Month: May 2015

No Justice for Domestic Terrorism

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Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz graduated last Tuesday, but unlike other students, she walked onto the podium to receive her degree carrying a mattress—the mattress she was raped on.

The incident was alleged to have occurred in her sophomore year in 2012 by one Paul Nungesser. As part of her senior art thesis, Ms Sulkowicz carried that mattress around with her in protest until she graduated, or Nungesser was expelled. Sadly, it was the former which came first.

Ms Sulkowicz’s senior performance project entitled Carry That Weight is powerful, empowering and devastating—a visual metaphor for her pain.

“The past year of my life has really been marked by telling people what happened in that most intimate and private space,” she told Columbia Daily.

“I was raped in my own dorm bed, and since then, that space has become fraught for me. I feel like I’ve carried the weight of what happened since then.”

Ms Sulkowicz filed a complaint against Nungesser in April 2013. Two other women also came forward with similar accusations (though they wished to remain anonymous). Despite this, Nungesser was found “not responsible” in Ms Sulkowicz’s case. Even when a further complaint was launched against the University, as well as with the New York Police Department, nothing changed.  In fact, Nungesser has called her performance as a very public, very painful act of bullying.

Many people have been vocal about their support for Ms Sulkowicz, but many more have inundated the internet with dissent, disgust and disbelief. Various articles attack Ms Sulkowicz, some claiming her ordeal is utterly fabricated. In one instance, even Ms Sulkowicz’s Facebook grammar became a source of ridicule. Meanwhile, Nungesser is often characterised as the victim with strong feminist beliefs—because a feminist couldn’t possibly commit a crime.

Proving a crime is important. But how that crime is reacted to is equally important.

The backlash that one woman standing against rape has received is disgusting. This is why most sexual assault crimes are not reported by both male and female victims.. People who have experienced sexual assault are less likely to come forward over fear of ridicule and backlash. Even if somehow miraculously their case manages to reach the courts, they will have to re-experience the trauma through meticulous cross-examinations and confront their attackers.

Rape and sexual abuse is a major issue in our society. Here are some Australian statistics from the Centre of Abuse and Sexual Assault to put it into perspective for you::

  • 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men will be sexually abused before the age of 16.
  • Only 1 in 6 reports of rape to the police are actually prosecuted.
  • 1 in 4 children will experience family violence

Furthermore, according to the Australian Government:

  • 57% of women will experience some form of sexual abuse within their lives.
  • 75% of male victims and 87.7% of female victims knew their attacker.

In another study by the Australian Government, young males represented the highest portion of male victims—particularly those aged 0-9, and that males aged between 10-14 have an 86 in 100,000 chance of being abused.

These are our men and our women. Our young girls and young boys. And they’re at risk of such an unspeakable thing. This needs to change. Victim blaming needs to change. Prosecution rates of offenders must increase. Education programs must be further instituted into schools from an early age—the cycle of violence and abuse must stop.

So, what can we do about it?

Solutions to curb sexual abuse and domestic violence can be viewed from the same lens, after all, their core is the same: abuse.

Australian of the Year Rosie Batty calls abuse “family terrorism”; and she’s completely right.

“Let’s put it in its context: this is terrorism in Australia,” Ms Batty said.

“If we look at the money that we spend on terrorism overseas, for the slight risk it poses to our society, it is disproportionate completely.”

“Let’s start talking about family terrorism. Maybe then, with the context and kind of language, we will start to get a real sense of urgency.”

Feminist philosopher Claudia Card’s theory of rape as a terrorist institution melds perfectly with Batty’s ideologies. In Card’s 1991 “Rape as a Terrorist Institution”, she explains that rape is used as a deterrence, just like deterrence from a crime is a punishment. Only in this case, the major task of rape is the subordinance and subservience of men to women—abuse can be viewed in the same way.

“Like other terrorisms, rape has two targets: ‘bad girls’ and ‘good girls’, those who are expendable…and those to whom a message is sent by the way of the treatment of the former,” the article reads.

“As reward, they [good girls] are granted ‘protection”. Though Card explains this “protector” may be even more dangerous than a stranger—statistics of victims knowing their abuser significantly support this idea.

