For Clara

Today, I am joining hundreds of other people in grieving the loss of my incredible friend, Clara Jordan-Baird, who passed away suddenly and tragically this week. She was 28.

The truest thing I can say about my friend Clara was she did nothing by halves. She threw herself wholly and passionately into everything, most of all her relationships with friends and family. She’d travel half way across the city and back to bring you a baked good she really wanted you to try. She remembered every birthday. She mourned when you mourned, and celebrated your successes with unbridled joy.

Clara was brilliant, genuinely brilliant, but it wasn’t her brilliance that was her most notable characteristic. Not even her enthusiasm, though she had enough for a thousand people or more. It was her goodness. She was endlessly kind, endlessly empathic, endlessly decent. She believed in the best in people. She believed things would get better. She believed the arc of history bends towards justice but, more than that, that it is our job to bend it. And so everything she did bent it a little further.

She loved without reservation or hesitation. She loved wholly.

The world will be poorer for the loss of her voice, standing up for those who had none. For her tireless work fighting the PaTH Internship Program. For her involvement in the Labor party and her belief in working together to make life better. For the leader she could have been and for the leader she was.

But it will also be poorer for the loss of her annual Fruit Mince Pie reviews and her geeking out over a new board game and her always-insightful takes on new TV shows or movies or books. It will be poorer for the loss of her excellent gift-giving and her passionate rants and her fondness for getting dressed up and doing something exciting. For her excitedly telling you about this amazing new cafe or restaurant she has to take you to.

She truly contained multitudes.

I selfishly hate that she never got to meet my daughter, whom I know she already loved. I hate that my daughter won’t get to grow up with her. I hate that she will never have a daughter of her own because I know she wanted that, and she would have been the most amazing mother.

It is cruel that she will never see the first female US President or Scottish independence or the end of the Turnbull government or how the High Court rules on the Same Sex Marriage plebiscite. Her faith that the world can get better endured through this tumultuous time in our history, and it is a beyond tragic that she will not be with us when we emerge into the light at the end of this tunnel.

Clara made everyone around her better. She inspired people to action and showed just how much you can do if you quit complaining and get to work.

I will miss you, my friend. I will miss wearing historical bonnets with you and I will miss laughing over the latest Bobby Schmuck sighting and I will miss board game talk and I will miss long conversations, late into the night, about politics and life and love and the future. I will miss the future we didn’t get to share together.

In short, I will miss you always.

Vale, Clara.

20 hours to go

TL;DR: Please support Crinkling News’ crowdfunder which is in its last day. 

**

Early in my days writing for Crinkling News, I submitted a story about Sydney Swans player Aliir Aliir. I thought it was pretty decent: it told the story of how he was born in a refugee camp, moved to Australia and became a footballer. Not long after I sent the email, the editor, Saffron Howden, called me.

“Where’s the interview?” she asked.

In the phone call that followed, she explained that Crinkling wasn’t just a newsletter. Our stories needed to be unique and have an impact. I needed to get an interview with Aliir.

So I did. And since, I’ve interviewed all sorts of interesting people: the youngest person ever to race V8s in Australia and the youngest Australian ever to climb Mount Everest and the then-top female fencer in Australia, who was only 16 at the time.

Other than a break after I had my daughter, I have written for Crinkling News throughout their first year, mostly about sport. It’s been challenging but incredibly rewarding. I’ve learned to interview 7-year-olds and reticent teenage boys. I spent years interviewing professional athletes, but I learned more about interviews in that time.

But this isn’t about me. It’s about how great Crinkling News is. And the fact that it might not exist next week, which would be a massive loss for Australian kids.

Crinkling’s growing and doing well, but the limited amount of seed funding has run out. Faced with shutting down unless extra funding was raised, the founders started a crowdfunding campaign that will end tomorrow, to raise enough to make up that gap.

I know the 200k is a big ask. But it’s a good investment.

If you look at the basics (the potential audience, the cost of production), it’s a really solid business. But with a really tiny team working seven days a week, the challenge of doing proper business development was a lot.

The money raised through crowdfunding will allow that business development. It will allow Crinkling to go from a close-to-break-even, growing business to a sustainable media outlet that kids will be able to read for years to come.

Most people know a kid who would love Crinkling News: why not pick the reward with a subscription and get one on their behalf? Or pick a school somewhere in a regional area that could use some help who might enjoy Crinkling News and send them a subscription.

