The Avalanche

Mid-June 2017

My daughter is seven and a half months old and we have run out of money. Before I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant almost 18 months earlier, I quit my job to attempt to write full time. During the rough pregnancy that followed, this decision was my salvation: I earned enough to pay the bills, but was able to work flexibly around the nausea and the vomiting that continued up to and including our daughter’s delivery.

But there was a downside: no employer maternity leave, a lower income, no guaranteed work to return to. And now, more than a year later, those downsides are clearer than they’d been before. Despite the government’s paid parental leave, despite my partner’s permanent job, we’re hemorrhaging money. Our savings have gone. We pay rent and buy food and that’s it. I’m avoiding phone calls about overdue bills. The stress is all-consuming.

It hasn’t been an easy year. First, our daughter wasn’t a great sleeper. It made working difficult as she’d only sleep with me at night, and for three twenty-minute naps in the day. All these grand plans I’d had for working when the baby slept went out the window and, with hourly wakeups through the night, constructing a coherent thought was near impossible.

That was followed in quick succession diagnosis of post-natal depression, a tooth infection that got so bad that I was hospitalised for three nights as it made my whole face swell, and then two discs in my back deciding they didn’t want to stay in the right place. We were doing ok. We were surviving. Our daughter was beautiful and funny and worth every difficulty, but we were wrung out.

So I decided to apply for some short-term contracts, hoping an influx of money would help to solve the problem. I quickly found a six-week role in a government department and they wanted me to start as soon as possible. I started the process of organising care for our daughter, figuring out how to share her between babysitters and family as the daycare centre we’d signed her up to was delayed and wouldn’t be open for some weeks.

On Friday, June 30th, I started in the job and had my first day back in an office in over a year. My brain was full of worry about how my daughter was doing, concern about remembering how to function in the workplace, doing a good job, and holding on financially until that precious first paycheck would come in almost three weeks later.

March 2015

One night in March 2015, I took a man home with me.

An interlude

It’s hard to talk about this. I grew up in a pretty conservative family and sleeping around is not really something I like to talk about. That isn’t a judgement on anyone else or on myself. Just… I exist within my context and I feel things within that.

The values that other people would likely say are old fashioned and out of date are still buried deep inside me. I wish I’d listened to them, but I didn’t. I wish I didn’t think I needed sex to feel ok about myself, but I did. I made choices that were bad for me.

This isn’t about slut shaming. This is about regretting my own choices. I think I made bad ones.

Back to March 2015

I was coming off a pretty bad depression stint. A year earlier, I’d lost my job and the apartment I had rented for seven years sold and I was in a car accident in the space of a week. I spiralled and, for the first time since being diagnosed with depression in 2010, I started taking medication for it. I spent the year that followed unmoored and unsettled. But I finally had a stable job and, three months earlier, had moved into my first grown-up apartment all by myself.

I dressed up that night, put on a black dress I loved that wouldn’t fit me now, and was looking forward to celebrating a friend’s birthday with people I knew and others.

Sometime early in the morning, after spending far too many hours drinking at the Town Hall Hotel in Newtown, a place you only go for trivia or when the night has tipped over from fuzzy to drunk, he and I leave together. My spotted memory after that includes the man, the cab, the couch, my room. But there are moments of the night that I remember so clearly, they haunt me even now. Him pinning me down, his hands around my neck, my gasping for breath and saying stop, stop, stop. Being more scared than I have ever been.

He left afterwards. We didn’t even exchange a text. I couldn’t sleep. When I got up in the morning and looked in the mirror, and saw my body covered in bruises, I felt a deep well of shame open up inside me. I sat in the bath for three hours, wanting to remove any trace of him. I threw my sheets in the wash, I threw up, and the next day I got back to my business of living my life.

People asked about the bruise on my arm- it was unmissable, the size of a cricket ball. The foundation mostly hid the marks his fingers left on my neck, which took weeks to fade. But every time I looked in the mirror, I saw them.

