Blood

My period starts
In the most inconvenient places
Instead of enjoying my holiday
I am constantly worried about leaks
No white jeans but lots of running
To the bathroom flinging
Threadbare granny undies into the basin
To rinse the blood from my hands
Fatigue and headaches
Spending the whole day in tears
Until I am finally outside myself
And remind myself this is not
A monthly curse but renewal

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Yearning passion
gives meaning
true to oneself
embracing darkness
to balance light
treating yourself
like a close friend
because it is all about
how you see yourself

Family holidays

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My older sister complained all the way along the winding dirt road. It wasn’t my fault that my leg kept touching hers. I was always the one squashed in the middle and even though I was small there was nowhere to put my legs. I tried to keep them squeezed together but every time we hit a bump – and there were lots on this road – my knees would slip and I would touch her leg. She kept saying I was doing it deliberately and would poke me in the ribs. Sometimes if she did it too hard I would cry out and then dad would roar at all of us to be quiet. We should enjoy the scenery and stop that fighting in the back seat. It was alright for him, but I couldn’t see any scenery to enjoy from where I was squashed in the middle of the back seat. The one time I did try to see it seemed like we were clinging to the edge of a mountainside and the valley below was a million miles away. On top of everything else I was starting to feel carsick. The swaying and bumping car and the lack of air was making me feel queasy. I didn’t bother listening to dad talk about how exciting this trip was. ‘We’re going to see where Slim Dusty grew up,’ he said. But I wasn’t really listening. I wanted to lay me head back and sleep. I knew I would be in trouble if I asked if we could pull over. ‘No time to stop,’ dad always said.

‘Mum! She’s doing it again!!’ I had closed my eyes for a second and had accidentally dozed off and then my leg slipped and touched Jasmine’s again.

‘We’re nearly there, girls. Just be quiet for a bit longer.’ That was what mum always said. But it seemed like hours later when we finally stopped. Everyone piled out of the car and when I was finally in the fresh hour my legs felt wobbly and I nearly vomited and the green grass.

Mum spread a picnic blanket on the ground and Jasmine was the first to flop down on the ground with her knees in the air and her arms behind her head. Stephen called me over to look at the creek so I wobbled across the paddock after him. The air smelt of tea tree and sassafras. I took a deep breath and suddenly I realised what Dad had been talking about. This was the kind of place where you could live and just spend the rest of your days being part of nature. There really were sleeping gums on the hillside and herds straying by, just like in the song. I could hear Dad in the distance talking about Slim Dusty again as I joined Stephen by the creek in time to see a turtle splash into the water.

Voices of girls

Emotional Australian girls
With strong voices
That are painfully true
And real, oh yes,
Real Australian voices
Fighting for the right
To be free from voices
Of patriarchy – men’s and women’s
Voices telling girls
Who to be
How to stand
When to speak
These girls have stopped asking
How it came to be
They just know it is
And they don’t like it anymore
It’s time for change
As able as any sunburnt son of Australia

The role of schools in gender stereotyping

In 1972 Betty Levy published an article in Feminist Studies on the role of schools in gender sterotyping of girls. This week I want to discuss the observations made in this article and compare them with some more recent observation of gender-stereotyping of girls. Gender stereotypes are culturally-ingrained ideas about appropriate behaviours for females and males but this promotes inequality between the sexes and can set young people up to expect and accept power-imbalances within relationships.

The feminist critique of gender roles requires the study of how and where these roles are learned. Schools are important social institutions that play a key role in elaborating and reinforcing gender roles.

Children learn gender roles at an early age – it is one of the earliest concepts they learn.

As children grow their awareness of ‘appropriate’ gender role behaviour becomes increasingly more stereotyped.

Masculine activities are more highly valued than feminine activities – girls are allowed to do some masculine activities but boys cannot do feminine activities.

Students learn by observing how teachers treat each other, by the prizes they receive at school, or how teachers reward or discipline behaviour that adheres to accepted notions of gender, in particular preparing young women for their roles as daughter, wife and mother.

The gender role training of girls involves less tolerance for aggressive behaviour and greater encouragement of dependency.

Schools are an effective instrument of social control because of the functions they play: custodial care, social role selection, indoctrination and education.