You can support Crinkling News here. I really hope that next week, I’ll be able to pitch some awesome story ideas so that kids around Australia will be able to read about amazing athletes.

You can support Crinkling News here. Please consider doing so.

A personal plea for Crinkling News

For the last year, I have had the absolute pleasure of writing for Crinkling News. Crinkling News is a national weekly print newspaper for 7-14 year olds. Since the second issue, I have been writing for the Crinkling sport section, profiling amazing young peScreen Shot 2017-05-04 at 1.59.45 pmople from around the country and their achievements, but also explaining big issues: the risks of concussion, how the gender pay gap works in sport, the growth of women’s football. I even wrote a piece explaining how the US electoral college works, which many adults have told me was the first time they understood it. Here’s a link to my pieces for Crinkling, so you can get a feel for the diversity of what we do (most of it is behind a paywall).

One of my favourite things about Crinkling is that our sport pages have so many stories of young female athletes. One of my hopes is that by telling so many stories of girls in sport, we will help teach the next generation of sport fans to expect and demand equal coverage of women’s sport.

But Crinkling News is in trouble. Though it’s very close to being sustainable and growing every week, the seed funding is about to run out. Today, they launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund Crinkling so that it can keep going long enough that, based on current projections, it will be sustainable.

Crinkling is an amazing tool for teaching kids about media literacy and to think critically about the news. It’s also invaluable in this scary time to have a thoughtful source that helps kids understand without terrifying them. A lot of care and thought goes into making sure the stories are accessible and appropriate, without talking down to the kids.

But this is also very personal for me. Crinkling has been a regular source of income for me throughout the last year (except when I was on mat leave). It has helped me keep the rent paid and my baby in nappies, while I can do other writing that doesn’t pay so well. My Eddie McGuire story? That was written for free, while my rent was paid that week by my Crinkling pay.

I’ve never had to run a crowd funder or open a Patreon or anything to ask for support for my work because Crinkling has been the regular income that underpins the rest of what I do. So personally, Crinkling’s struggle is a bit scary. There are many other regular Crinkling freelancers who are passionate about what we do, yes, but also rely on Crinkling to help pay the bills.

So this is a personal plea: if you value my work, if you think it’s meaningful, if I have written something that has meant something to you in the last year or appeared in a podcast you love, please consider contributing to the campaign. Every little bit helps us get closer to the goal and keep Crinkling alive. Maybe you could pitch in with some friends and donate a subscription to a school library in a low-SES area.

Crinkling News is too important to let fail. Please, if you can, consider contributing today.

Dear Mothers: an apology

Dear Mothers,

I owe you an apology. I am sorry for being a crappy feminist and not including your issues in my fight. I’m sorry for not realising how significant those issues were until I faced them myself. I’m sorry for not listening to you as I should have.

I’m sorry for the times I, frustrated with the marginalisation of childless women, failed to realise those with children were marginalised too. I didn’t see we are damned no matter our choice. I didn’t see we are seen as less whether we are mothers or not. I felt judged for not having children, never realising you felt equally judged for having them. I didn’t see that women are often defined by our reproductive status, and that there is no winning.

I’m sorry for the times I didn’t realise how much the experience of pregnancy, childbirth and parenthood changes you. I’m sorry for when I thought you meant it made me less of a woman not to have experienced it, not just a woman with different experiences. I’m sorry for the times I didn’t respect your experiences or how much they can change you. They’ve certainly changed me. And I promise now I won’t expect that my experiences are yours.

I’m sorry for not realising how truly painful it all can be. I’m sorry for the times I have dismissed or minimised your pain, just because another friend told me it wasn’t that bad. I didn’t realise that every single birth and every single pregnancy and every single child is different. I should have trusted you.

I’m sorry for not believing you when you said you loved differently as a parent: not that you loved better than me, but you loved better than you had before. You were talking about yourself. I thought you were judging me. I thought you were saying I hadn’t experienced love like yours. And it’s true: you were. But I never will experience love like yours. Every love is different.

I’m sorry for not worrying enough about the financial implications of parenthood. I’m sorry for using “choice” as an excuse not to support you. I’m sorry that I didn’t realise the huge financial burden that biology has place on women, and that in a civilised society, we should be attempting to limit such burdens.