May 2015

About six weeks later, I was at dinner with a dear friend. We were having the usual chats about our lives and mutual friends and politics. We were at one of my favourite pubs, a place with a killer pie and amazing bread. The topic turned to a mutual friend, Lauren, who’d been having a tough time. My friend told me about how Lauren had gone home with a man who turned violent. She’d gone to the hospital the next day, but she wasn’t doing very well.

My blood ran cold.

We cut the dinner short and my friend dropped me near the local shopping centre. I had no food, I needed to go grocery shopping, but I needed to make this phone call. And so, outside East Village Coles, I called Lauren and asked her about it. Was it X? I said.

Lauren’s not a person I generally use the word “quiet” to describe, but her voice that comes back is tiny. Yes.

In the weeks that followed, we went to the police to report our stories. The detective I talked to at North Sydney station was wonderful and kind and empathic and told me again and again it wasn’t my fault. The case was then transferred to Kings Cross station, and I went in to speak to a detective there who was kind, if a little clueless (he suggested me calling the man, to try to get him to admit what he did on the phone. He didn’t understand how weird calling someone like that would be). But ultimately, the thought of a trial unlikely to lead to a guilty verdict was more than I could face.

So instead, I focused on recovering.

I wasn’t well at first. There were days I couldn’t get out of bed and, as a contractor, those days meant I didn’t get paid. It was a constant battle between my finances and my wellbeing. I saw my psychologist regularly. I read books. I wrote. I cut back on drinking. I went out less. I had friends visit for a book club. I baked cakes.

And slowly, slowly the thing had happened stopped being something I thought about often. It was something I placed in my story, a thing that happened to me, but just one of many things. It was a bad thing, it was a difficult thing, it was something that still had a few tentacles in my brain and heart, but it was a tiny part of my life. It occasional peaked out: it came shuddering back when someone jokingly put their hands around my neck. But mostly, I was well.

I hate feeling powerless. I didn’t want this thing I couldn’t control to have any power over me. So I fought it and most of the time, I was winning.

March 2016

I started spending time with someone who was a friend and then I was in love and despite the pill and my polycystic ovarian syndrome, somehow I was pregnant. My fledgling writing career was starting to take off. Two years after my life had crashed so terribly, things had turned around.

At some point, Lauren speaks publicly about the fact she was assaulted. I make a decision to share that the same person had assaulted me. I know how much it’s weighing on Lauren, and I hate that people doubt her. If this is what I can do to support her, it’s a no-brainer.

Then my Mum texts me, saying she’s crying, saying she wishes I’d told her, and I realise I’ve made a terrible mistake. My original decision, the one to keep quiet, not to pursue, was as much about my family as it was about me and now I realise I’ve made a bad decision. I’m hurting the people I wanted to protect. I assure her I’m fine, I put it all back away, and focus on the thing I’m most worried about: the upcoming arrival of my child.

2 July 2017

It’s Sunday night. I’m at my parents’ house, because my Mum is looking after my daughter the next day, my second day at work. It’s late. I’m sleeping on a single bed because Mum and Dad have other guests, and bub is in the room with me.

I’m flicking through twitter when I see his name, the name of the person who assaulted me, a name I had gone to great lengths to avoid. And it’s Lauren who has said it. She has decided to name him publicly.

Things immediately pick up steam. There’s media interest. My DMs are filled with people who remember that I has said the same person assaulted me. His name is on my feed, over and over and over. And I’m trying to get work done but I’m feeling the clutch of the tentacles.

Then, people start accusing Lauren of lying. They’re telling her that she’s making it up, that she just wants attention, that she’s trying to hurt his political party. I have this thing, this piece of information, this support that only I can give.

Once again, I feel powerless.

So finally, I make the choice, to say something. To try to be non-inflammatory, I post the emails I sent my friends when it happened. It’s been more than a decade since I finished my history degree, but the historian in me comes out at strange times. I’ll post primary sources, I thought. And let people come to their own conclusions.