Card’s ideologies are somewhat outdated, and also need to include the perspective of male victims, too—but her ideas are still completely valid. For women, abuse sends a message that she is not welcome; that she must tread carefully in life so as to not anger another and risk abuse. For men, due to the stereotypes that men must be strong, it sends the message that they must be quiet, conform or risk further abuse or ridicule.

Our very own legal system impedes productivity in terms of prosecuting abuse. Our adversarial system of innocent until proven guilty often lacks the ability to gain justice; abuse and rape is incredibly difficult to provide evidence for. For crimes to be prosecuted, they must also include two elements: the mens rea (the guilty mind) and the actus reus (the guilty act); if one party believes they are entitled to abuse another, or genuinely believes their actions genuinely aren’t abuse, it becomes very difficult to prove the crime.

A more proactive response is needed to the issue of family and interpersonal terrorism. Rosie Batty believes positive results can be achieved through the federal budget committing more money to long-term prevention and awareness procedures—particularly more Legal Aid. Crisis centres and hotlines must also be funded. What’s the point of having facilities if no one answers the phone? If there’s no room to house victims? If victims cannot afford a lawyer?

The fact of the matter is that things, as they are, clearly are not working. So what are you going to do to promote positive change?

Speak out Australia.

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It’s a Vegetarian Wonderland! An Au Lac Review

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It’s hard to be a vegetarian sometimes—especially in a society dominated by the meat industry. I would certainly be very rich if I had a dollar for every time I’ve gone to a restaurant only to find no vegetarian options, other than a bowl of chips or boring garden salad. Fellow vegetarians, we know this feeling well. But fret no more: we have Au Lac’s Royal Vegetarian Cuisine!

I cannot express how amazing it is for a vegetarian to find a restaurant where you don’t have to worry about being stuck with a boring meal. A restaurant where you don’t have to worry that the cooks will accidently slip in some form of animal product. Where you know they didn’t cook your vegetarian meals with the same pans as they cooked meat in. A place where you feel at home—only with tastier food, fantastic and fast service, as well as a stunning, elegant atmosphere, complete with forest-inspired wall art and crystal chandeliers.

I stumbled across this place a few weeks ago, and was instantly greeted like an old friend. Despite the fact that I accidently entered the store half an hour before opening, the workers insisted it was okay—they were happy to serve me, despite not yet being open. All this was delivered with a smile. Of course, I declined and insisted I would come back when they were open—and I did. Even when I paid for my meal with dollar coins and asked for a tax invoice, they smiled (I’m an annoying customer, I know).

Au Lac is 100% vegetarian, with vegan and gluten and nut free options available upon request, and are dedicated to bringing customers the finest, healthiest meals from only the freshest producers. Because I know you’re probably wondering, the meat-free alternatives are made from a variety of products, including soy protein, wheat flour, mushrooms, and an extremely healthy Asian plant called konnyaku. Quality and health has been a part of Au Lac’s philosophy since it first opened in 2000 with two store locations: one in Dickson, Canberra, and the other right here in Wollongong—2/166 Kiera Street. Opening hours are Monday to Sunday, from a convenient and handy 11.30am to 2.30pm, and 5.30pm to 10.30pm.

So let’s get to the important stuff: the food. Honey soy chicken. Soy chicken nuggets. Soy chicken satay sticks. Satay soy beef. Soy chicken in plum sauce. Fried soy fish in a savoury ginger sauce. Fried soy squid with spicy salt and chilli. Braised tofu with vegetables and cashew nuts.  And let’s not forget dessert: banana cake, sundaes and deep fried ice cream. Okay, my mouth is now watering. But best of all about Au Lac? They’re affordable—affordable enough for even a poor university student, with prices ranging from $5-$18. The average main meal is around $15.90, with boiled rice a shockingly cheap $2.50 per person.

It’s the little things that really make a place special, and Au Lac is one of those places. Trip Adviser Australia rates Au Lac a 4.5 out of 5 stars—and I’m going to do the same. On a side note, I’m now starving and desperate for some vegetarian goodness. Try it—and thank me later!

Would you like a side of badass with that? A Richelle Mead review

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“I’d seen weirder things than a haunted shoe, but not many.

…There was a moment’s silence, then a high-pitched male voice snapped, “Go away, bitch.”

Great. A shoe with an attitude.”

