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Feminists barely acknowledged the significance of what we now know to be the momentous changes which were taking place around them and because of them. The changes were seen as either not deep enough or in danger of being overturned. At the very moment when feminism could have changed its rhetoric as many of its objectives were being met, there was instead a reassertion of its basic propositions. Why?

When I announced to friends and family I was resigning from my civil servant job to travel with my wife Stephanie to Australia, many asked what I would then do when I got here. I explained the procedures required for making a visa application to stay in the state, that I would probably not be able to work for several months at least. Quite a few folks that I spoke to about this became alarmed for my future prospects. So I was just going to sit at home while my wife went out to work? What about my morale, how would I fill my days?

Personally I saw an upside to all of this. The chance to read as much as I like – hence this blog. Maybe even improve my writing – the #Nanowrimo competition was a godsend. As the months have passed though I do find myself regretting not having a professional income, that sense of achievement that comes with a salary, an acknowledgment of the work you have done. Volunteering has filled a gap I did not anticipate. At no point have I thought of myself as less masculine because of my financial circumstances. The received wisdom, despite the advent of contemporary feminism entering the mainstream, remains that the breadwinner for a household has the authority. And authority, as any traditional feminist will tell you (and on that point their Right-wing opponents agree) is first and foremost an expression of patriarchal power. My relationship with my wife, our desire to live as equals regardless of our circumstances, I realize is quite unusual for many people.

Rosalind Coward‘s book argues two main points. Firstly that feminism has achieved much for women that feminists themselves rarely recognize. To do so, it appears, would be to admit that the disparity between the genders has lessened. This, in turn, would weaken the force of the feminist argument. Her second main point is that in engaging the political right in this continuing argument of extremes – single mothers are the greatest problem facing society; masculinity itself is under threat; women who wish to ‘have it all’, are merely greedy – feminism itself has been caught in a reductio ad absurdum. The dialectic has been beached on confrontational bear-baiting by both sides.

The caveat to this is of course that feminism as a whole is not guilty of this. Just that the most visible proponents of feminist theory in the media continue to repeat the same aphorisms as if nothing has changed. Women in the workplace who balance their family lives with their careers are noticeably quiet. The position of men could be said to be under threat, because they in turn have not chosen to review their status in a changing world.

I fear I am putting words in the author’s mouth. Coward discusses how social inequality, that stalwart point of Left politics, has been replaced by politically correct musings on the nature of the family as an essential element in society. The role of the father, by this rationale, has been undermined, leading to youth crime and failures in education. She notes at one point that while feminist theory once pointed to the poor exams results of female students as proof  of discrimination, similar results attributed to male students from the 90s onwards have been dismissed.

Indeed Coward terms ‘womanism’, as the assertion that where men once assumed an innate superiority over women, now the fairer sex has been proven to be on top. The notoriously anti-feminist Margaret Thatcher is nevertheless embraced as a symbol of the capability of women to rise to the top.

There is a failure to recognize that while historically power may be said to be gendered, the desire for power is not.

Coward examines not only contemporary academic works on feminism, but popular novels such as Erica Jong‘s 70’s classic Fear of Flying and changes in media such as the ‘Diet Coke Break’ ad campaign, to demonstrate how shifts in culture have occurred, but the rhetoric has stultified.

Refreshing and challenging.

 

This book we proudly delicate, to Aussies overseas,

You’re trying to make a safer world, for all our families

Last Saturday I read Fly Away Peter by David Malouf, which featured an astonishing vision of a Hades dedicated to Australian Diggers who lost their lives during World War One. This book features a collection of poems, stories and memories of home, intended to lift the spirit of Australian service personnel working overseas.

That said my favourite story in the collection is Melanie Harris’ Loon Kitten Stories, which has nothing to do with the war in Afghanistan, but does feature a determined kitten named Sarge. This simple tale of the author and her flatmates attempting to break in a fiendishly intelligent feline manages to raise a smile and remind the reader that sometimes the simplest things in life can lift the spirit. A year in the life of one frustrated cat owner becomes an epic story of human versus ball of fur and claws. It is a sweetly endearing comic tale.

Swede by Sergeant Grant Teeboon also is concerned with the furry kind, a police dog in this instance, who takes a distinct dislike to Margaret Thatcher. Then Allan Goode’s Mateship defines that most quintessential of Australian qualities by comparing it to the relationship between two puppies.

For the most part though the book features poems and stories from service personnel telling of difficult experiences in distant lands; with families and loved ones waiting for them at home. It is also a book about Australia and Australian pride, about why the Diggers are so well regarded.

Broken into a series of different sections, some dedicated to humour, even romance, the book reminds us that these are men and women who have left so much behind. It also serves to remind them what is waiting for them when they return. Not everyone agrees on the case for war and certain pieces express the anger of those fighting for a cause they are not convinced is a worthy one. Nevertheless once committed the Diggers will not refuse to serve.