Rape

That word. Rape. It’s not a word I use to describe what happened. I understand why others would in the exact same circumstance, but it’s not a word I feel applies to what happened to me. Sexual assault, yes. Sexual violence even. But not rape. Maybe it’s denial, maybe it’s my way of claiming that power.

Lauren talks about “our rapist” and every single time, I shudder. He is not my rapist. He does not get that title from me.

The Avalanche

And then the calls and emails and messages start. I say no to all of them with one exception: I agree to talk to Background Briefing for a piece they’re doing about the decision to name your assailant publicly. I wanted to do it because I was frustrated and upset that I felt caught up in it. I wanted to say that it isn’t only the person who did it who can be hurt- that these decisions can have other consequences.

I took phone calls in my lunch break. I cried after my baby was asleep at night. I sent refusals and worried about career repercussions. I worried about my family. I dealt with it all in the margins of my already over-full life.

When I spoke to Hagar from Background Briefing, who has been a kind and empathic interviewer, I talked a lot about these things. About the difficulty of it coming up when it did. About my ethical doubts about the act of public naming. About my reserve about being called “brave”. About my concerns that other people who experienced it would feel cowardly if they didnt’ speak up and how deeply unfair that was. About how what’s good for one person’s healing can be destructive to another.

For entirely understandable reasons, none of that made the cut. My contribution to the story is a description of what happened to me, the part that I least wanted to talk about, the bit that I said in order to be able to talk about the other stuff. It goes to air this week. It’s good journalism and a great story, but I am nervous and sick and stressed and sad about the repercussions. I dread the avalanche starting again.

If I had my time over, I would have said no.

Quiet bravery

The noise of it all has consumed me in ways I didn’t want it to. I’ve been a bad employee and a bad partner and a bad mum this last month. I’ve lost clients and others I’m hanging on to by a thread. When everything that happened forced its way back onto my already overcrowded plate, it was too much. I have been struggling with anger and sadness. I have felt powerless.

So this is my story. I am taking my power back.

And to anyone else who is struggling with complex feelings in response to all this, I am with you. I hear you. Do not measure yourself against anyone else.

It is ok to sit, quietly, with your own bravery. Healing doesn’t mean it hurt less. Protecting yourself and those nearest to you can be one of the fiercest things you can do. Please, don’t feel the need to speak if you don’t want to. Your voice is yours and there is no cowardice in silence. Sometimes, quiet pondering is the best thing you can do.

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.

40 minutes with Mary

This morning, I met Mary.

Mary’s the same age as my Mum, but I would never have guessed it. She looks so much older. She has one child, a son, who is the same age as me.

Mary has had medical problems her whole life. Despite that, she sold her home of 30 years and left her community so she could look after her elderly father, who’d recently had a stroke. Two months later, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Four months after that, he died. Mary’s the sort of person who looks after others even through her own health problems.

Today, Mary drove her car to the local high street, because she can’t walk very far. She’s not even 60, but she’s already had two hip replacements on one side, three on the other. She parked in an accessible parking spot, then slowly started walking towards the bank, and then to the doctor, to talk about the possibility of having a third hip replacement on her right leg.

At the exact moment Mary was walking up the street, an elderly woman was finishing up her visit at the local podiatrist. As she was walking out the door, she caught her foot on the step and fell. Out the door, directly into Mary. The elderly woman stayed upright. Mary didn’t. She fell, hard, onto the ground.

I was walking nearby with my baby, on my way for a coffee, and I saw the whole thing happen. I walked over to them. The gentleman with the woman who had tripped and another gentleman helped Mary to a bench, but it quickly became clear she was in extraordinary pain. After five broken femurs, she knew what it felt like, and it felt exactly like that.

I called for an ambulance, took the details of the people who had also been involved (the poor woman was also very distressed- I found out later she was 87 and the gentleman with her was her neighbour, who takes her to the doctor when she has an appointment) and sent them on their way.

