8degreesoflatitude

THINGS THAT INTEREST, ENGAGE AND ENRAGE

Category: Feminism

Goodbye and Thanks for All the Words

HECTOR’S DIARY

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

Tasty and distasteful morsels from his regular diet of worms

 

THE CAGE

Bali

Monday, Jan. 15, 2018

 

WE’VE had to say goodbye to Jewel Topsfield, who has been the Fairfax media correspondent in Indonesia for three years. It’s one of those rotational things: people get posted in, and then they get posted out. Topsfield has returned to Melbourne, from whence she came, and will be replaced in some weeks’ time by her colleague James Massola. His brief will be wider: South East Asia, but Jakarta-based.

Those of us left behind, post-Jewel, might like to recall the old aphorism from the days of the (British) Indian Army: the soldiers never minded what their officers were like; they just wanted them to stay a long time. In that context, Topsfield is a very good “officer”. She was often in Bali – and is a delightful dinner companion, by the way – and reported far more widely than the shit-and-disaster round preferred by the tabloids and TV, providing her readers with a picture of Indonesia as it actually is.

Our personal favourite is the long interview she did with hard-line 2014 presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, at his hill country ranch in West Java, from which she elicited the information that he looks after the ants there, talks to them, and honours and seeks to protect their highly organised eusocial communities. It was a window into the soul of the real man.

She wrote at the weekend, in her farewell piece, that she had fallen in love with Indonesia, but didn’t really know when, except that it was early in the day. We all feel like that, those of us in the foreign community here for whom the value of humanity in all its rich kaleidoscopic intensity stands far above the business of making a buck. We don’t know, either, when our own cathartic moment was, but it was a very long time ago.

Topsfield relates one anecdote, about her taxi getting caught in floods in Jakarta and her taxi driver getting the giggles as the water crept higher and higher up the car. She said she couldn’t imagine an Australian taxi driver showing such comedic insouciance in such circumstances. We’ll have to pick her up on that, though otherwise her point is insightful. It was a long time ago, so she’s excused, but in floods in Brisbane in 1969 a Yellow Cab got washed into a fast-flowing creek. When rescuers reached it, the driver and his passengers were happily singing the Beatles’ latest hit song, Yellow Submarine.

Thanks for spending some time with us, Jewel.

Wholly Smoke and Mirrors

STATISTICIANS are very useful people. They tell us all sorts of things that would otherwise escape our attention. From the latest data delve by Bappenas, the office of national statistics, we see that cigarette consumption is the second largest contributor to poverty in Indonesia. Tobacco products are relatively cheap here, in contrast to many countries where governments have created huge revenue streams from horrific excise levels on cigarettes.

Smoking rates are declining globally – tobacco is credited with a range of health demerits that would put to shame all four horsemen of the apocalypse, and that oversold message is getting through – but in Indonesia, the smoking demographic is different.

It was interesting that the chief contributor to poverty in Indonesia, according to the statisticians, is rice consumption. Taken together, these two statistics point to costly policy failure by government, as much as anything else. Statisticians rarely measure such meaningful data.

’Tis the Season for Galoshes

THE monsoon is particularly strong in the archipelago this year, and it’s been very wet, as we noted last week. This has given us opportunities for laughter – on the old “if you know a better shell-hole, go to it” line from the Western Front in World War I – as well as a lot of practice at mopping. The Cage never leaks unless it’s raining.

One day recently we felt compelled to pen a little ditty offering advice to the Companion ahead of another maritime excursion to the shops. It went like this:

Get your galoshes, I said to my Squeeze,

It might be as well.

For this rain is heaven,

But we’re going to hell.

Grand Old Oprah

THERE’S something about celebrities. We have one as President of the United States at the moment, though in his case we should place celebrity in inverted commas and add a parenthetical notation (self-proclaimed). Now there’s another one apparently waiting to wait in the wings, in the person of television star Oprah, buoyed by her acquisition of a Golden Goose award.

It’s true that American politics is broken. It shares this condition with other Western democracies – including Australia’s – where the principles that have long underpinned representative legislatures are being stripped away by political chicanery, creeping official controls on people’s lives, and the perversion of democratic freedoms.

The answer in the American context wasn’t Hillary – the Democratic Party must take the rap for that miscalculation – but it most certainly wasn’t Trump, and it wouldn’t be Oprah. It will be found – eventually – in a revival of popular (not populist) principle. Perhaps we need Trump to show us the danger and rank incivility of political incontinence writ large. He may yet be there for two terms, kept in office by those he continues to dupe and others whose interests, some secret, that he really serves even if he doesn’t know it; though there seems to be a rising risk that he will tweet us all off in the interim. We’ll have to see.

In this context, it’s interesting that American governance seems to be on the cusp of beneficial reform – or at least be brought back into the paddock where Old Rationality used to prosper on true public service – by an observable upswing in female interest in politics. The neo-cons and the oligarchs and patriarchs won’t like this, since women are consultative and consensual, definitely not into dick contests, and can generally spot a shyster or a nutcase very quickly. Neither will the so-called heartland of Middle America, where the “No chicks” demographic rules, the one that helped undermine Hillary Clinton’s appallingly bad 2016 campaign. So it may be a long haul. But – Wagons roll!

Fingerprints? Check!

ONE of the delights of being a temporary resident of Indonesia, for Indonesian purposes, is the annual check on your fingerprints as part of your twelve-month visa extension. This requirement is not because the immigration authorities believe that fingerprints change. Well, we don’t think this is the reason, but you never know. It’s because their data storage capacity is too small to store all the data they need. And they need lots of it, several times over.