I’m sorry for every time I laughed “haven’t they ever heard of birth control”. I knew the odds but I didn’t realise how real the failures are.

I’m sorry for the times I took your choices as a judgement on mine. I know they weren’t. You did what was right for you. My choice to spend 14 years of adulthood child-free was right for me. Our choices were unrelated to each other.

I’m sorry for the times I was a bad friend. For the times I didn’t listen. For the times I thought that the gulf between us was impossibly large. It wasn’t. You were still you. I was just too wrapped up in my own experiences to listen to yours.

Now that I’m approaching the other side, I hope I can avoid making the same mistakes with my friends without children. To remember that their love is not better or worse than my love, just different. That their fights matter too. That their choices having nothing to do with my own.

To remember the gulf is not so wide, and that if we listen, our burdens can be shared.

And I’ll re-read this, regularly, to remind myself that we are all in this fight together.

 

Erin

 

 

We need to talk about privilege

So yesterday, I tweeted:


I knew this was true. I thought it was an amusing example of the complex way privilege works and how opportunities and success in art tend to concentrate around people who have certain advantages- usually, straight white men from privileged backgrounds, who are over-represented in every major and commercially successful artform in Australia.

It wasn’t a comment about St Kevins. It wasn’t a comment about either artist’s merit. It was simply a reflection of the way success correlates closely with privilege.

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From the Outer

Late last year, I wrote an essay about my love affair with football. It is going to appear in the collection From The Outer, edited by the amazing Alicia Sometimes and Nicole Hayes (whose two YA novels are absolute favourites of mine and highly, highly recommended), which will be published in April next year. It’s a collection of essays from people who you might not think of as the traditional football fan.

There are some genuinely amazing writers in the collection, like Leila Gurruwiwi, Angela Pippos, Alice Pung, Christos Tsiolkas and my friend Anna Spargo-Ryan.

I’m especially excited because it’s being published by Black Inc. When I was first discovering the world of good sports writing, I’d buy any sport book with the Black Ink logo because they were invariably good. I remember saying to my friend Dinu, one day at uni, that my absolute dream was to publish a sports book with Black Inc. It’s so incredible to be involved with this project.

You can even preorder it already on ebook.

How long can you love a game that hates you?

“There comes a point where [we need to call out this behaviour] and go ‘enough’s enough.’ It is draining on Adam… This is something that’s not been going on for a few fews, it’s been going on for months now, and I just don’t know that it reflects well on our game and I think people have had enough of it.” – Gillon McLachlan

“The booing of Adam Goodes is being felt as racism by him and by many in our football community and as such, I urge our supporters to understand the toll this is is having, the message it is sending, and that it does not reflect well on our game.”- AFL Commission statement, read by Gillon McLachlan.

There are many things that made me sad about what has happened — no, what has been done — to Adam Goodes. First among them is that someone who is brave and courageous and a really wonderful person to boot is being forced to endure such abuse. All my interactions with Goodes over the years have demonstrated his kindness, generosity and grace, and I consider it a great privilege to have watched him play hundreds of times.

But as well as the obvious shame of Goodes’ treatment, there is a subtler narrative about what football is, what it could be, and who is welcome.

Over the last week, the AFL has frequently invoked the importance of “the game”, the reputation of “the game”. As though in all things, consideration of the game is paramount. As though the game is the thing we should be worried about here. As though the game matters more than those who play it and those who love it.

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What it feels like.

Last week, an Australian man named Ryan Hawkin was exposed for sending hideous and violent messages to Clementine Ford. Later, he was interviewed about it saying:

Mr Hawkin said he “thought it was pretty obvious it was an empty threat, but I guess she didn’t” and he feels Ms Ford could have messaged him, instead of sharing the message.

Mr Hawkins said he does not condone domestic violence or rape.

He has apologised to Ms Ford for the comments he made.

“I’m sorry; I didn’t mean what I said. It was a bad joke,” he said.

Mr Hawkins said he had learned something from the experience, “everybody should think before they post trolling comments online, as they may receive a bigger response than they intended”.

Mr Hawkin’s response is telling. Throughout, he showed no empathy for the person he abused.. Even as he “apologized”, his comments were focuses around a) the fact he didn’t plan to do it and b) the response to what he did. He seemed to fail to grasp the fact Ford is a human being with feelings.