Then I sat with Mary and we waited.

Over the next forty minutes, I got to know Mary a little bit. We talked about pain and death and the existence of God and whether or not there’s a reason for everything. We learned we’d both had very unlikely pregnancies. Despite her pain, she worried about my time and the fact my baby was waiting with us. Didn’t I need to look after her? I assured Mary she was fine.

Mary’s the kind of person who worries about other people even when she’s in pain.

We both wondered at the cruel twist of fate that led her of all people to be in the way when the other woman fell. Of all the people to be walking by, it was someone who could least deal with the consequences.

Throughout the whole time, intermittently, Mary cried out in pain, or cried, or laughed darkly. I asked her if there was something she usually does to help with the pain. She showed me her morphine patch. “Pain is my constant companion,” she told me.

For forty minutes we sat there, waiting for help. For forty minutes, she cried and gasped in pain.

At one point, she said “This is what our society has become. Unless you have chest pain, you wait.”

I’m not someone who is starry eyed about medical care. I understand all care is rationed. We have finite resources But we have decided that we are willing to accept people being in pain rather than spend more on medicine. Our efficiency measures are more concerned with the amount of time an ambulance sits idle than the amount of time a woman sits crying on a bench on a footpath in agony.

Mary did nothing to deserve the situation she was in. She got dealt another bad card after a lifetime of them.

I called her son after she was in the ambulance, to let him know that his mum was heading to hospital. She’s spoken to him, but obviously had been a bit vague on details, so he asked me a bit more about what happened. When I said it was just extraordinary bad luck, he said that’s the sort of thing that happens to her. “She must have been born on an unlucky day.”

Mary’s fall might not have been avoidable, but her 40 minutes of pain without relief were. With more resources, we can improve ambulance response times. We more money for emergency medicine, we can turn 40 minutes into 20 or ten. We can stop believing that pain is an acceptable trade off for cost savings.

This might be who we’ve become. But it doesn’t have to be.

Mary kept telling me that there must be a reason this happened to her, but she doesn’t know what it was.

Nothing can ever be an adequate compensation for her pain and suffering, but I’d love to visit her in hospital in a few days time with some flowers, and to be able to tell her that because of her story, people are calling their local state members and putting pressure on them to improve funding for emergency medicine (which includes new paramedics and more emergency staff and beds). That other people care enough about her pain to say no, this isn’t ok.

I just got off the phone to my local member’s office. I hope you’ll join me in calling and demanding change.

Because Mary, and people like her, deserve better from us.

**Mary gave me permission to share her story

Meandering thoughts on Daisy Cousens

I’ll admit it, at the risk of supporting her cause: Daisy Cousens gets under my skin.

It’s not, as she’d probably claim, because she’s a conservative and an anti-feminist. There are plenty of women who hold those beliefs who I consider friends, even if I don’t agree with them.

And it’s not because I’m a snowflake or I’m “triggered”, in her gross misunderstanding of that term. There are plenty of others who write about similar things that don’t fill me with rage the way she does.

No, it isn’t her views that bother me about Daisy Cousens. It’s her lack of seriousness. It’s the fact she’s so open about courting controversy and attention. She shamelessly celebrates the worst of modern conservatism’s impulses while undermining the work of both people she agrees with and those she doesn’t.

So when the Sydney Morning Herald published an article by Jane Cadzow about Cousens and two other conservative women today, my first reaction was to be dismissive. I didn’t need to read about her, think about her any more than I already have (even now, I’m unconvinced that I should be spending precious writing time sharing my thoughts on the piece). My automatic and poorly-considered response was that any attention paid to Cousens was inherently wasted.

But as Amber Robinson pointed out on Twitter that she thought the piece was very good because, and I quote, “Cousens in particular comes off as a complete imbecile”, I had to rethink my response.  She was right, of course. The piece draws stark contrast between the three conservative women. The difference between Cousens and Helen Andrews was clear. I may disagree with almost everything Andrews says, but the fact she thoughtfully considers her views is clear.