Well, that and the bureaucratic impossibility of anyone actually finding out how to access data to check. It’s that sort of place. Recordkeeping is high on the list of essentials, but finding records afterwards is apparently a problem.

Still, at least it’s now an electronic digit on the pad affair. There’s no more nasty ink that won’t come off for absolutely ever.

Distaff Dystopia

THE delectable science of sentient flirting has been under siege ever since information technology gave us the human equivalent of the infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of keyboards that might by chance recreate all the works of Shakespeare. At least in the old days you could ignore the locker room louts. Now they take selfies and tweet about their self-proclaimed prowess. But hey, we’re not talking about the President of the United States here.

Instead, we’re referencing French actor Catherine Deneuve and the 99 other French women who have caused a storm by suggesting that the #metoo campaign – the offspring of Harvey Weinstein, the disgusting (and now unloved, since the open secret is no longer even secret) Hollywood mogul, and others who abuse women as if by right – could result in the rise of a New Puritanism. It’s a complex debate that we’ve blogged about here, wearing our other hat.

It’s an issue in Indonesia too, and very broadly so, though in a different setting and context. The winked-at debasement and marginalisation of women must stop, everywhere. Now would be good.

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

Chin-chin!

The Sans Culottes Brigade

Saturday, Jan. 13, 2017

 

WHEN the French actress Catherine Deneuve revealed herself this week to be a woman who believed that men had the right to pester – the obverse of the right of women to tell them to get lost – I waited for the return fire. It wasn’t long coming, and of course it came from the flanks, from the ranks of those whose feminism (and their unarguable position that sexual predation is a crime) have turned #MeToo into a distaff crusade. One wonders, peripherally, what is their view of Heloise and Abelard; but never mind.

Deneuve, who is a fine actor and a woman one suspects it would have been fun to bed – the use of the transitive past is a reference to this writer, not the lady – was the leading name among the 100 French woman, of varying degrees of fame, who wrote an open letter to the newspaper Le Monde. Their point was simple and perfectly sound: that the fevered “debate” now taking place over male predation risks costing us – us being human society – much more than it would gain. They suggest it is risks leading us into a new puritanism.

Pester was perhaps the wrong verb. It invited attention to the worst-case scenario, which in today’s social media scene is tantamount to summoning four horsemen and their attendant apocalypse. It comes in various classifications of fault, from mere irritation (including irritating), annoy, bother or worry, to the Full Monty of plague, persecute, torment or molest.

But I would argue for what we might shorthand as the Deneuve Indulgence. She and her sisters in arms presented an argument that has merit, if we wish to sustain humanity in the form with which we are most comfortable and which, let it be said, nature intended.

The critical commentary that she attracted – I’m thinking particularly of that from the Australian scribbler-feminist Van Badham – to the effect that Deneuve was a good actress but that didn’t make her a social commentator worth listening to, was an ad hominem assault where none was needed. Tell Cate Blanchett and all the other actor-seers who use their privileged podiums to put the world to rights according to them, that they should shut up, and see what happens.

There’s no argument here – or anywhere – to support the actions of the world’s Harvey Weinsteins. It’s a shame, literally, that no one ever took them out behind their limousine garages and belted them with a baseball bat to teach them a lesson. There’s no argument for the patriarchy, either; on any analysis that takes account of fact, it has royally buggered the world. And there is certainly never an argument for turning a blind eye to criminality, because that’s what coercive sexual predation is.

But that’s not what Deneuve and the others were saying. They are women who simply suggest – they’re French women, from a culture where sex has never been secretive, or even fundamentally “dirty”, kept behind Calvinist lace curtains, or viewed as something one does only if licensed to perform that socio-religious rite – that human society is … human society. Sex is for reproduction, certainly, but it is also recreational. It’s fun to become, by agreement, sans culottes with someone else who is also insufficiently clad.

Deneuve and others say that the danger in the present situation is that men will be shoved aside, finally compelled by the weight of “feminist” petitioning to recognise their complete lack of utility, because none can be trusted not to pester.

Where to draw that line is presented in some feminist dialectic as problematical, sometimes even unresolvable. That’s tosh and we owe Deneuve and her friends a vote of thanks for saying so. As a woman who is also an actor, Deneuve is familiar with the ethos of the casting couch (whether she ever used it is beside the point). She is aware, as a sentient, worldly and highly intelligent woman, that opportunity is a chameleon. It thrives by design in whatever environment it is in, and like anything else, is kept within appropriate boundaries by good manners and common sense.

We can say without fear of contradiction that many women who wished to be actors began their careers on their backs. That may not be very moral – on either side of the sexual equation – but we’re not really talking about morality. It’s such a subjective question anyway.

The world would be a poorer place if the frisson of la chasse were to be denied us because, in a gender-neutral society, there should be no such thing as prey or predator. It’s very unlikely that we shall reach that poverty-stricken pass, because despite the exponential increase in opportunities to fulminate presented by the new world of social media, people generally (and beneficially) seem intent on carrying on much as they always did.

We do need to encourage men to grow up and to deter unwelcome sexual predation, which as Van Badham and others rightly assert is far more than just a Hollywood thing. I think Deneuve made that point too, with her friends, in her letter.

There’s plenty of room for debate about where consent ends and compulsion begins. It’s not a clear-cut line at all, and it operates both ways in the sexual spectrum. Though these days, perhaps that should be kaleidoscope.