As someone who has experienced a fair bit of hate on the internet, and more than my share of violent misogynistic messages, I am constantly shocked by the way people seem to forget there is a real live human on the other side of the computer.

The way I see it, hatred of women on the internet (which is really just hatred of women – the fact it happens online doesn’t make it any less real) is like a pot of simmering water: always heated, always dangerous, but usually contained. It spits up every now and then, but mostly it just bubbles away. But then, a bit of extra heat it added, and it boils over.

The first time I experienced the boilover, it was incited by the Herald Sun’s chief AFL writer. This was back in early 2013, when I didn’t have much of a platform to respond. I wrote about what happened at length at the time. Here’s an excerpt from that post:

One of the people I’ve tweeted at is Mark Robinson from the Herald Sun. It wasn’t one or twice either- it must be at least a dozen times over the last year, as recently as this week, including my question about Fox Footy ignoring Women’s Round. So today, when he tweeted:

“people believe its players and coaches who make up footy clubs when in fact it’s people like essendon’s Bruce Heymanson. RIP”

I was, I’ll openly admit, a little frustrated, so replied

@Robbo_heraldsun So I trust you’ll have fewer players and coaches, and more people like him on AFL360 this year…

And then all hell broke loose. Robinson posted:

@erinrileyau even at a time of death u try to be a smart arse. pull your head in. A great man dies & you want to pick a fight. no class

And then proceeded to retweet every nasty thing that people said in reply.

My feed was full of men wishing violence on me, telling me I had no place in football, to get back to the kitchen, either telling me they were going to rape me or else that nobody would ever want to have sex with me.

I wasn’t prepared for it. I thought I was making a reasonable comment on the fact that people like Robinson have the power to change what people believe about football. He framed my response in a way that added the heat to the pan, then stood back at watched as it boiled over.

That’s what happened. But that’s not what I felt. What I felt was scared, sad, utterly misrepresented and hopeless. I remember picking up and putting down my phone dozens of times, not wanting to see what people were saying but also imagining the worst. Because it had never happened before, I had no way to parse the responses, no resilience.

Then I crawled up in a ball on the couch and cried for a weekend. I felt nauseous. I didn’t want to show my face outside. I cancelled plans with friends and didn’t leave the house. I don’t think I smiled for a week.

The second time it boiled over for me was after my AFL Grand Final piece in Fairfax. That time, the scale was bigger, but I was more prepared for it. I blocked, I laughed, I corrected grammar, I retweeted: I used a range of response mechanisms I’d learnt in the interim.

But it still hurt.

I’m generally pretty happy and well-adjusted, and with help from my therapist and medication, I’m doing ok managing my mental health despite an anxiety disorder. But people telling me I should die, that I’m miserable because I’m denying my natural role as a home-and-baby-maker, that my vagina is filled with cobwebs, that I’m single because I’m a “self-righteous fat tub of lard” take a whole lot of resilience. Most of the time I could ignore it, but sometimes, it had a real impact on me.

It wasn’t every time every time. Maybe not even one time in ten. But there was the day my dog got hit by a car, and the weeks after I got made redundant, and the times I felt bad about myself anyway.  The days when I don’t have the resilience I would usually have and I don’t have the capacity to laugh it off. And those are the days those comments hurt the most.

You might say that’s the price of being a writer on the internet. But there’s nothing inherent in being online that says it has to be. What’s more, it is a far more common experience for women than it is for men.

It hurts when people say horrible things online. It has consequences. These are real consequences. These are real people you are talking to. We are expected to either put up with abuse or shut up. This is not a reasonable set of options.

It’s time we saw internet abuse for what it is: not a bit of fun, not a joke, but sincere and affecting cruelty against real people.

What you say matters.

Email from the AFL

This is the email I received from a representative of the AFL after I published my piece about racism, sexism and homophobia at the AFL Grand Final.

I have received permission to print it from the author, though it was originally captioned “not for publication”.

Hi Erin

Sorry to hear that your experience at last Saturday’s Grand Final was so distressing.

It is unclear to me whether or not you reported your concerns at the time to the anti-social behaviour text line which is displayed permanently and prominently on the scoreboards. In addition, at the start of each match a TVC is played featuring a number of AFL coaches that encourages spectators to show respect for the players, umpires and fellow crowd members and also promotes the text line.