Richelle Mead’s Storm Born is the first instalment in her riveting Dark Swan series, and is a work of pure genius and absurd humour. After all, who doesn’t love a touch of wackiness?

Storm Born follows shaman-for-hire Eugenie Markham who dedicates her life to protecting innocents from vicious creatures of a parallel universe—the Otherworld. Death threats and violence, she can handle—Eugenie wields a gun and shamanic magic with ease. In other words: a total badass. That is, until every Otherworldly creature is trying to get into her pants—the downside to an age-old prophecy. Eugenie is forced to confront her enemies, as well as the dark, unknown powers swirling within her.

Mystery, intrigue, betrayal, action and love. Storm Born has it all; complete with haunted shoes, a half-kitsune who gives a new meaning to the phrase “animal attraction”, and a fairy king with a taste for bondage.

Urban fantasy author Richelle Mead is well-renowned for her strong (and incidentally hilarious) female leads. Mead perfectly mixes her wacky brand of dark humour into smoulderingly sexy—not to mention empowering and inspiring—lead ladies and compelling storylines.

Mead’s most recent venture is the mind-blowing Age of X series, which is set in the futuristic world nearly destroyed by religious extremists who unleashed a deadly virus. The Republic of United North America (RUNA) as a result banishes Gods from their society—but these Gods return with a vengeance, and it’s up to implant-enhanced super solider Mae Konskein and her genius (and alcoholic) partner Dr Justin March to maintain order with the utmost secrecy. On the other hand, Mead’s Georgina Kincaid series follows a reluctant succubus with a terrible love life but great shoes through a series of unexpected, dangerous and often heart-breaking events, though Georgina overcomes these through her sassy humour and intelligence.

Perhaps her most well-known venture, Mead’s best-selling young adult series Vampire Academy (which in 2014 was also adapted into a film) follows the snarky half-vampire guardian-in-training Rose Hathaway who is charged with the protecting the last Dragomir moroi (living vampire) princess Lissa Dragomir—who also happens to be her best friend—from a race of ancient, undead and bloodthirsty vampires—the strigoi. Meanwhile, in Vampire Academy’s spin-off series Bloodlines, witty, resourceful and pragmatic Sydney Sage is the protagonist. Sydney is an alchemist; a super-secret human agency which is tasked with concealing the existence of vampires. That is, until she falls in love with one.

Whether it be through brains, brawn or empathy, Mead’s characters prove ladies can kick butt—especially in a male-dominated, patriarchal world.

So, have you ever heard of a succubus who occasionally moonlights as a Christmas elf? An angel who drinks with demons and dresses like a homeless man? An overly-aggressive table? No? Read Richelle Mead’s masterpieces. You will be enlightened—thank me later.

I give Richelle Mead 5 stars—for all of her books; because anything less would be an insult. Go forth, enlightened readers!

Life inside a book: wouldn’t it be nice?

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I can’t help but think life would be better if we lived inside the universe of a novel. Probably not Game of Thrones, though dragons are pretty awesome, though still: how amazing would it be to practise magic or shoot lightning bolts out of your fingertips?

That last part—sadly—is pretty irrelevant to my point and this article.

Some of you may have heard of the best-selling Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead—it recently also became a film (one I am particularly upset with. I mean, seriously. What is up with filmmakers ruining perfectly good books?). Calm down, I’m not writing about Vampire Academy. But I am going to write about Richelle Mead—sort of.

Richelle Mead is a brilliant author, and has written some of the best material I’ve ever read. She also happens to be the one who ignited my passion for writing and all things wacky. Sadly, her adult novels—which I’d argue are some of her best work—are largely unknown.

Her most recent venture is the mind-blowing Age of X series, which is set in a futuristic world nearly destroyed by religious extremists who unleashed a deadly virus. Obviously, the deadly virus part is bad. But how she describes society adapting to overcome this danger is truly remarkable.

Gameboard of the Gods, the first instalment in the series, is mostly set in the Republic of North America (AKA RUNA). In this society, religion has all but been extinguished, thus eliminating religious conflict. Gene pools have been rigorously mixed in order to fight off the disease before a cure was created, so there is no racism or underprivileged minority groups. Gender equality has finally been achieved, as well as equal pay. RUNA also has strict birth control regulation—citizens are embedded with a contraceptive implant until the age of 20, where they are able to conceive up to two children.  If citizens are able to prove they can financially support their family, they may be allowed up to four children—though strictly no more. This removes many issues we experience today, such as teen pregnancies, childhood poverty and a population that is too large for the Earth to possibly sustain. Education is also strongly embedded into RUNA’s culture, with a year of compulsory tertiary education for all students.

