia celebrated NAIDOC Week (8-15 July), a time to recognise the leadership, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Originally standing for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee, NAIDOC Week has historically reflected the ongoing resistance to genocide, assimilation and land dispossession, famously culminating in the annual Day of Mourning in 1938 (a protest against Australia Day on 26 January). The NAIDOC committee emerged in 1956, and has in recent decades coordinated local and national events and awards to promote Indigenous excellence. This year’s theme is Because of Her We Canpromoting the multiple leadership roles of Indigenous women for their families and communities, as they push for social justice and human rights at the local community and national levels.

I share with you two events I attended that highlight the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in academia, journalism, business, law and social policy. Continue reading Indigenous Women’s Leadership

Women in Tech

Flags from around the world hang high above an alleyway

Earlier this year, I spoke at Readify as part of their International Women’s Day events held around the country.  This is what I said.

I would like to acknowledge and pay respect to the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet; the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. It is upon their ancestral lands on which we meet. I pay my respects to any elders, past, present and emerging. As we celebrate the courage and resilience of women and gender minorities on this International Women’s Day, may we also pay respect to the traditional gender balance, leadership and innovation of Aboriginal people, embedded forever within their Custodianship of Country.

Today I’m going to start of by setting the scene with a quick snapshot of women in the tech sector, which I’m sure you’re all well aware of. I’m going to focus a little more on the solutions that come from the empirical evidence about what works in lifting up women in the workplace. I won’t talk too long, so we can have a bit more a discussion about what initiatives have worked well here or in other places where you’ve worked, or if there’s anything else you want to dive into. Continue reading Women in Tech

A Vigilante: Film Review

TW VAW: ‘A Vigilante’ at the Sydney Film Festival is an affecting film about a woman who has survived intimate partner violence and now rescues women and children from violence. Written and directed by an Australian woman, Sarah Daggar-Nickson, it is a bleak but visually arresting story. Sadie (excellent Olivia Munn) lives a solitary existence and accepts little payment for her services. Most of the violence occurs offscreen or it is retold by survivors – the latter is devastating. The group counseling scenes where women share their stories of leaving violence are painful to watch, but told with great love, respect and care. These are common tales but society turns away from this reality. It was heartening that financial abuse was part of the story, as this is one of the many complex reasons women cannot simply leave. The scenes of violence showing Sadie’s husband are harrowing and triggering because the dialogue and cruelty are vivid. As a story of empowerment, it is difficult to reconcile: most women cannot turn to violence to escape violence. In a superhero origin story perhaps the narrative might be seen as an origin story. But the film is not that. It is presented as a hyper real revenge tale. As a feminist statement, however, this ultimately feeds into the cultural expectation that women need to save themselves or be saved, when the fact is that violence against women and children is a structural issue requiring massive social changes. Regardless, the story treats survivors with compassion. I’m ambivalent about its aim and resolution. I’m glad I saw this and you should also watch it. Then read up on the tireless work of survivors, case workers, shelters, and advocates for whom violence and its aftermath is a daily reality. 7/10

Barangaroo and the Four Thousand Fish

Two people walk along the foreshore. In the background, other groups gather at the pier taking photos and looking around, while others are near a giant vessel. The sun shines brightly as it sets over the water

My Weekends With A Sociologist series is going to start coming to you more frequently and completely out of sequence. I will share with you my visual sociology adventures from different places, at different points in time, showing you what has captivated my sociological imagination most recently, through to what has lingered with me over time. The purpose of this series is to showcase what it is to see the world through a sociological lens. (For visually impaired readers, descriptions in the alt.) So let’s get started!

What better way to restart our journey, than with the enduring legacy of a strong Aboriginal woman, Barangaroo.

Beginning in the first week of January, Sydney annually hosts the Sydney Festival, with various sites around town housing performances, public art and sculptures, including many interactive installations. The best this year was the artwork, Four Thousand Fish, curated by Emily McDaniel, artist from the Kalari Clan of the Wiradjuri nation in Central New South Wales. The artwork blends sea song, visual story telling, sound, lighting, sculptures, landscape photography, music and of course, a beautiful nawi (bark canoe).

Held at the Cutaway in Barangaroo, every weekend this past January, the site was transformed into a public art sculpture that was set ablaze nightly at dusk. I attended an event hosted by the beloved street photographer, Legojacker (formerly from Melbourne, they had moved to Canberra in recent months).

Barangarro is named after the mighty Cammeraygal woman of the Eora nation, who defied colonialism in Gadigal, her homeland (also known as Sydney).

Continue reading Barangaroo and the Four Thousand Fish

Strident Women Speak up on Gender Inequity in Science

Here’s a recap of a discussion I led on Twitter with the hashtag, #StridentWomen.

Hello everyone. Hope you had a strident day being strident. The Chief Scientist has said he hates it when women in science talk about inequality because it detracts from “progress.” Please bear in mind that while 49% of undergraduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are women, only 21% of senior professors of STEMM are women.  So let’s talk now about progress.

Continue reading Strident Women Speak up on Gender Inequity in Science