Young people typically buy into these gender stereotypes and are often unaware of when and how stereotypes impact on their behaviours and choices.

Girls are so well trained in their gender roles that they continue to put domestic duties above their professional roles, a key reason why women do so many more hours of housework than men.

Gender differences arise through the interaction of biology and a child’s social environment. Schools affect gender differentiation through both teachers and peers.

The feminist objective is to make sure each individual can realise their potential and isn’t restricted by gender stereotypes, either the ones they have learned themselves or those forced on them by others.

It is sad that nothing seems to have changed and the same tired gender-stereotypes have only become more entrenched.

Girls who sit quietly are ignored, boys who act out receive more attention.

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 24

Beatrice was walking along the corridor on the bottom floor of the main school building when she heard it. Music filled the air. She felt herself drawn to it. The door was closed but she could see into the music room through the window.

There was a guy sitting with a cello between his legs. It was the same guy she had seen from the bus the other day. As he drew a bow across the strings a haunting melody poured from the instrument. Beatrice was hypnotised. She couldn’t move.

Beatrice didn’t notice Miss Elizabeth—the music teacher and unofficial school counsellor—sitting in the corner of the music room. She was tapping her foot in time with the music but she turned her head to see Beatrice peering through the window. Miss Elizabeth looked thoughtfully at Beatrice. She already knew most of the students from music class but she hadn’t met this girl with fiery red hair before. Just maybe… Miss Elizabeth let her thoughts drift as the bow flew faster across the strings of the cello.

Music swirled around Beatrice’s head and filled her heart until she felt like she was being lifted from the ground. She was flying through the darkness. Far below her in the mist was a mountain peak and she descended to find a dark-haired woman waiting for her.

‘Bea,’ she called, ‘Bea.’ The voice became more insistent and Beatrice felt a tugging at her sleeve.

‘Bea, come on, we’ll be late for history.’

Beatrice’s eyes suddenly focused to find Emily standing in front of her.

‘Bea, are you okay?’

‘Oh—yeah, sure. We should get to class.’ She turned and looked back at the music room. It was silent as they walked away.

Beatrice was still shaking as she took her seat in the classroom next to Emily.

Mr Garcia was at the front of the room. He began moving among the desks handing out notes. ‘This is a permission letter that you need to get your parents to sign. Next week we have our excursion to Lawton Wold which we will be using for our major project.’

He moved back to the front of the room.

‘History—what does it mean to you?’ He paused and looked around the blank faces in the room. ‘What is the difference between history and memory?’ Someone coughed nervously. ‘While these are rhetorical questions, we can shape our enquiry into history by defining the difference between history and memory. Would anyone like to have a go?’ He looked expectantly at the class. ‘Emily, how about you?’

‘Ummm—oh gosh, well—I guess history is what happened. Ummm—memory is what you think happened.’ She felt the answer was pretty lame. Emily looked at Beatrice for support, but she was surprised at the look on Beatrice’s face―it was like someone had suddenly walked over her grave.

‘Not a bad attempt, but I think you got it around the wrong way. Memory is about what happened and history is our attempt to understand the meaning of what happened. The modern conception of the self has memory at its core. You are what you remember. Identities retain the traces of the past in subtle but important ways. So now—Beatrice, are you okay?’ Mr Garcia had suddenly noticed her pale face.

‘I—I think I just need to go to the bathroom.’

Beatrice stood up uncertainly and hurried from the room.

‘Sir, perhaps I should go with her. Make sure she is okay.’

Mr Garcia nodded and Emily hurried after Beatrice. She found her locked in a cubicle and Emily could hear Beatrice sobbing. ‘Bea, are you okay?’

‘Yes,’ she sniffed.

‘What happened?’

Beatrice opened the cubicle door and walked to the sink. ‘I don’t remember anything.’ Her voice was a whisper.

‘What do you mean?’

Beatrice told her about the car accident and her memory loss. ‘So now I live with my grandmother. She says my memories will come back in time. Sometimes I get little flashes but they don’t make any sense.’

Emily didn’t know what to say. She put her arms around Beatrice’s shoulders and hugged her. Beatrice’s hair was soft against her face.

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