I understand some of this stuff is pretty controversial—particularly the control of procreation. I have had many discussions with friends about this; do people have the right to choose? What are the consequences of this?

I fully support a person’s right to choose—within reason. This policy is nothing like China’s disastrous one-child policy, in which 400 million births (mainly female) were prevented. There is no gender inequality in RUNA. And proving you can support your children isn’t paying for them—it’s not elitist, it’s logical. It encourages parents to first further themselves (and the country) before they procreate. In Australia, the average couple has 1.7 children—four is a lot.

This issue isn’t about control; it’s about sustainability. The Earth doesn’t have enough resources for our growing population, and it will be the poor who suffer.

Whether or not you agree with this strict kind of control, you have to admit they solve many issues with a few simple steps—steps that allow society to flourish. The needs of the many should outweigh the needs of the few—somewhere along the line, I think we’ve forgotten that.

I know RUNA isn’t perfect. There are a lot of issues that haven’t been addressed. But you do have to admire the superior—in theory—society. We could end world hunger, end gender inequality, end religious wars (mostly). It sounds great until the banished gods return—with a vengeance, I might add—in a power-scramble for followers. It’s called Gameboard of the Gods for a reason. But that’s beside the point.

My point is: RUNA sounds great. I would gladly live there, and I think we could learn a lot from fictitious worlds like this—admittedly, with some modifications. Someone should notify the politicians immediately.

Counting Dead Women: when will the violence end?

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One woman per week is killed by a former or current partner in Australia.

Only nineteen weeks into 2015 , 37 women have suffered violent deaths, 25 of which have led to convictions. Twenty-four times, the culprit was a male—19 of which were either a current, or former, partner of the victim. Australian activist group Destroy the Joint  thoroughly investigates each case through their Counting Dead Women campaign.

According to a study by the World Health Organisation, domestic violence affects 30% of women worldwide. This violence can take many forms including:

  • Physical battering
  • Emotional and psychological abuse
  • Financial control
  • Sexual abuse
  • Spiritual abuse

White Ribbon estimates that within Australia, 1 in 3 women will experience domestic violence within their lives, and as well as 1 in 3 children. Domestic violence is also the principle cause of homelessness for women and their children, and is the leading contributor in death, disability and ill-health in Australian women aged 15-44. This is an epidemic. So why don’t we hear about it? Is it because these are issues in the private sphere, rather than the public? Or is it simply that subconsciously our society accepts the belief that women, and violence against women, is so normative that it is not important.

Are we so desensitised to violence?

The results from a recent campaign survey, The Line, would suggest as much. In this study, 3000 individuals, between the ages of 12-24, were interviewed. The results were extremely concerning:

  • 1 in 3 believed “exerting control over someone” is not a form of violence.
  • 1 in 4 did not think it was serious if a man, who was normally gentle, slapped his partner when drunk.
  • 1 in 6 respondents said women should know their so-called “place”.
  • 1 in 4 think it’s normal for men to pressure women into sex.

Compare this to Counting Dead Women: from a young age, we as a society are conditioned, whether it’s subconscious or not, to believe certain things as normal. This must be eradicated, beginning with education programs for young people.

Tina Fang, aged 25, was the first Australian woman to die from this silent, “private” killer; her throat was slashed in an Adelaide hotel room.

Rinabel Tiglao Blackmore, aged 44, died on January 2nd after jumping from a moving car on New Year’s Eve. She did this out of fear from her life from partner Shane Dickinson.

January 17th, 26-year-old Leila Alvi was stabbed in her car in Auburn by her estranged husband, despite having an Apprehended Violence Order.

Fabiana Palhares, aged 34, died in hospital on February 2nd, after her ex-partner attacked her with an axe—she was 10 weeks pregnant. Similarly, on February 28th, Tara Costigan aged 28, was killed with an axe at her home in Calwell by ex-partner Marcus Rappell.