In addition we have checked the Police and MCC reports on all incidents at the game – it appears there was a report of this type of behaviour to MCC Security but the record shows they responded to the area and monitored but could not identify any perpetrators or issues. Of course the presence of security may well have curtailed the comments.

The AFL has certainly been active in promoting respect and responsibility, and also in stamping out vilification of any kind, including sexism, racism and homophobia. There have been some high profile cases in recent times in which action has been taken by clubs to cancel memberships and ban people from AFL games when those perpetrators have been identified – which can be challenging as you can imagine.

My only concern with your piece was that I’m not sure it is fair to characterise large groups of AFL spectators as behaving in this way and nor is it fair to hold the AFL responsible for their actions. The AFL, the venue and police can act when made aware of issues but surely the issue of individual attitudes and behaviour is a broader one for Australian society. The AFL obviously does not condone this type of behaviour – in fact we address it as best we can. Unfortunately I suspect you would find similar things happening at other large sporting events. We will continue to combat these incidents and also proactively promote diversity and inclusion through our words and deeds.

I note that the AFL is also now being held responsible for the appalling social media reaction by some to your piece. Again, I think this is a cheap shot which ignores the broader point about the attitudes and behaviour of a vocal minority who believe they can say and do whatever they like if hidden in a crowd or behind a Twitter account.

Thanks

[Name and email address witheld]

Why the filter matters

Let’s face it: Conroy’s proposed internet filter is unlikely to work.

Those of us with computer skills equivalent to those of a second-grader will still be able to access what we want.  The word is still out on whether it will massively slow down our internet (though I suspect it will).  And while the range of things the board is allowed to filter is astonishingly vast, chances are there won’t be a huge amount of overreach.  There is some validity in saying there has been a fair amount of fear-mongering around the filter.*

What has been so enlightening about the filter debate, and what is so frustrating about the policy, is what it illustrates about the Australian party system and how it undermines representative democracy.

The proposed filter is deeply unpopular: that much is abundantly apparent.  And its unpopularity is bipartisan.  Despite the fact most of the electorate, and many of the Labor party politicians themselves, are against the filter, the party has walked in lockstep.  I have winced, watching my own MP, Tanya Plibersek, straining to support a policy she clearly does not believe in, and which is clearly unpopular with her electorate.  The dog whistle “I don’t really support thing”, which Labor supporters have been parroting, is completely redundant when the policy still gets the votes from those doing the whistling.

Because a faction of the Labor party has gained a certain amount of power, and that faction -or one member thereof- has decided the internet filter is the way to go, the party as a whole is alienating many in its natural voter base, assuming they won’t go elsewhere.   And such is the nature of our party system: loyalty to party has trumped loyalty to the voters, and the parties have smugly ignored the clearly-expressed will of the people continually.  They have enacted or sought to enact major reform on which they did not campaign- providing no mandate- and have failed to enact the reform on which they did campaign, which is clearly the will of the Australian public.

The party feels free to pursue its own agenda, with little reference to voters.  In seats such as Plibersek’s, which have been largely safe for a long time, this didn’t seem dangerous.  But with Independents and the Greens picking up votes, its increasingly evident that this approach is alienating voters.  As the coalition government learnt through WorkChoices, you can’t bulldoze an unpopular policy through and keep winning.  The voters looked to Labor instead.  And now they’re looking somewhere else.

It is not so much for the voters to expect representatives to actually represent them, rather than simply toeing a party line.  Party discipline ought to be secondary to representing the best interest of the electorate.  For all its many problems, the US House of Representatives does have members who are far more closely connected to their own electorates.

At the moment, Australian national politics is fundamentally non-representative.  It minimises the capacity of electorates to persuade their local member to vote one way or another.  It also robs members of their capacity to use their discretion, rendering moot the point that one can vote for a representative because one trusts their decision-making and their values.  Rather, Australian politics allows voters to choose between two national party platforms, and even then, those platforms are often ignored.

The internet filter has shed light on what’s really wrong with Australian politics.  Given the recent polling, perhaps the major parties should sit up and pay attention.

*Don’t get me wrong, I’m still fiercely against it, and believe it to be unconstitutional as it restricts political speech, but I’m less worried about what it would likely do as opposed to what it has the potential to do.

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