Cadzow deftly gives Cousens just enough rope. If there’s one takeaway from the piece, it’s that she’s just not a thinker. She plays the provocateur — a time honoured tradition — without the requisite thought to make her positions in any way insightful. It’s not that she’s my political opponent, it’s that she’s a bad one.

And that’s probably why it enraged me so.

She’s often lumped in with Caleb Bond in the conservative wunderkind category – either ironically or seriously – but  I think that’s unfair to Bond. I think News Ltd do Bond a great disservice by publishing him and that most of what he writes is flimsy, poorly thought-out and easily contradicted, but I don’t doubt his seriousness. He believes what he says. I can imagine him having a serious change of heart when he’s older, in part because I thought similarly to him at his age, with similar levels of conviction, and now I disagree fiercely.

I should take a brief minute here to note the fact I know this whole complaint comes from a position of MASSIVE privilege. I am white, upper-middle class, cis-gendered, I am in a straight relationship, I have a child who I stay at home with most of the week in our house with a backyard in the suburbs, while my partner gets the train to work at his job.

I get to quibble with the things about Cousens that I find irritating because who I am is not fundamentally threatened by her and people like her. In fact, my life is probably closer to the conservative script of how you’re “supposed” to live than many actual conservatives.

Actually, you know what? I should just shut up now. There’s no point explaining the rest of my feelings about Cousens because, again, my life is not fundamentally attacked by her and people like her.

She can fully inhabit the role of the Manic Pixie Dream Fascist. She can treat all that as a joke and play the ingénue and think being young and pretty means getting a pass on doing the hard work of thinking critically about what you believe, but that’s far less of a problem than what she actually says. What she says offends me, but it doesn’t affect me* like it affects other people.

The real affects of what she and others with similar beliefs have on other peoples’ lives is by far worse than her posturing.

And now I’ll be quiet.

*”There’s a difference between what offends people and what affects people” is a Kellyanne Conway quote. I have been thinking about it a lot lately because I think it’s really important.

Choice, abortion, motherhood

Yesterday, I published an article on the ABC about how International Women’s Day — a day that is supposed to celebrate women — rarely makes room for women with caring responsibilities. I received lots of wonderful responses from women who felt the piece reflected their experiences. I also received this email, which I would not share except that it give me a reason to talk about something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

dear ms riley
i have never written to a writer such as yourself before but at this moment i felt the need to find you and write once i read your op-ed piece about feminism. as a mature, childless by choice, single woman, i have no sympathy for what you describe. in fact, i am fed to the teeth, after being in the full time work force for more than 30 years, covering for my pregnant/new mother/mother colleagues- and never a work of thanks from any. i assume the following: to have a child was your choice, even if the pregnancy was unplanned?? where the expletive-deleted do you get off? you have CHOSEN to do this. you volunteered. you had months to change your mind but you went through with it. (you probably had to set out to do a few things deliberately as well to achieve this). and you expect/want even more than what has been very generously assigned? i would like to do some full time study once again- very useful to my work as well for as myself- i dont get time off work/paid/job held for me while i choose to do this. feminism is not about this, at all. having a baby in the current state of the world is the ultimate self-indulgence and yet you sound annoyed and aggrieved at the fact that your life is not as easy/straightforward as it was before you chose to do this??!!!! you didnt think to factor in the presence of an entirely dependent for years and years individual in your life?? WTF!!! this relates to feminism how?? entitled younger generation is what it is.

There’s much I could respond to here. First, the idea that childless women and women with children are each others enemies is tiresome and self-defeating. I’ve written about that before, but it’s always worth repeating.

But this is the part that I think is worth thinking about a little further:

i assume the following: to have a child was your choice, even if the pregnancy was unplanned?? where the expletive-deleted do you get off? you have CHOSEN to do this. you volunteered. you had months to change your mind but you went through with it. (you probably had to set out to do a few things deliberately as well to achieve this). and you expect/want even more than what has been very generously assigned?”