Also on February 28th, 22-year-old Dianne Chi, was found in the boot of her car in Otway Ranges – the body of her partner Paul Phan also found intisde the car. Police are investigating a possible murder suicide.

On March 2nd, Kris-Deann Sharpley aged 27, was heavily pregnant when she was shot dead with her seven-year-old son Jackson by father Derek Sharpley.

March 7th, Prabha Arun Kumar was stabbed to death while walking home from work through Parramatta Park.

These are just 8 of the 37 horrific murders that have already happened. When will the next woman be found dead from domestic violence? It’s only a matter of time.

Guess who’s back?

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So, I have been super slack with this blogging thing for about a year. But have no fear! I am back!

So basically, this will be articles i’ve written for the University of Wollongong website (and magazine), as well as assessments and other opinion pieces. If you’re reading this, you’re awesome. I will strive to make this a fairly entertaining and informing blog! Stay tuned!

ItBeginsWithZ 2.0!

Fifty Shades of Frustrated

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I can’t help but feel incredibly conflicted when writing about Fifty Shades of Grey.

There’s obviously a lot of hate for the novel and the film; hate which I don’t think is entirely justified.

Take Lisa Wilkinson’s scathing review, for example. She calls the film “domestic violence dressed up as erotica” that is “more appalling than appealing”.

Don’t get me wrong; I adore Lisa Wilkinson. As a successful female journalist, she’s a massive role model to me. But I have to disagree, and point out that she hasn’t read the books, either. Therefore, I don’t think it’s entirely fair for her to pass judgement about the series, or people who enjoy it.

I really don’t think the series deserves its bad reputation. Is it violent? Well, yes. But we must remember this key point: she consents. She asks for it, against her better judgement, in some scenes. But it’s her choice to agree to those things.

One scene in particular comes to mind: the controversial punishment scene. I by no means condone this kind of behaviour, I personally think Anastasia is ridiculously stupid for asking Christian to do the worst possible punishment. But again, the key factor: she asks him to. Inevitably, she is hurt (come on Ana, what did you think was going to happen?), and when she tells Christian to leave her alone; he complies. If she’d had said “stop” or any of the code words, “yellow” or “red”, he would have stopped earlier. But she didn’t.

Christian’s enjoyment of said punishment indicates serious (and rather frightening) mental issues, and if you’d read the books, you’d know about them. But Christian does not do one thing that Anastasia doesn’t ask or give permission for. Aside from this controversial scene, she enjoys his control—immensely.

Even if it’s not your cup of tea, you have no right in judging someone for enjoying Fifty Shades of Grey.

It is by no means a perfect text. The books are terribly written with far too many references to one’s inner goddess. And let’s not forget the unmistakable Twilight comparisons. A mysterious and sadistic billionaire who warns a shy virgin to stay away for her own good—sound familiar? I just had to roll my eyes when watching the film – that is, when I wasn’t making dirty and hilarious comments.

But it’s not the writing that has everybody hooked. It’s the taboo and kinky nature of the best-selling series that gives a whole new meaning to Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and grey silk ties.

Lisa Wilkinson says Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t erotic. One hundred million book owners, as well as the many more who have seen the film, would disagree with you.

Fifty Shades of Grey is not a normal love story, that much is true. For starters, it begins with a contract. But as time progresses, real feelings are developed, particularly in the second and third books.

I am not entirely defending Christian Grey. Like I said, I think he has some serious issues, not to mention his incredibly controlling nature (I would probably punch him if I were Anastasia). He often uses “because it pleases me” to convince Ana to do some pretty kinky stuff. But from what we see (and read), it certainly pleases her too. Let’s be honest, it would probably please most of us too. I mean, any man that can make a woman orgasm by playing with her nipples deserves a medal.

This is why I am fifty shades of frustrated when it comes to people putting their uneducated two cents in. Some of whom haven’t even seen the film, let alone read the books, before they pass judgement. Feminist sites in particular ask: “how can you be a feminist and think Fifty Shades of Grey is okay?” Easy, you don’t judge someone else for their sexual preferences and recognise that Anastasia consents.

It’s an endless circle, really: women hating on other women for their likes and dislikes, judging each other for their likes and dislikes.

It’s 2015. People are into kinky stuff. Can we move on already, please?

*Note: this article was originally published here in February. I’m not just super late to the conversation (haha).*