In addition to the intimate thoughts expressed in verse and prose, Postcards from Home also features art and photography dedicated to the sights of Australia. Carlo Travato’s illustrations feature throughout the book, but his drawings of quotidian objects are startlingly detailed. There are also photos of some ordinary things, such as a mother possum with its child. Some contrast the familiar sight of Sydney bay with a certain animal in shot. Another comical image has a rather confused Santa Claus stuck halfway up a post.

A sudden change of tone is offered by Kris Farrant, a Canberra based musician who submitted a series of poems taking their inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulu Mythos. At first I was surprised, after all I am very familiar with the line That is not dead which can eternally lie, but I have always considered that New England writer to be something of a cult concern. However, it just goes to show how home itself is a collection of memories and things that are not fixed in the soil of Australia. R.A. Dee’s Charmers is a humourous, yet quirkily romantic tale, without a single squamous in sight (and thank Cthulu for that, a Lovecraft romance is not something I would like to read). Both writers offer contrasting views on life at home….alright not so much with the Cthulu, but you can read Lovecraft at home! They might discourage that in the armed services.

This is a book dedicated to a good cause and is quite a heartfelt at that. Many thanks to Odyssey Books for the review copy.

I deplore the far too easy analogy between the traditional role of the priest and the current role of the therapist. It can only be made by people who clearly know very little of your profession and less than nothing of mine. You may assuage a troubled mind, but you offer no solace to the soul.

The Catholic Church is facing a losing battle with public opinion these days. The horrific revelations of child sex abuse that have increased in recent years were only made more horrifying with the discovery that the Vatican has made it policy to cover up allegations of abuse in lieu of investigating and prosecuting the crimes. This year Cardinal Tarciscio Bertone went even further and laid the blame on homosexual priests, in effect excusing the Church itself of any responsibility. A long-standing antagonistic relationship exists between the Catholic Church and the gay community, one that has led to the ironical claiming of Christian martyrs as gay icons, such as Saint Sebastian. Even the masochistic imagery of the Passion has itself become confused by sexual ambiguity and it is this blurred line between martyrdom and repressed sexuality that author Michael Arditti explores with his first novel.

Each chapter of The Celibate opens with a continuing narration by an erudite tour guide to a group of astonished tourists. We then flit from, in the first half of the novel, a discussion of the Whitechapel murders by the figure popularly known as Jack The Ripper, to a second narration, that of a troubled young man who has been ordered to undergo therapy. Slowly it becomes clear that the tour guide and the young man, an ordinand in the Anglo-Catholic Church, are one and the same. The therapy sessions are entirely one-sided, with the trainee priest’s life story unfolding almost unprompted, as to his increasing frustration, the therapist never speaks.

He describes how his calling was quite a unique one. As the son of an English Jew it seemed odd to many that he would choose to become a priest, but he feels compelled to study the Catholic faith and make it his own. At the seminary he befriends – and from the beginning we are given to understand was betrayed by – another student named Jonathan, who is fiercely passionate and politically active. The narrator at one point mentions that his one-time friend expounded from the pulpit that the Church’s ban of homosexuality is actually a distraction from the breaking of the more serious taboo of incest in the Bible by figures such as Noah and Lot.

The sudden seizure upon the altar which leads to the narrator’s suspension from his studies results in him working alongside more secular charities for a time. While there he discovers something of his old missionary zeal in trying to help London rent boys. He compares himself to William Gladstone, which in turn reflects the narration by his future self of the attitude towards prostitutes held by the Victorian era. Slowly his religious resolve begins to weaken and he discovers that he has been hiding his true nature from himself, something that the rent boys and pimps he meets are quick to guess at. Can someone believe in a Christian god represented on this Earth by a homophobic church and be gay at the same time?

This book is divided into two sections, each bookended with a different opening tour by our nameless guide. The first compares the hypocrisy of the Victorian era with its condemnation of ‘fallen women’, (allowing for a double-victimisation at the hands of the Whitechapel murderer), to the rampant homophobia of the Church and its refusal of mercy to homosexuals. The second examines the parallels between the plague of 1665 and the present-day AIDS epidemic, with bigotry and intolerance increasing the risk to sufferers of both.

As Arditti has chosen the device of having this character engage in ongoing monologues, via his tour guide patter and therapist confessional, we are privy only to his thoughts throughout. Scholarly discussions of the history of Christianity meet a reserved naivety of a man hiding from himself. As such the reader comes to know this nameless protagonist better than he knows himself – and by extension, we come to understand the dilemma of many priests who are called to betray themselves.

This is a stunning, yet disturbing debut novel. Sex and spirituality are twinned, the bigotry of the Thatcherite era equated with Victorian hypocrisy. A powerfully moving book.

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