It’s hardly a secret that my pregnancy was, in fact, unplanned. I was on the pill. But like many others, I didn’t realise how the risk of failure increases over time. In fact, in five years of typical use, 38% of women will fall pregnant on the pill. So when that second line appeared on the test, I had a choice.

But that choice is not made in a vacuum. My personal values and beliefs informed the choice that I made in this situation.

This is something I find it difficult to talk about as a feminist who is absolutely pro-choice: abortion is not something that I felt I could do. I have a certain personal beliefs about life and they were incompatible with me having an abortion.

I don’t think laws should be made based on those beliefs. I don’t judge other women for their decision to have an abortion. I think they should be entirely funded, legal and easily available. I support full decriminalization. While I did consider it a moral decision, I don’t think it is for everyone.

But it is for some people. And I think we should respect people’s decisions to personally reject abortion.

This is why I have a problem with talking about abortion as it is always purely a medical decision. No doubt, in many cases, it is. But in others, it is not and the consequence is that it’s it socially acceptable to demand women either have an abortion or live with the consequences — no matter how much those consequences are due to discrimination toward women. We’ve made child-rearing a *lifestyle choice* rather than something that is socially and economically valuable.

The choice to have a child is not the same as the choice to go on a holiday or buy a luxury car or quit your job and move to a commune. It is far more complicated than that. Demanding that the substantial number of women who fall pregnant accidentally every year (In the US, half of all pregnancies are unplanned) either accept the ways society fails to make accomodations for the work of parenting or get an abortion is not supporting women or choice. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard the argument that if you can’t afford children, you shouldn’t have them. Forcing poor women to have unwanted abortions for financial reasons is not supporting reproductive choice.

I could make an economic case for the value of the work of raising children. I could ask who’s going to be your nurse and physiotherapist and librarian when you’re old and need the social support. But we shouldn’t have to do that.

We should absolutely support women to make the choices right for their lives. We should also understand that women should not be expected to accept the status quo outcomes of their choices.

*** EDIT***

I wrote a response to the letter writer — let’s call her K — but it bounced. Apparently she gave me a fake email address. So K, if you happen to find this, this is for you:

Dear K,

I’m sorry you feel that people in your life have not supported the decisions you’ve made. The way society treats single, childless women is often cruel and exclusionary.
I do not, however, think that mothers are the enemy. As women, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t, as I have written about previously here: http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/news-and-views/opinion/when-it-comes-to-motherhood-women-cant-win-either-way-just-ask-gladys-berejiklian-20170124-gtxhlr.html
I do, however, take exception to the implication that as I did not choose to have an abortion, I should accept the way society treats motherhood. Abortion should be available to all women, but I do not believe any woman should be compelled to have one, nor punished because she didn’t. None of the consequences of having children I mentioned in my piece are inevitable. They exist because of how we have historically understood motherhood and the way our social and economic system has been built in response to that. But that does not mean they have to exist into perpetuity nor that they should go unchallenged.
I sincerely hope that the experiences of single, childless women like yourself, by choice or otherwise, improve as we expand our understanding of the roles of women. I would hope you could wish the same for women who are parents.
Kind regards,
Erin Riley

Men: do some work this International Women’s Day

Men who live with women, there’s a simple thing you can do to show your commitment to Women’s Equality this International Women’s Day: spend an hour doing housework you don’t usually do.

Find a job that needs to be done — don’t ask, just find one — and do it. And then commit to doing it every week.

Clean the toilet, scrub the shower, plan and supply dinner, buy the birthday gift for the kid’s party this weekend, take on an extra few hours of child care: whatever is appropriate for your situation.

Because even in couples where both partners work full time, on average women do a disproportionately large amount of domestic unpaid labour. And where they don’t, the total number of hours a women spends on work — paid and unpaid — still adds up to more than men, on average. This data from the ABS is the most recent I can find, but shows the difference pretty starkly:

 

 

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You can be bold for change this IWD by doing this simple thing. Return to the women in your life something invaluable: their time.

Grace and gumption

Seven weeks and four days ago, after 54 and a half hours of contractions, I gave birth to a little girl. We named her Abigail, a name from the very first page of the baby name book, a name we both loved immediately. Abby is a delight. She’s already so funny and inquisitive and loving. I had worked as a nanny for years and so had plenty of experience with babies, but nothing could have truly prepared me for the seismic shift that is becoming a parent.

I’m a baby parent. By that I don’t just mean I am the parent of a baby, but that I am a baby at being a parent. The last seven weeks have been exhausting not just because of the broken sleep, but because the learning curve is so steep. After so little time, I’d never presume to speak with any authority on parenting, but I would love to share some of the things I have been thinking about since October 28.

Abigail

Abigail

Parenting Abby is a daily lesson in accepting my imperfections. I’ve lost count of how many things I’ve done wrong in the last seven weeks. The first time I accidentally bumped Abby’s head on her rocking chair as I was putting her down- and I promise, I don’t make a habit of this — and she screamed, I was starkly confronted by my own imperfections. I had hurt my child. Not badly, nothing she wouldn’t forget in a moment, nothing that would cause any damage; but still, I had hurt her.

And despite my best efforts, I will continue to hurt her. There will be times I won’t be available to her as she needs. There will be times when I will brush her hair and hit a knot. There will be times when I say no and mean it and believe it’s best for her, but she will be disappointed in me nonetheless.

The love I feel for Abby, that consuming parental love I had been told about, came with fear. I have so much on the line. My capacity to be hurt, and to hurt, increased exponentially from the moment I first loved her, somewhere between when I found out she existed and when she was born. My failures could cut me deeper than they ever have before.

And so being a parent has not just been a lesson in humility, but also in grace: extending it to myself and to others. There is a degree to which it is self-kindness, but it is more than that.  It is learning to live with the fact I am going to fail, while also attempting to address my failures. It is apologising and accepting apology. It is recognising my own imperfections, but also being accepting of the imperfection of others.

This, perhaps more than anything, has been the rupture between my life before and after Abby. The all-consuming worries of before pale in comparison to my concerns about raising her to be a compassionate and good person. And my own past failures and failings to be a compassionate and good person are both clearer and more important. I need to be the sort of person I want her to be.

I have been wrong often. I am sorry to those I’ve hurt, intentionally and unintentionally. I will make more of an attempt to apologise where I can, but I know that’s not always possible. We can’t always make amends.

But at the same time, I am not going to let my failures, past or present, consume me. Because that is the thing about parenting for me: I can’t hide out, I can’t delay trying again. I have to pick the baby up again, I have to do the next night feed, I have to change the next nappy. There is no escaping from the consequences of my mistakes: I have to face them immediately.

The grace of parenting comes from living through that. Being forced to face and work through my failures every time emboldens me to do so in other parts of my life. It has taught me gumption. I will solve the problem. I will figure out how to handle this. I will do things I don’t want to do because they’re best for her.

Being Abby’s Mum means I now live with fears bigger than any I’ve ever known. But for me, the tools that have enables me to face this are grace — towards myself, towards her, towards others — and gumption. Grace is not letting my imperfections consume me. Gumption is not accepting that my imperfections are permanent, and working to do better.

Sports Writers Festival: A story

I was very excited to see that the Sports Writing Festival was happening again in Melbourne this year. I contemplated heading down for it, but as it starts exactly two weeks before I am due to give birth, I thought that probably wasn’t the best idea. But despite my general good feelings about the event, there was something I couldn’t help but notice when looking at the program:

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There are some great women on the program, but all but one have been pigeonholed into the “Women’s sport” event. Everything else was dominated by men.

Of course, it could be an oversight, so I was hesitant to be overly critical. Instead, I said I was disappointed. These were my tweets:

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I also retweeted one of @Nichmelbourne’s tweets, that she’s since deleted, so I can’t link it.

So imagine my surprise when I opened my account to receive this direct message from the founder of the Festival, Francis Leach:

 

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I’m not going to lie: I was pretty angry about this. I was angry that such a mild criticism — which I specifically framed positively — received such an indignant response. And angry that it came to me directly, rather than publicly.

And I get it. I get that it hurts when someone criticises something you’re doing for free.

But you don’t get a pass on addressing the problem of women’s representation in sport because you’re already working really hard. There are plenty of us who would be delighted to recommend people who are able to speak about it. And maybe just take the criticism on the chin, say “fair point, we’ll try better next time.”

I was not a kind as I could have been in my response: I admit to that. I was fuming. Here it is:

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No response. Not surprising. But I did notice a couple of other people making similar criticisms and receiving (public) defences similar to the one I received. I briefly tweeted about it here.

Anyway, I thought that was that, until someone this morning pointed out that Francis Leach had been tweeting today about the difficulty of being a woman in sport and how that issue would be addressed at the Festival:

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Though I had to get my partner to send me that screenshot, because:

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I have many thoughts but, really, I think this whole story speaks for itself.

Dear S: A reply

S Letter

 

Dear S,

I was intrigued when I received your email this morning, both by the entitlement of demanding a reply from me, while also being both condescending and insulting, and also utterly incorrect. I’m not usually in the habit of replying to such emails, but since you were so eager to hear my responses, I figured you probably wouldn’t mind if I did so publicly.

I read your comments in an article on Triple j’s Hack website regarding the pay rates of women’s football (AFL), and was struck by your lack of understanding of the issue, in which you are certainly not alone.

Ok, I admit, this was a good opening. What didn’t I understand? I’ve spent fifteen years studying and writing about sport and sporting institutions, but hey, we all make mistakes. So I was eager to see what you had to say.

Professional AFL footballers are paid on a commission basis,

Wait, no they aren’t. They are paid a salary. Yes, there are bonuses that align with performance, but there are also base salaries.

they negotiate salary caps with the league as a percentage of projected income,

Hmm, have you read the news lately? There is talk about the next deal being proportionate to the TV deal, but that’s not the case currently. I’m starting to wonder if you’ve read the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is where all my information comes from.

the individual pay rates are then decided by the clubs and individual players, resulting in players being paid at a rate similar to their revenue raising skills.

Well… yes, there are negotiations between the clubs and players, but there are also standard minimum payment rates and conditions that are established in the collective bargaining agreement, both for Rookies (who were my point of comparison on Hack) and drafted players.

This is decided by the best people to do so, those putting on the show and those running it,

Hmm, hundreds of years of labour negotiations would suggest that employers alone aren’t the best people to determine wages…

your angle has no validity at all, you are talking about cutting male players wages, or benefits to junior football, neither of which is desirable or forward moving.

I didn’t say anything about cutting male player’s wages (though whether that’s undesirable to correct a 1:39 average pay discrepancy is highly subjective).

It strikes me as strange that you don’t understand this, given that you have a job you should understand the different ways people are paid and the reasons for this.

Well, my job is as a freelance writer who writes about sport, so my understanding is rather more based on research into this specific issue than the assumption my experience is universal.

I find myself questioning your motives, as I find your comments so naive or perhaps stupid.

Or perhaps just based in the actual facts about the way players are paid.

I would like to receive a reply from you to explain your view, particularly in relation to the points I make in this e-mail, I find them obvious, I would like to know why you don’t, after all you put your view out to the public, so please defend it.

Can I make a recommendation? Next time, before you email someone, maybe do a bit more research to make sure a) your “corrections” are, in fact, correct and b) make sure you’ve read the other things the person you’re writing to has written, as they may have already answered some of your questions. Also, maybe don’t call someone stupid when you, in fact, are incorrect.

Thanks for reading, I look forward to your reply.
Sincerely, S[redacted].

I hope you have found it instructive.

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